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Getting Your Child Started on Critical Reading and Thinking

Getting Your Child Started on Critical Reading and Thinking

There’s reading and then there’s reading. If that line confuses you then you might want to check my previous article on “My child reads a lot but isn’t learning anything. Why?!”
As parents we are keenly aware that reading is good for our children. Therefore, the more books we stack in front of our kid, the better it is, isn’t it? Wrong!
As a creative writing teacher, I often hear parents gripe that their children simply have no interest in reading. However, a quick check with the child on the first day of class usually paints a different picture. Most children love stories! They may not love books, but they surely do love being told a good story. However, as they grow older, somehow something happened along the way that killed their interest in books. Where did it all go wrong?
One of the primary culprits is – wait for it –: Parents!
In the bid to get their kids to be smarter, wittier, better writers, knowledgeable citizens of the world, parents would insist their children read the books that they picked, but without the guidance to comprehend these text, children are left floundering around just doing surface reading.
These are my three tips to help your child move from surface reading to critical reading.
  • Don’t Jump Off the Deep End
It is tempting to stretch your child’s reading ability and get him to keep up with the Joneses but sometimes pushing a child beyond his comfort level could put him off reading altogether. It takes time for your child to understand and appreciate books that are different from what he is used to.
Do not be quick to believe when other parents tell you that their children have started on books that are meant for readers twice the age. Chances are, they’re at the partial comprehension level.
 It is more important to pick a book that your child is interested in and is able to read it at the surface comprehension level.
  • Start With How the Story Makes You Feel
In literature, we call it Practical Criticism (or Prac-Crit). It is a useful technique for parents to use with their young readers. Instead of focusing on the text in the story, instead ask how your child feels about certain scenarios and why? Questions like this allows for the reader to express his personal views without feeling like there is a model answer to subscribe to. Parents can also get an indication of the extent of the child’s comprehension of the story.
Using the book Where The Wild Things Are as an example, I would ask the following questions: How would you feel if you got punished to stay in your room without supper? What do you think of Max’s behaviour? Do you think he was really going to eat the dog?
An exploration of these questions will lead to new perspectives. When a child asks questions such as “How can a boat sail into Max’s room?”, it shows deeper comprehension than one merely telling you that it did.
  • Fracture the Story
To test my student’s comprehension, I will change some key elements in the story and get them to retell a different version. Let’s take the story of the 3 Little Pigs for example. How will the story change if the wolf had visited the third brother first? Or what if the first little piggy wasn’t home when the wolf came a-knocking? Or, better yet, what if it was the hungry pig that came knocking on the wolf’s door looking for food?
Well, critical reading is dandy and all but, hey Eugene, how do I even get my child to start reading? Well, we talk more about this in the next article.


Written by Eugene Tay, founder of Brain & Butter and Monsters Under the Bed.

When Eugene was a young boy, he wanted to be an astronaut. When that didn't take off, he decided that he was going to be like Indiana Jones and explore the world as an archaeologist. Eventually, he figured out how he can do both. That's when he became a writer.

Co-Written by Grace Chai, mother of a newborn baby boy. 

Grace is a new mom and currently undergoing intensive On-The-Job Training for her new role. Between pumping milk, changing diapers and taking selfies with her baby, Grace manages stress by writing about her motherhood experience for ParentTown.

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