Scott Smith

Scott Smith

For generations we have heard how important it is to read to children. It provides adult time that the child (or children) so often crave. You model reading and share in the adventure or learn about the subject matter. There are so many benefits that impact children and they will apply them later in their classrooms at school and for life.

Taking the time to have your child sit and read with you has a big impact on their attention span. Learning to sit and listen is not a natural behavior. We are wired to move. Having your child sit and listen is teaching them and training them that there are times when you have to focus on information they might not be so interested in. Start off slow. You have to remember the child wants control and the way this is accomplished is by getting you off task. You might have to start with two minutes of sitting and looking at a book. Then later in the day or the next day add a minute. Make each session longer and soon they will realize they are getting your time. Later when they start attending school, they have an easier time sitting and focusing on what is happening in the classroom. Again, this is not a natural thing to do but a taught behavior.

If the child is struggling with paying attention, having them draw or color while you read will defeat the purpose of reading to the child. You have changed the focus of learning and now are reading for your pleasure not the child’s skill-building. When they draw or color as you read it appears that you are receiving the behavior you want. They are engaged, however they are not engaged in learning to sit and listen to expand their ability to learn. The focus of reading to the child is to help the brain develop skills the child will need when they are older.

While reading with the child it is important to interact with them. Talking about the pictures and what the characters are doing or are going to do helps keep their attention. Pre-schoolers are not reading but they can listen. Remember, listening is a learned skill. Talking about what is being read and discussing it builds understanding or comprehension. Listening understanding and comprehension will then transfer to reading understanding and comprehension when they are older and in school.

When children reach the intermediate grades, we see them often struggle with comprehension about what they have read. Quite often they also struggle with language comprehension. We have to build the child’s ability to comprehend what they have heard before they will be able to apply that skill to their own reading. Often many teachers feel they have to focus on reading comprehension when their students have not yet acquired the skills of language (listening) comprehension.

There is NO question one of the best things you can do for a child is to read to them! If you wish to have a huge impact on a child’s learning as they get older, it is key to build their endurance in listening, reading, and discussing. It may only start with less than five minutes. Once you let them draw or color, remember the learning skill has changed and you are teaching them that, “If you do not want to do what I want you to do, it is okay to draw or color.”

Reading and discussing what is happening builds pathways in their brain that will later transfer to their own reading comprehension and to life. As you are out driving with your child and see a lake you can ask them questions like, “Do you think there are fish in that lake, like in our book?”

By doing this you are taking reading to your child to a whole new level of inferencing and prediction. Who knows, they might be the child who understands things uniquely and is able to make changes in our world we had never thought about. Keep reading and discussing with your children.


Dr. Scott Smith is a Umatilla County educator with 40-plus years of experience. He taught at McNary Heights Elementary School and then for Eastern Oregon University in their teacher education program at Blue Mountain Community College. He serves on the Decoding Dyslexia — OR board as their Parent/Teacher Liaison.

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