Tips to make your child a more proficient reader during the holiday break

OPINION: As a teacher, the most important advice I can give parents is to model the behavior they want to see in their children.

Parenting during this global pandemic hasn’t been easy. Whether it’s helping our young people readjust to in-person learning or dealing with the realities that COVID-19 continues to lay bare for them, their classmates and our community, we parents have been working overtime trying to balance the dual priorities of our working life and our students’ learning lives.

As we begin the holiday season, I hope you, like myself, will take just a little time to reflect. Please take stock of what we have been through and acknowledge that as parents/guardians, we are doing a pretty good job despite all the moving parts in our children’s academic life and the imbalance they face in society.

How can we ask our children to read more books if we don’t carve at least five minutes out of our day to do the same? (Photo: Adobe Stock)

As an elementary school English teacher for more than 26 years and the mother of one extraordinary young man of color, I plan on spending this holiday season reminding myself of my blessing. With the time I have left, I will be hugging my son tight and doing a little work on strengthening his skills as a proficient reader.

Beyond working with my son, I also want to be intentional about engaging other parents in making their children better readers. As the African proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I have some fantastic folks in my village, and those of us who parent deserve the same. So, consider me the English teacher in your village.

As an English teacher, the most important advice I can give to parents is to model the behavior they want to see. This is one of my biggest challenges. How can we ask our children to read more books if we don’t carve at least five minutes out of our day to do the same?

As a single parent who worked from home while my son Zoom’d into school, we didn’t have many opportunities to read together. Even though we were both at home, frequently crossed paths and got on each other’s nerves, the tiredness of staying home was real. And like most families, my son and I took the easy way out and found solace in our electronic devices and video games.

So, this holiday break, I plan on reading some books in the hopes that my son will model my behavior and witness the joy and happiness that comes with opening up a good book.

The good news here is that my favorite pastime is reading.

Beyond just modeling behavior, here are a couple of other techniques I will utilize with my scholar to help maintain and strengthen his reading skills. Please do the same with yours.

Happy time of African family. African-American Father lying reading book on the floor with his son before traveling to work at living room. Parenthood and childhood concept.

Set aside time to read together. Throughout the holiday period, I will read daily with my son. There will be moments when we will be reading different books. Sometimes, we will read the same book. There will also be moments when I ask my son to read aloud and question him about what he read.

Remember, reading is a team sport! When our babies are reading aloud, we should have them point to familiar sight words — common words that schools expect kids to recognize instantly. Also, let them point out unfamiliar words, and push them to make informed conclusions about what those words mean based on context clues.

Read to your scholar. I also plan on reading to my young scholar. I urge you to do the same. When you read to them, be intentional about changing your voice with each character to make it exciting and fun. There is nothing more boring than a monotone reading voice. Trust me!

Have them pick the book. During the break, I’m encouraging my son to find books on subjects that interest him. The trick is to spark your child’s love for reading with books and characters that excite them. For some of our babies, it’s the love of basketball. For others, it’s fashion design or video games. For my little one, it’s Manga and anything about World War II — so yesterday we ordered They Call Us Enemy by George Takei and Dear Martin by Nic Stone.

If we let our young people read what they want this holiday period, they might fall in love with reading time instead of dreading it or calling it boring.

Hire them to scribe. Being a good reader also means being able to comprehend and write. With all the things that must be bought, brought out of the closet and strung together, creating a list and writing out tasks will be critical. And since being a parent/guardian requires having at least six hands, my son will be two of them.

Equipped with his pen and pad, he will be my official scribe. Here is how this works: Instead of remembering all the things you need to do every day, have your young scholar write tasks in complete sentences and create shopping and to-do lists that must be perfectly spelled out. If they can’t spell a word, force them to look it up the old school way: In a physical dictionary.

As an incentive, the scribe is a paid position.

Black parents reads book to child
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Get the family involved. As we return to a full or partial family gathering this season, I plan on using my son’s godmother, cousins, grandparents and friends as teacher’s assistants on the better-reader mission.

I will be letting all the family know what my son is reading and urge them to ask him questions about the characters, plotline and his favorite part of the book. This family engagement will double-down on the idea that reading is a team sport and signal to my young learner that it is essential to the entire family.

Our students, just like us, have been through a lot over the past two years. They have dealt with the traumas of surviving a global pandemic. They encountered the realities of Blackness in America, and managed to return to in-person learning with all the stress and strain that comes with a more digitally connected school climate.

Providing a little bit of learning enrichment over the holiday period will make a tremendous difference. The quality time will show our scholars that you pay attention to their needs. I know the tips above will make a difference for my son, and I hope you will employ them to help your young scholar too.

One more piece of advice from the English teacher in your village: To grow a reader for life, you have to put a little bit of love into reading.

I hope the tips help. Tis’ the season for reading!

Cecily Myart-Cruz

Cecily Myart-Cruz is an English teacher with over 25 years of classroom experience. For the past two years, Myart-Cruz has been serving as president of United Teacher Los Angeles. Since taking on the role, she has been laser-focused on uplifting the voices of educators and ensuring Los Angeles’ classrooms are a safe, welcoming and thriving place for all students. Follow her on social media @UTLANow.

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