Reading goes both ways

Image credit: iStock

Rob is a charming, bright kid with a passion for all things robotic. He has tuition because he isn’t reading as well as his peers. I ask his parents if they have books in their house. Yes, they say. Plenty! Rob has a whole bookshelf filled with books. We read to him every night!

But, I ask, does he read to you?

Of course, the answer was a resounding no. I wasn’t surprised at all – many parents think that all they have to do to encourage a love and aptitude for reading is to buy lots of books and read to their kids, and that it will all magically come together. For some bright kids, that will probably work. But for others who need a little more of a push in this direction, it isn’t enough.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s vitally important that you read to your child, and that you provide him with a selection of interesting, appropriate books. However, for a child to take that learning leap towards mastering reading, he needs to practise reading back to you.

What this looks like will vary depending on your child’s age and ability. For toddlers, encourage your child to pretend to read, joining in where he recognises a familiar word, phrase or sentence. For pre-schoolers, this may mean encouraging him to sound out the starting letters of some words - for example, emphasising the “B” sound in a birthday story by pointing to “B” and clearly sounding it out. For older kids, help them to identify some common words, whether by sight or sound. Let your kid tell and retell the story in his own words as well.

For Rob, we practised giving him the chance to read a familiar story to me. I would read a book to him, and the next time I saw him, it would be his turn to try. I would point to the letters and help him sound out the more difficult words, or perhaps point to the pictures to help him use context to figure out the story.

If your child is hesitant about reading to you – maybe he’s shy or doesn’t enjoy the pressure – there are other ways to encourage him to try reading aloud. Some children enjoy reading to other, younger kids. Others might enjoy making videos of themselves reading, and you could even incorporate reading into some pretend or imaginative play that they enjoy.

Ultimately, it’s important to keep the reading experience fun and enjoyable. Don’t pressure your child to read quickly – it’s ok if they go slow, they’ll get there eventually! Pay attention to your child when he reads to you – put your smartphone down, really listen and try to look like you’re enjoying the story.

Reward progress with exuberant but authentic praise. Instead of blurting out a generic phrase such as “good job!” or “great reading!”, use specific compliments such as “I like how you sounded out that difficult word” or “well done on remembering that cat and bat have the same endings”. This way, it shows your child that you’ve been paying attention, and that you valued the effort he put in.


Troy Therrien is a tutor who believes that learning can be, and should be, for everyone. Find out more about him and his tutoring business at

to top