Q: Our son Brian's second-grade teacher wrote that he did well enough in reading to avoid summer school, but recommended that we "read aloud a lot to him this summer, focusing on nonfiction." School's out, so I can't ask her why. Does that help him with his reading? Why nonfiction?
A: Yes, reading aloud to your rising third-grader will help him become a better reader. Jim Trelease describes the many benefits of reading aloud to preschool and school-age children in his classic work, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" (Penguin, 2013).
Reading aloud introduces children to vocabulary not found in day-to-day conversation, says Trelease.
"In conversation, we use shorthand, not full sentences," he says. "The language in books is very rich. When you read books, newspapers and magazines to your child, you introduce him to more sophisticated language. A child introduced to sophisticated words has a giant advantage over a child who hasn't heard those words. Reading aloud also teaches a child to focus." (See trelease-on-reading.com.)
Research shows that as little as 15 minutes of reading aloud to your son each day can greatly increase his reading power. If you choose a book that's on or just above his reading level, encourage him to follow along with the text, so he sees new words and hears your pronunciation.
Why nonfiction? Much of what we read in life is nonfiction. The new Common Core State Standards emphasize it. Sometimes referred to as "informational text," it helps us learn about real people, places and events. Nonfiction requires different comprehension skills than fiction, such as deriving meaning from photos with captions, comprehending data in a chart and using footnotes and glossaries.
Brian's teacher may also recommend it because nonfiction is a great way to get boys into reading. The text is often more accessible than fiction, more descriptive and straightforward, with photos, illustrations, maps and charts.
Plan your summer reading around topics that interest your son, recommends Jonathan Rosenbloom, founding editor of the nonfiction Time for Kids Big Book series.
"If he loves sports," Rosenbloom says, "find biographies or autobiographies of players; go to sports sites or newspaper sports pages and magazines such as Sports Illustrated for Kids. Nonfiction helps kids learn about the world by leaps and bounds.
"How better to find answers to his questions about deep-sea divers, how fast turtles swim, or how to take care of a new pet goldfish than to read about the topic with you?"
Ask your local librarian to help you gather print and online resources to read to Brian. Check out grade level-appropriate books for him to read to you.
It's good news that Brian doesn't have to go to summer school. But his second-grade teacher raised a red flag. Read every day with him this summer and encourage him to read independently, too. Plan to meet with Brian's new teacher in the fall. Third grade is a critical year to diagnose any reading problems and nip them in the bud.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)