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Think about the last time you had to sit quietly and listen to a lecture, meeting, or presentation. Did it last longer than anticipated? Did you have to shift in your seat several times to get comfortable? How often did you hope it would just end? Most importantly, was your attention to the topic still peaked - and were you fully engaged - toward the end of this commitment? Many of us can admit that we've been in this situation before, but it's important to note that our children, also, can experience these same feelings when they are required to sit and listen during learning time. As parents, we know how important it is to read with our children every day. But after being attentive during school, extra-curricular activities, and homework time, some children will begin to squirm in the time that it takes to read a picture book or story chapter with them. How, then, can we effectively help them to become stronger readers and know that our time with them is well spent? 

The key is to prime them. To prime is to "prepare or make ready for a particular purpose." With reading, we prime our kids by using techniques that instill excitement, anticipation, and a desire for learning. Children aren't automatically invested in reading unless they sense that we are. When teachers and parents read and react with excitement … our children will "show up" to learn and internalize information. This is so very important. You see, it doesn't matter if your child is a fledgling, struggling, uninspired, or classic reader. Priming sets the tone and plan for the learning to take place. Once your children are on that course … they will attend to whatever you present to them! 

Here are some techniques parents can use just prior to reading – or during reading – which will increase children's participation, thus enabling them to learn more. 

ENERGIZE.  American novelist Gail Godwin has said, "Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater." As parents, we are our children's first and primary teachers, so this quote applies to us as well. The biggest part of the equation is the theater reference. Don't worry! It doesn't mean we have start performing works of Shakespeare! Instead it suggests we add energy, humor, emotion, and movement to reading time. Emphasize the drama, humor, or seriousness of a story and watch your child's involvement grow. 

  • Read giving each character a unique voice. 
  • Laugh and point out the humor in the text or illustrations. 
  • In a pensive way, demonstrate empathy at the crux of the story and discuss what the best solution might be. 
  • Show excitement at the progress the main character is making while solving the story problem. 
  • Before certain page turns, dramatically ask, "Can you guess what might happen next?!" 
  • Use your hands to accentuate repetitive or important words or concepts in the story. 

EXCITE. Children look to us for guidance and feed off of our energy. When you are excited about an activity, they will attend to it more closely and follow through because they want to feel the same level of excitement you are showing. Whether you are an avid reader or not, the techniques below will give you the ability to excite your child about reading. 

  • Make a small pile of books to read with your child. If you are unfamiliar with the stories, read the back cover synopsis of each one prior to reading together. Then take each book – one at a time - and excitedly explain what the book is about. After sharing the book summary, exclaim, "I absolutely LOVE this book!" Continue doing this with the rest of the books and then allow your child to select the first one you will read. 
  • Walk together throughout the library in disbelief and amazement at the huge selection of books that are available to you … and all for free!! Preview and select books from a variety of genres and topics to ignite that desire for knowledge within your child. 
  • Try the book fairy activity during your bedtime routine with younger children. 
  • For independent or older readers, make it a routine to continue to read together. Focus on Newbery Award-winning stories. This award is given to the author of "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." Two elements here will energize your older child to read: (1) they will relish spending quiet time with you; and (2) the excellence of these stories will ignite their love of reading. 

JOKE. There is no better motivator than humor. Find any way you can to inject humor into reading time and children will automatically equate these pleasant feelings with reading. Here are a few techniques you can use: 

  • When you get to the crux of the story where your child is really looking forward to finding what happens next, close the book and say with silly humor, "You know … I really don't want to read this anymore. That's it for now." Watch as your child begs you to finish! 
  • Choose one page where you and your child alternate reading every other word. This gets silly fast. After the laughs, return to reading in a normal fashion and finish the book. 
  • Assign a story character to yourself and your child. Whenever a character "speaks" in the story, the appropriate reader uses a funny character voice and really acts out the part. 
  • Use a repetitive stanza or theme in the story to create a rap song. Have your child keep the beat as you sing/rap the text. 
  • At the library, tell your child to select a book he would like to read with you. Tell him or her that you are going to get one too. Choose a huge dictionary or encyclopedia as your selection and try to seriously present it as your choice. Then have a laugh and read your child's book together. 
  • Regularly read joke books together.

SURPRISE. Surprises are just plain fun. When you add a surprise to the reading experience, children instantly enjoy learning more. These are to be done periodically. Surprises lose their effect if they happen too often.

  • Immediately following reading time, announce that you are all going out for ice cream (or some other cherished outing) as a reward for their reading endeavors. 
  • Hide a sticker or token in the pages of some of your child's books. Whenever they find one while reading, have them place it in a designated jar. When they reach a collection of 10 or 15 tokens, they can choose a family activity for you all to do together. 
  • In a book store, challenge your child with a scavenger hunt where they have to find one book in each of the following categories: fiction, how-to, history, science, biography, and a series story. Once all are found, tell them they can choose one for purchase.

CHALLENGE. It's interesting to note that when children are given a challenge and succeed, they are surprised at the high level of satisfaction they feel. It becomes a feeling they will continue to pursue, so let's apply some challenges to their reading time!

  • There are a ton of excellent book series for children (click here for suggestions). Challenge your child to read an entire series. Make a physical reminder to show his or her progress. This can be a calendar, tally sheet, wall graph, etc.
  • Encourage your child to read for an hour a day (or whatever timeframe is appropriate for his or her readiness level). On a large wall calendar, place a big red X over every day this goal is accomplished. Challenge them to read for 30 days in a row without skipping one day.
  • Tell your child to stick a colored dot on the books he or she would like to donate to a homeless shelter, library or church. Another great cause to which you could donate is Barbershop Books.  As your child reads, ask if it's a book that will be donated. Once a target number is reached, accompany your child to the donation center.

INSPIRE. Most books highlight a problem that the main character must overcome. Often these struggles and the ultimate solution of the problem leave us feeling optimistic and happy. Challenge your child to identify the lesson in the story and use it as inspiration to do something in his or her life to further promote and carry out the message. Did the main character of the story help a friend in need? Perhaps there is someone in school that your child could assist. Or did the main character of the story raise funds to help preserve an old building scheduled to be demolished? Maybe there is a cause in your town that would benefit from a fundraising campaign. When stories touch us, we tend to incorporate the positive qualities of the character into our own persona. Children can become catalysts of change when we encourage them to inspire and help others in a way that promotes the greater good.

No matter what technique(s) you use, priming children for reading will most definitely increase the level and quality of their learning!


Diane DiMemmo is a former elementary teacher and current tutor for struggling and advanced readers. She developed many hands-on reading games for her active classroom learners that worked equally well during home tutoring sessions. The parents of her students noticed the positive results so they began using the same strategies at home with their other children.

At their request, Diane compiled all of her reading games and routines into a book titled THE READING HOUSE, which is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble Booksellers. A new companion edition, filled with reading activity sheets for parents to use at home with their children, is currently in development. Sign up for the Reading Blueprints Blog to receive the latest engaging and interactive reading activities!

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