Children are naturally curious, continually asking the why of things. This natural curiosity is how they build their understanding of the world. When we first introduce children to books, they apply this natural curiosity, looking for clues in the language and the pictures to understand the story.
However, once children are reading age-appropriate books independently they understand the story easily. They become lost in the new worlds they’re discovering and they read more quickly and less actively. They just want to find out what happens!
Why Active Reading?
We must quash anything that interferes with our children’s enjoyment of reading. However, we can re-introduce active reading to them at this point without ruining their enjoyment. In fact, children who use their natural curiosity to think critically as they’re reading, have a richer reading experience, do better at school, and protect their future love of reading.
Even before senior school, books become texts to be tested by correct answers and measured endlessly and only by PEEL. At this point, so many young people go off reading because they flounder and loath this new way of reading and considering books. Investigative readers, however, are used to the process of questioning as they read and have already developed their PEEL instincts, setting them up to do better at school and to continue to enjoy reading out of school.
Encouraging a Less Active Reader
To instil an active-reading mindset with your independent reader read the same book he’s reading so that you can have genuinely engaging discussions about it. Deliberately choose a moment when you’re doing something unrelated like preparing dinner, to chat about characters and predict what will happen. Model using examples from the book. Feign confusion or come up with questions for which you need his help. When we readily act a little more ignorant than we are with our children they see an equal playing field where the answers are up for grabs without judgment.
Challenging a Motivated Sleuth
Some children will be amenable and even relish the challenge of taking on the persona of a detective. They might love the ritual of sharpening a pencil and making a list of clues while they’re reading. You can direct their focus where you think it would be most fun and beneficial around plot, character, and language. An example: have them figure out what the writer does to make the characters different from one another by the way they speak. Do some characters have idiosyncratic expressions? Do some repeat themselves, stutter, talk fast or emphatically? They may enjoy underlining new words and looking them up, creating their own personal dictionary of new words. Having their own Oxford English Dictionary as a companion to reading might really appeal to them.
Use whichever style suits your child at the time, either the stealthy approach where you chat in a relaxed fashion about a book, occasionally feigning ignorance or the deliberate, detective approach supported by a little equipment and fanfare. Either way, you are setting your child up for a more pleasurable reading experience and an easier time at school.