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  • Writer's pictureAshley

20 Minutes a Day: How to Read With Your Child





I bet that your child’s teachers have told you about the benefits of reading for 20 minutes a day. I would place a wager, that you’ve been told all of the benefits and the cautionary tales of what may happen if you don’t.


But what does “20 minutes a day” really mean?


In this post you will learn:

  • Why it is important

  • Why it is so important to do it the right way

  • Different ways to read with your child

  • What your child should be reading


If any of that sounds like something you would like to know, then stick around!


Why do we recommend reading for 20 minutes a day?


There are many benefits to reading 20 minutes a day. Language comprehension is a huge contributor to skilled reading. Take a look at the picture below. Scarborough’s rope shows us that language comprehension is half of learning to be a skilled reader.


Language comprehension is an umbrella term, meaning there are many things included within it. Under the term language comprehension, we find background knowledge, vocabulary, language structure, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge.


Let’s look at these a little more closely:


Literacy knowledge - When young children are read to they can begin to understand things about books and words. For example, the cover is the front, we read left to right, illustrations show the pictures, and the title is what the book is called. Through the experience of exploring books and being read to, they will learn that some books are funny or scary, some are made up stories with talking animals, while others tell us real information about things; books can be short or long, rhyming or not, and sometimes they even match a movie.


Verbal reasoning - When it rains cats and dogs, do animals really fall from the sky? Of course not. But a child who has no experience with that phrase wouldn’t know what in the world we were talking about. Books and stories can introduce kids to abstract concepts like idioms and metaphors. While they are not taught what they are called, they are learning what they are and how we use them. This also increases their background knowledge.


Background knowledge - This is exactly what it sounds like. The more kids are read to, explore, engage with, etc., the more background knowledge they will gain. Research proves that having background knowledge is incredibly important for learning new material in school. Think of the above example with cats and dogs. A child who has never experienced an idiom or seen a silly illustration and discussed it may have a difficult time working with fairy tales and folk narratives.


Language structure - I bet you have had a child ask you why we order words the way we do, or why we say she instead of hers. Did you know how to answer? Or did you say something about the rules? Kids learn so much about the way we use words and put them together long before they sit in a classroom learning “the rules.” The more language they hear, the more their brains process what is and is not correct.


Vocabulary - Finally we have the one that you’ve probably been told about. The more you read to your child or help them to read, the more vocabulary they experience. Beginning readers will use their vocabulary to help them identify and remember words. More advanced readers use vocabulary to understand what they are reading.


When you add all of those things together, you can see how important it is for kids to be clocking those daily reading minutes. It has a huge impact on their learning overall.


However, all reading is not the same!





“Putting a book in the hands of a poor reader then assigning them to ‘read silently’ 20 minutes a day, does not teach a child to read. It may, however, teach them to dislike reading.” - Tiffany James


I love this quote because it really makes you think about how your child is engaging in that 20 minutes of reading. The goal of those 20 minutes is to grow their language comprehension, and if they can’t comprehend the book or the words on the page, there is no point.


So what is the right way for my child to read for 20 minutes a day?


The simple answer - In a way that allows them to enjoy reading and grow their language comprehension skills.


Reading can be done in many different ways.

  • Read to them. - You pick up the book and read it to your child. Make sure that they are interested in the content or have some choice. Yes, rereading over and over is good for them.


  • Read with them. - You read a page, I read a page. If that doesn’t work you can switch off sentences. You can read the main text and they read the captions. Or maybe even choral read (both read out loud together).


  • Read by themselves. Little kids can read the pictures. Have you tried wordless books? More advanced readers can reread books they’ve read a million times, decodable books from school, or read out loud and you help them when they get stuck.


  • Read beside them. This is best for more successful readers. You sit near them (hopefully reading your own book) and make yourself available to assist or discuss the book after they have finished reading.


The most important part is that reading is enjoyable, not too complicated or frustrating, and discussions are being had.


Don’t forget to have discussions about what is happening, what different words mean, why a character may do something, how would you change the ending, etc. Talk about the books, point things out, and ask questions.


Now for the last important thing… Let your child have a choice in what they read.


20 minutes of reading is for fun and engagement. It is NOT for learning phonics or how to read words. That is a totally different reading time. (Psst. You can throw a quick phonics lesson in on how to sound out a word or it matches such and such a pattern, but that is not the goal.)


This time is for engaging, discussing, enjoying, and giggling.


Please see below for a list of 20 minutes a day reading materials:


  • Repeatedly read books

  • Wordless / Pictureless books

  • Magazines

  • Graphic novels

  • Nonfiction

  • Books above your child’s level if they are interested in the content

  • Books below your child’s level

  • Audiobooks sometimes

  • Comic books

  • Cookbooks

  • Joke books


I’m sure I’ve missed quite a few that could be added to the list.


The point truly is to help your child meaningfully engage in readings that they enjoy.


In conclusion, reading 20 minutes a day is so important for our readers. However, the type of reading we do and how we engage with that reading is equally important.


Looking for more reading activities you can do at home? Hop over to the Reading Rockets’ 25 Activities for Reading and Writing Fun.


If you have a struggling reader and don’t know how to help, tutoring may be just the thing. Keep It Up Tutoring will assess your child, make plans based on their needs and strengths, and create lessons specifically for them. Want to learn more? Click here to sign up for your free consultation. We look forward to meeting you!






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