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Encouraging a Love of Reading for 4th and 5th Graders

A teacher shares tips on how to encourage students to embrace their reading skills and develop a love for books.
Young girl reading

We've settled into fall and children are back to school, in whatever form that looks like this season. As parents, we're juggling the busy days and doing our best to figure out how to keep everyone on schedule, often with the help of our smart phones and Siri! One thing Siri can't help us with is how to incorporate reading into our child's busy days. MEFA's Start U.Reading program, which visits communities across the Commonwealth, interviewed 4th grade classroom teacher Meghan McHugh from Hopkins Elementary School to find out what we as parents can do to encourage our students to embrace their reading skills and develop a love for books.

Q: My son used to love to read but now he fights me on it. What can I do?

When noticing a love for something dwindling, the most important first step is identifying what has changed. Empower him by helping him to discover what it is that made him no longer love reading. Talking to our kids is one of the most important tools we have as adults. By having students identify triggers for their emotions, we are teaching them how to self monitor and reflect.

To reignite his love for reading, here are a few things you can try: model a love for reading by letting him see you read, listen to audiobooks in the car and discuss them as a family, talk about books that you know he enjoys or have topics of interest to him, make connections to his own life from characters and problems in books, and discuss every book after he reads it. At least some of these tactics will help your son re-develop an interest in reading.

Q: My daughter will read when she finds the right series but finding that series is more and more challenging. Are there books recommended for the 4th and 5th grade age group?

Getting students to find series can feel sometimes like climbing a mountain – once you've gotten to the top, you see how beautiful the view is! When children find a series they enjoy, it's wonderful to see them so excited to read what's next. I always encourage students to try to read diverse genres when looking for a series. I am a personal advocate for the "I Survived" series by Lauren Tarshis. It falls within the genre of historical fiction, which I love because it provides students with perspective and history lessons, and gives them the opportunity to make meaningful connections.

Students need to find books that are "just right" for them. And helping your child to find a book that is "just right" is as easy as reading a few pages with them aloud, discussing what they've read, and seeing if they want to read further. Parents can talk to school or community librarians for series suggestions, or even ask at the local book store.

Q: How do we balance reading with other activities? How much or what type of reading is "enough"?

I would consider "enough" reading to be fifteen to twenty minutes of an age-appropriate text that the child can comprehend and read aloud with accuracy. A lot of students have a personal preference when it comes to reading – some like to read at night when they're in bed, and some like to wake up early in the morning and read before they get on the bus or are on their way to school.

When it comes to balancing other activities along with daily reading, keep in mind that having shared experiences with other students is important for children whenever possible. Being able to provide children with numerous and various opportunities to participate on teams, in art, and in music is so valuable.

Building a reading routine can be helpful in getting reading time scheduled and beneficial in teaching children the value of setting a schedule.  Of course, it's also important to recognize that it's not the end of the world if a child doesn't read twenty minutes every night. Focus on the goal of trying to foster a love for reading, and provide enough experience for children to build their comprehension and fluency. Do not pick arguments about nightly reading, but instead engage in meaningful discussions with your child as often as possible about the exciting things they are learning from the current books they are reading.

With Thanksgiving and the holidays just around the corner, my family will be spending a lot of time in traffic together. I'm planning ahead and visiting libraries to reserve my audio books now. These audio books have been a great way for us to talk about the different elements of books that 4th and 5th grade children are learning about in school (theme, plot, characters, and setting). In my family, we will choose which characters we identify with and make inferences. All in all, audio books have been huge in helping spark our imaginations and curiosity, and have even introduced us all to new genres.