What is the Most Important Factor in Improving Reading Skills?

Improving reading skills

If you’re a parent, you want your child to build strong reading skills. Of course! You know that reading is the foundation for every other subject taught in school. You know that when reading doesn’t come easily, then the comprehension needed to grasp other subjects like math, history, geography and science remains elusive. So, what is the most important factor in improving reading skills?

Because reading is so important to the understanding of all of these other subjects and to success in school as a whole, knowing how to help improve your child’s reading skills is important, too. Once you know what works, you can play a big role in helping your child develop the strong reading skills he needs.

What is the most important factor in improving reading skills?

As you’ve probably guessed, there are actually many factors that are important when it comes to building reading skills – some more obvious than others. But, while there are many, there are a few that are more important than the rest. And, spoiler alert, one that really does stand head-and-shoulders above its peers. So, instead of “The Most Important Factor,” let’s call them the “Top Three,” instead.

Below you’ll find a brief discussion of each of these reading-skill super stars, in descending order. We’ll save that most important one for last!

Three: Be a good role model

For better or worse, children watch their parents and mimic what they see. That’s a little intimidating, isn’t it? Will all our bad habits be picked up by our children? Possibly. But, that coin has a positive flipside. Those little mimics will pick up your good habits, too. So, now is the time to make reading one of those habits. How? By letting your child see you reading. It’s as simple as that. Turn off the TV in the evening and get out your e-reader or a good, old-fashioned paperback. Make sure your child is within earshot as you announce, “I’m not going to watch a boring TV show tonight. I’m going to read a good book instead.”

Here are a few other ways to show how important reading is:

  • When you, or your child, has a question, look up the answer. And don’t you dare ask Alexa! Look up the information in a dictionary or encyclopedia. It can be in book form or online, just be sure that there’s reading involved. You want to teach your child that reading is the golden doorway to learning all sorts of interesting things.
  • Subscribe to newspapers or magazines that interest you. Show your child the articles you’re reading and discuss why you enjoyed them. If reading inspires or informs a hobby, be sure that your child gets to see that connection. Did you build an end table using directions from Family Handyman? Show your child that magical connection between the written word and the real world.
  • Go to the library and the book store. Talk to your child about why you’re making certain selections. Say, “I really love Lillian Jackson Braun’s books,” for example. “I’m looking for the next one in the series.” It won’t be long before your little tag-along will want to pick out a few books of his own.

Two: Focus on interest and engagement

If reading is simply a chore that your child must do to meet his teacher’s requirements, then progress will be slow, especially in the areas of comprehension and fluency. After all, simply saying words is not actually understanding them. The brain has to be engaged for learning to take place. Motivation is key to improving these skills. If your child is interested in what the words he’s reading means, he will be more engaged in trying to decipher their meaning. So, make reading fun. Make it interesting. Make it something your child is drawn to. Here’s how:

  • Target his interests. After all, no one wants to read something they find boring – not even grownups! For kids, finding books that interest them – whether it’s fairytales or frogs – leads to engagement, and that engagement leads to mastery.
  • Show an interest in what your child is reading. Ask him about what he’s just read. Sentence by sentence, if he’s a new or struggling reader, or after a few pages later on. Most kids thrive on attention, and love to know that their parents are interested in what interests them. Rethinking the book – or passage – so that he can summarize it for you, will also help his comprehension skills and get him thinking about crucial reading components like plot and theme.
  • Look into book series. There are ones out there for nearly every age group and reading level. Think The Teacher from the Black Lagoon, for example, or the Goosebumps series. Book series are ideal for engagement because they draw your child from one book to the next.
  • Don’t forget games. Games like BananaGrams and Boggle are great. They get kids thinking about words and letter relationships. But, don’t just focus on “word games.” Lots of really fun games require reading. Think role-playing games or solve-the-mystery types. If the grown-ups join the fun, even better. There’s nothing more engaging than having the whole family involved in a project.

One: Practice, practice, practice!

Reading is a highly complex skill, one that literally takes years to fully master. And, like all complex skills – from oil painting to playing the violin – the only way to improve is to practice. Practice is one of the most important factors in improving reading skills. So, do what it takes to see that your child gets that practice. Need some ideas? Keep reading.

  • Set a regular reading time. Whether it’s just after dinner, or right before bed, set aside some time for your child to read, preferably with adult supervision to help keep him on track and provide feedback.
  • Make reading fun. We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s important here, too. If reading is fun, your child will be willing to practice, and might even start reading on his own. Pick fun books for him, even if they’re comic books. Practice is practice, after all.
  • Think outside the box. Reading practice doesn’t have to take place sitting at a desk with a book. Find other ways for your child to read – playing video games that have written story components, for example, writing and reading his own short books, or taking a part in a play. If words are involved and your child is reading them, then progress is being made.