As a high school English teacher, I know that the best way to increase vocabulary and become a better student is to read.
Students painlessly and effortlessly learn new words as they encounter them in books. Students increase their attention span as they become absorbed in the pages of a book. Reading makes them better writers, too, as they unconsciously absorb the good grammar and sentence structure in the books that they read.
But I also know, as a parent, that it is not easy to get kids to read. I saw in the Reflector recently that Sue Goodsite, curriculum and instruction coordinator for the Norwalk City Schools, offered some great ways that parents can help their children become better readers. I would like to emphasize some of her suggestions and add a few suggestions of my own:
Sue Goodsite suggests "model reading in your home." This is probably the most important suggestion. Children can spot a hypocrite a mile away. If you sit on the couch watching television all evening, and yet you tell your kids they should read, do you think they will do as you say, or do as you do? Parents need to show kids that reading is important by actually reading themselves. And when you do sit down to read a book, and your child tries to interrupt you, feel free to tell that child to go away. This will teach kids that reading is so absorbing and interesting that you prefer it to answering trivial questions.
When you travel, make sure you stop at bookstores along the way. This will irritate your children at first. They will want to know when they will get to the beach, or to Cedar Point, or to the mall, or to whatever they think the destination is. But again, you are modeling for them what is important. And when they are bored in the bookstore, they might actually pick up a book themselves.
Have plenty of reading material at home. When kids are little, they will use the books to teethe, and possibly to tear out pages. It doesn't matter they are beginning a lifelong love of books first an appreciation for the feel and taste of the pages, and later an appreciation of the words those pages contain.
Turn off the television set. It is so much easier to let the visual images on TV fill your brain than to translate ink on a page into mental images and stories. But it is so much more active and educational to imagine characters and scenes in your mind. And yet if the TV is always on, why bother reading?
Don't be too picky about your child's reading material. If your child enjoys "Good Night Moon" but you think it is ridiculous, especially after you've read it 17 times, stick with "Good Night, Moon." Eventually, your child's taste will become more sophisticated. If comic books, or mysteries, or fashion magazines fascinate your child, so be it. If you are too snooty about the content, your child may not read at all.
Try reading to your child. I used to do this when my kids were little, especially at bedtime. Sometimes I was so tired that I fell asleep while reading to them. Perhaps that was an incentive for my children to read, so that they could continue even after I was no longer awake.
Buy books at the public library's Friends of the Library book sale. On Saturday, the last day of their recent sale, they were offering a bag full of books for $1. At that price, you could even give books away instead of candy on Trick or Treat night.