Children's Voice May/June 2008

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Exceptional Children: Navigating Learning Disabilities and Special Education

Navigating Learning Disabilities and Special Education

By Ellen Notbohm

Summertime, and the Reading Is Easy

Tips to keep kids reading through the summer.

"I find television very educational," Groucho Marx once said. "Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book." It's an attitude most schools would like to encourage. Reading is, of course, the bedrock of education. Many teachers will say that reading with children at home is the single most important factor in nurturing literacy. One teacher even told me that it is more important than anything they do at school.

The months-long summer break is no friend to children with learning disabilities, who frequently return to school in the fall exhibiting regression that can take weeks, even months, to recoup. Encouraging reading through the summer can help immeasurably, ensuring that children can get up to speed as quickly as possible when the new school year commences. Here are 10 things you can do to help children with one of education's most essential building blocks.
  1. If a child is a pre-reader or beginning reader and you aren't currently reading with him or her on a regular basis, start now. If reading every day seems overwhelming, start with two days a week and work up from there.

  2. Try to encourage 20 or 30 minutes of reading each day. Remember that, like exercise, it doesn't have to be all at once. Two 10-minute sessions or several 5-minute sessions are just as valuable as one long sitting, maybe more. Reading requires focused attention, and that break in the middle of the effort may be just the recharge a child needs.

  3. Emphasize content and comprehension more than error-free decoding of words. Correcting every little error turns reading into work. Overlook small errors. If you must correct, just repeat the word the correct way in a positive tone of voice as if you didn't even notice it was wrong, and move along quickly.

  4. Check the child's comprehension of the story by asking questions. "How do you think the Frog and Toad feel about this? Have you ever felt like that?" But don't ask so many questions that your child loses the story line or the momentum of his reading.

  5. Let the child choose what he wants to read, and where he wants to read it. Don't assume that your favorites (or his siblings') will be his too. And encourage him to read anywhere: not just a chair or bed, but hammocks, lofts, nooks, forts, and bathtubs can also be fun reading spots.

  6. A lot of wonderful classic literature may be beyond a child's reading comprehension. But if a movie version exists, it can serve as an introduction to the story, to be followed by the reading of an abridged children's version of the classic. Some perennial favorites are 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, In Search of the Castaways, Heidi, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, The Wizard of Oz, Moby Dick, Jungle Book, or Black Beauty.

  7. A child who seems disinterested in typical children's books may be very interested in reading something he has written himself. Have him write out his stories or narratives and read them back to you, or he can dictate them to you.

  8. Wordless books are reading too! For children with language-based disabilities, they can be particularly valuable. Have the child make up his own story to go with the pictures (write it down and add details during subsequent readings), talk about sequencing (how stories have a beginning, middle, and end), and make up names for the characters.

  9. When a child does find a book she particularly enjoys, look for other books by the same author, the same series, or other books in the same genre. Your public library can probably help; most maintain numerous reading lists for all ages, abilities, and interests.

  10. Summer is a great time to introduce children to newspaper reading, and there are many kid-friendly ways to do so. Comics, the weather report, articles about pets, kid-oriented websites, reviews of new children's books or movies, sports stories, and photos of local events are all good ways to sneak a little reading into their day.
And finally, here is an extra piece of advice: If a favorite book emerges and it is a library book, buy a copy. Through the years, favorite childhood books become old friends, to be fondly revisited. More is not always better. Our son's teacher tells this story: "We used the library all the time. So as my children grew up, the books they loved from their past were all at the library. How I wish I had bought more books, so they could go back and say, 'Oh, I loved this story!' For my daughter's 18th birthday, I gave her one of her favorite books, Miss Rumphius, and we read it over and over again. I had finally realized: Think less about volume and go for quality and enjoyment."

A two-time ForeWord Book of the Year finalist, Ellen Notbohm is author of Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew and the newly released The Autism Trail Guide: Postcards from the Road Less Traveled. She is a columnist for Autism Asperger's Digest and Children's Voice, and a contributor to numerous publications and websites around the world. To contact Ellen or explore her work, visit

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