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How to encourage your child to read more challenging books without putting them off

It’s common for children to reread books. To help them tackle something more difficult, there are several strategies parents can use

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 8:14pm

My nine-year-old daughter likes reading, but rereads the same books over and over again, a Hong Kong parent writes. Most of the books she chooses are below her reading level so I’m worried her comprehension and vocabulary will never improve. I don’t want to push her too hard and put her off reading, but how can I encourage her to read new and more challenging books?

Every parent wants their child to be a good reader, not only for the skills it develops, but for the pleasure it can bring to their children, both now and in the future. A huge positive at the moment is that your daughter actually likes reading.

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However, your frustration that she is not challenging herself, and therefore not reaching her full potential, is totally understandable. This could be to do with lack of maturity and confidence, or she may not be mentally ready to push herself just yet.

It is common for children of your daughter’s age to reread books. I remember reading my favourite books over and over again at primary school. It was comforting and relaxing as well as allowing me to escape into an imaginary world of fiction without struggling to work out new vocabulary and complex plots. After all, reading more difficult material takes concentration and hard work.

One option you may wish to consider is listening to audiobooks. They are a great way of sharing stories together as a family and give opportunities to enjoy higher-level texts in a different way. Your daughter may find she is inspired to read the printed word afterwards.

Another approach is reading aloud to your daughter. Although this is often associated with very young children, it was not so long ago that reading aloud for pleasure was more commonplace. I was still reading to my daughter when she was 10 – this allowed her to be exposed to stimulating and challenging books that she may have considered too hard to read by herself.

Doing either of the above would give you opportunities to discuss texts in a natural way, asking open questions as you go along. This will help to develop deeper comprehension and promote higher order reading skills such as inference and deduction, which can then be applied to your daughter’s own reading.

In today’s media-focused world we are all more reliant on our reading skills than ever before. Children are often reading more from day-to-day than most parents realise. This may include reading information on the internet or accessing instructions for doing and making things. Having a purpose for reading can be important and will lead to relevant reading practice being automatically built into the day. Visits to bookshops and public libraries are useful for browsing and book tokens as birthday presents can offer a good opportunity to buy different reading material.

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Logging into your daughter’s passions as she grows older is the key. Try to ascertain whether she enjoys adventure, fantasy or real life stories with interesting and complex relationships between characters. Novels of films she has enjoyed can be an excellent incentive to read more challenging books and will add many more details to a storyline she will already know.

An inspiring teacher or librarian can help children discover particular authors that they will enjoy and at the same time stretch their reading skills. Ask your daughter’s new teacher for recommendations and encouragement.

Reading a book series in a genre she enjoys can also be a great driving force at this age, and find out from her friends’ parents what they are reading. There are many reading programmes available online, some of them interactive. Check to see if her school is registered with any of these sites.

Competency in reading comprehension is essential across the curriculum, from understanding maths problems to developing knowledge about science and history. Exposure to a wide range of vocabulary and writing styles is also crucial to writing skills.

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You are clearly aware of the importance of not pushing your daughter too hard, although I appreciate this is not easy. As she enters the upper primary years this should naturally bring more challenging reading and comprehension activities. Most importantly, if she continues to enjoy reading the rest will follow.

Julie McGuire is a former Hong Kong primary schoolteacher