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Improving Reading Comprehension with Supplemental Reading

from The Little Moose Who Couldn't Go to Sleep

With all of the excellent reading programs to choose from and the investment in expanded reading programs, supplemental reading time may be one of the most important components for improving reading comprehension. How can that be?

From a Home Filled With Books

I was talking with a friend yesterday, one of our children’s book illustrators, Tom Wrenn, who has a young daughter. Before we ended the conversation, I reminded him to read aloud with her every night. He chuckled and responded that they’ve already read aloud to her so much that she has memorized most of her books. I laughed too, remembering how I used to do the same thing at her age so that when the neighborhood girls would babysit for my mom, I pretended I could read and freak them out.

Like my friend’s daughter, I was fortunate to grow up in a household filled with books where reading for kids was highly valued. Unfortunately, today most children don’t live in homes surrounded by books. Whether they live in upscale suburbs, in-town working class neighborhoods, small towns or subsidized housing, most kids today don’t grow up with easy access to a wide selection of books.

A Working Definition of Supplemental Reading

Today, supplemental reading plays a more critical role in improving reading comprehension skills than ever before. With all of the excellent reading programs to choose from and the investment in expanded reading programs, I would suggest that supplemental reading time may be one of the most important components for improving reading comprehension. How could that be?

Let’s begin by defining supplemental reading as simply as possible. I like to define it as any reading that isn’t assigned as part of the regular curriculum. In other words, supplemental reading is additive or builds on top of the required reading assignments. While that definition includes a broad range of genres, it also implies that a child is free to choose the books he or she wants to read rather than reading a book because it is required for school.​

The Importance of Supplemental Reading​

Wisdom Tales From Around the Word Cover

Using this working definition, supplemental reading needs to draw on a range of genres with a wide range of topics that will appeal to the varied interests of children. For example, younger readers might enjoy a whimsical picture books like Pickin’ Peas, while middle readers might choose a legend like Natural Man: The True Story of John Henry and slightly older readers might select stories from Wisdom Tales from Around the World.​

My point is that to optimize the benefits of supplemental reading for kids, a program needs to be “child centric” so that children are free to choose a book because it is interesting or enjoyable to them, not because it is required reading for school. As a result, for supplemental reading to significantly improve reading comprehension skills in the classroom or at home, the books need to appeal to children’s interests and their ability to stay focused on a topic.

A hidden benefit of making folktales from Africa, scary stories that take place in a familiar locale, or legends about buried pirate treasure easily accessible for supplemental reading is that kids can read and enjoy one of these short stories during a single session without needing to remember people, places or conflicts from the previous reading period. Children can read one of these stories in ten to fifteen minutes or in some cases depending on a child’s reading level and motivation, he or she could read two or three stories in one session, allowing them to enjoy the closure and sense of satisfaction that comes from reading a complete self-contained story.

Pickin' Peas Cover

Moving Forward​​

My belief is that we need to use supplemental reading programs to help children discover that reading is just as pleasurable as playing a video game or as much fun as hanging out with friends. When a child discovers that reading is rewarding, even meaningful and that it is fun to read, then a world of new opportunities opens up for that child.

If a child never discovers the simple pleasures of reading for his or her own entertainment, then what is the probability that a young boy or girl who hasn’t discovered the joy of reading will read at grade level or achieve academic success in the years ahead? Not all that great. In fact, I would argue that reading for pleasure and entertainment is the hidden key to improving reading comprehension and even on-going academic success.

One of the guiding principles for August House is to find and share timeless stories and fables from other cultures that will appeal to kids. That is the underlying reason that we’ve focused on building a diverse collection of children’s stories from the world’s great oral traditions. These stories have been shared and passed down for generations. They work because they have been time-tested with other kids.

As we know from a number of research studies, the more children read, the more they improve their reading comprehension skills and the more likely they are to develop a love of reading. So as you schedule time for supplemental reading and reading aloud, remember to include classic stories from the oral tradition that kids can enjoy completing in one reading session, and see if they don’t begin to look forward to supplemental reading time even more after only a few weeks.


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