When reading time is shared — either because the parent is reading aloud or because the child is reading aloud to the parent — it is relatively easy to have conversations about the text, keep tabs on comprehension, nudge a little complex thinking, and experience the joy that connecting with others over a book brings. However, when kids read silently on their own, MANY many kids read too quickly, unstrategically, and without deep comprehension. Many simply read the words on the page with superficial comprehension at best, and even if they have good comprehension skills, they don’t put forth the mental effort to do the good thinking. While parents’ well-intentioned tendency tends to be to ask their kids questions to ensure comprehension (e.g., “Tell me what your book is about so far”, “What happened in the chapter that you just read?”), this can often come off as quiz-like and threatening. Which likely results in disengagement from a conversation — not being willing to answer at all or giving a cursory response to satisfy the parent.
A great way to engage your independent reader in conversations about text is if you also read the same book, ideally at the same time — called “parallel reading”. Parallel reading allows you to initiate/join in on conversations about the text as an eager co-participant. Your child might not come to you for a conversation, but you can start off some dialogue with enthusiastic invitations to share your ideas. Aim for chats that appear casual and impromptu, so that conversations feel natural and real — like two readers who happen to be reading the same book, sharing their experience of it together. (For some families, it might work to pre-set stopping points for discussion (e.g., after each chapter) — though this also can feel too test-like and turn kids off.)
Some “conversations starters” when you are parallel reading with your child might include:
- I just read the first chapter of your book. It totally got me hooked because…. I can’t wait to read more.
- It made me so [insert emotion…e.g., upset, happy] that the character decided to….because… What did you think about that?
- The character [insert name of character] reminds me so much of [insert character from another text or person from your own life] because… Do you think so?
- I can totally imagine myself being friends with [insert name of character] when I was a kid because… What about you, do you think you’d be friends with [insert character] if he/she were real?
- I can’t wait to find out whether or not… I think _______ will happen next because….. What do you think’s going to happen?
- I’m sorta confused about this part of the book because…. does it make sense to you?
- I wasn’t crazy about how the book ended. If I were the author, I would have ended the story… Did you like the ending? Is that how you’d end it?
There are obviously numerous other ways for your independent reader to engage in text talk over the summer (including joining a book club, participating in an online book review community, linking up with a reading buddy)…which may nor may not appeal to your reader. Parallel reading is a fairly simple and powerful way to get your kids talking, thinking, connecting, and even more excited about what they are reading (really without extra effort on their part). The mere fact that you are choosing to read your child’s books, that your child’s reading material is worthy of your time and attention, and that you are expressing a genuine interest in talking about the book — that will go a long way with your reader. It takes some work on the parent’s part, a definite conscious and deliberate effort for some. But if you can get in some parallel reading over the summer, it most likely will pay off!
And Dads, this applies to you too!