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Choosing 'just right' books for your child

Parents want their children to read well and independently for enjoyment. Research has shown that children who read generously develop more expansive vocabularies and achieve higher levels of reading and writing development. Reading daily at home is beneficial for children to learn new vocabulary and information, increase speed and fluency, improve comprehension, experience different authors’ writing styles and ultimately develop a greater interest and love of reading and writing.How can parents choose ‘just right’ books for their children to support reading and writing development?‘Just right’ books means your child:l Is interested in the bookl Can read and figure out almost all of the wordsl Understands what he or she is reading and can tell you about the storyl Can read fairly smoothlyNoted educator and author Regie Routman recommends the five-finger rule in selecting the ‘just right’ book for your child. She suggests as your child reads, have him or her count on one hand any unknown words. If there are five or more different unknown words on a full page, the book is too hard for your child to read alone. However, you could read the book aloud to your child. Older children can read several pages before deciding whether a book is too hard. Ms Routman notes that sometimes a book that may initially seem too hard is ‘just right’ once the child has read enough for meaning to ‘kick’ in.Ultimately, parents should make reading fun for their children. In addition to selecting ‘just right’ books, parents must make sure not to make reading a chore by insisting it must be done for a certain amount of time every day, no matter what! Parents should never tie their opinion of their child to his reading ability by communicating that through attitudes and behaviours. Parents should not push their child to read at higher levels at the sacrifice of understanding. The best way to make reading fun is through conversation about what is being read.Options for parents looking for ways to support a child’s reading can include scanning stories ahead for difficult or unusual vocabulary and going over these words in advance. Allow your child to read through a story silently before reading aloud (especially if your child is self-conscious about reading aloud). Alternatively, a parent can first read the story aloud and discuss the story content. Parents can add variety to the reading sessions by taking turns with the reading by sharing lines or pages. Read story beginnings aloud to your child to hook interest then let your child finish the story independently. If a story includes dialogue, assume the role of one of the characters and read using different voices, accents and inflections.When helping your child to understand and respond to stories, think about ways to get your child involved. For example, if the story takes place in an unfamiliar place, use an atlas to locate the place and share as much as you can to generate interest and knowledge about the location of the story.After reading the first few pages or chapters, stop and talk about the main character in the story and discuss possible events and endings that might occur. Connect the character to your life.While the reading is progressing, check in to see how the character’s situation is progressing and how your child is reacting to the developments in the story. Have your child read sections aloud that she finds particularly interesting or confusing. You can give your child sticky notes to mark special pages for further discussion.After the reading, discuss personal reactions to the story with your child. What was liked or disliked and were there any lessons learned?There may be an opportunity for a follow-up to the story and this can be done in art form, writing, drama or reading another book by the same author or similar genre. The possibilities are there to explore.Choosing ‘just right’ books and knowing how to engage with your child as a reader and as a supporter of reading is the best way to instill a love of reading and life-long desire to read. Our children learn to value reading when it is a shared and supportive home activity with adults who actively engage with books.literacymatters[AT]logic.bm