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How can I help my child to be a successful reader?

It’s during the middle grades that young adolescents build the foundation for lifelong reading habits. They develop their own reading interests and learn to read different kinds of text–informational articles and books, poetry and plays, as well as stories and novels. They increase their vocabularies by reading widely and they begin to use reading to help answer important questions about themselves and the world.

On the other hand, for many young adolescents, reading difficulties go hand-in-hand with social and emotional problems.

It is important for you to keep your child reading through the adolescent years, both at school and at home. Here are some suggestions that can help:

Make sure your home has lots of reading materials that are appropriate for your child. Reading materials don’t have to be new or expensive. You often can find good books and magazines for your child at yard or library sales. Ask family members and friends to consider giving your child books and magazine subscriptions as gifts for birthdays or other special occasions. Set aside quiet time for family reading. Some families even enjoy reading aloud to each other, with each family member choosing a book, story, poem or article to read to the others.

Encourage your child to use the library. Take your child to the local library and help him get his own library card. Ask librarians to help him locate different areas in the library, use the card catalogue or computer system and find materials in which he is interested.

Be a positive role model for reading. Let your child see you reading for pleasure as well as for performing your routine activities as an adult–reading letters and recipes, directions and instructions, newspapers, computer screens and so forth. Go with her to the library and check out books for yourself. When your child sees that reading is important to you, she may decide that it’s important to her, too.

Find out from your child’s teachers how they encourage or teach reading. Make it clear that you value reading and that you support homework assignments that require your child to read. Ask for lists of books for your child to read independently at home.

Find out how to help your child if his first language is not English. When your child first enters middle school, talk with her teachers. Most teachers welcome such talks. If you feel that you need some support in meeting with teachers, ask a relative, neighbor or someone else in your community to go with you. When you meet, tell the teachers the things that you are doing at home to strengthen your child’s reading. Children who can switch back and forth between languages have accomplished something special. They should be praised and encouraged as they work for this achievement.

Get help for your child if she has a reading problem. When a child is having reading difficulties, the reason might be simple to understand and deal with. For example, your child might have trouble seeing and need glasses or she may just need more help with reading skills. If you think that your child needs extra help, ask teachers about special services, such as after-school or summer reading programs. Also ask teachers or your local librarian for names of community organizations and local literacy volunteer groups that offer tutoring services.

Some causes for reading difficulties signal larger problems, perhaps a learning disability. If you think your child may have some kind of physical or learning problem, it is important to get expert help quickly. Ask for a private meeting with her counselor, a teacher or the principal. (You may feel more comfortable taking a friend, relative or someone else in your community with you.)

There is a law–the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)–that may allow you to get certain services for your child from your school district. Your child might qualify to receive help from a reading specialist, a speech and language therapist or other specialist. You can learn about your special education rights and responsibilities by requesting that the school give you–in your first language–a summary of legal rights.

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