Greg was a first grader that didn’t like reading. He was behind his peers, and he was discouraged. In order to cope, he avoided reading. He cried before school. When the teacher asked him to read, he acted out. Reading was a source of conflict at home. Greg’s mom wanted him to read more. Greg’s dad thought, “maybe we shouldn’t force him to read.” They didn’t know what to do. They wondered, “How much should a first grader read each day? Especially a struggling reader?”
How much should a first grader read each day?
A first grader should read about 10 minutes a day Monday-Friday. This is a reasonable amount of time. 20-minutes may be too much for a struggling reader. Since reading can be a source of conflict, it’s easy to put off long reading sessions day after day…and ultimately never get to them.
However, 10-minutes of daily reading usually feels achievable for both the parent and the struggling reader.
Tips to get your first grader to read 10-minutes a day:
- Ensure free play after school that allows your child to get physical activity.
- If your child is getting a lot of homework, try to reduce their amount of homework. Reading Elephant is a firm proponent of no homework in K-1, just after-school reading.
- Let your child see you set a 10-minute timer.
- Complete the reading at the same time each day.
- Rarely, very rarely miss. Make it a regular part of your routine. If you don’t prioritize it, you can’t expect your child to do the same.
- Use leveled phonics-based books for struggling readers.
- Create a special reading nook in your home. You can add a comfortable chair and use plants to decorate this nook.
- Don’t use motivational sticker charts or rewards (read more for why).
Positive reinforcements may not work
Motivational rewards, like ice cream visits and a trip to Disneyland, can have unintended consequences. The research on positive reinforcements is at best conflicting. In some studies, kids that were rewarded for academic tasks engaged in those tasks less frequently. This was true even if it was a task the child previously enjoyed (Lepper, Greene & Nisbett, 1973).
For example, kids that were rewarded for playing with magic markers, a task they normally enjoyed, engaged in that task less often. The fun of playing with magic markers had been turned into work.
This is like telling a child, “If you swim for ten days, I’ll take you to Disneyland.” Normally, kids love swimming. However, simply rewarding swimming can make swimming seem like work. Thus, the child will want to swim less.
The research on rewards is conflicting. However, some researchers firmly believe that rewarding an academic behavior can have negative outcomes: “…rewarding a behavior can actually decrease its attractiveness and the likelihood of its future occurrence” (Ross, Lee & Nisbett, Richard, 2011, p. 66).
Learning to read is high-stakes. Reading and math are foundational skills. Thus, it’s risky to reward a child for reading. It may seem like the reward is working in the short-term. “If you read 10 minutes, I’ll take you to get ice cream!” and the child yells, “Okay!” Yet, you may not see that all these rewards make your child read less in the long-term.
Daily reading is critical
How much should a first grader read each day? 10-minutes! Daily reading is so critical for reading progress. Some parents mistakenly think a child shouldn’t be forced to read. They remember hating things they were forced to do as a kid—play the violin, vacuum, play soccer—and they think that if you’re forced to do something you’ll hate it more.
Most kids initially dislike reading. Do you remember what it was like to be a beginning reader? Probably not! Many parents are surprised to see just how laborious reading is for beginners. You mean he has to say mmmm-aaaa-nnnn slowly 3x before realizing that the word is man!? Yes, that’s how slow and tedious it is to be a beginner.
Learning to read is hard
We’ve forgotten how hard it is to break the code. We’re experts. Plus, unlike many other skills, we read every single day. That means, our reading skills never atrophy. Quite the contrary. Once you’re literate, you use your reading skills all the time. That means, we have totally forgotten what it was like to be a beginner.
We don’t use most skills every day. It’s easy to let violin, ice skating, or drawing skills atrophy, because it’s unlikely you depend on them for survival. Reading, however, is ingrained in our modern world. Look up from this text at this moment and you’re very likely to see other text in your environment.
Practice begets decoding skills begets fluency which finally begets…enjoying reading
We’ve forgotten what it was like to be a beginning reader. It is hard, uncomfortable and stretches your mind much like immersion in a second language. Literally, beginners are forming new connections in their brains, creating a whole new network.
To wait for your beginning reader to like reading may mean you’ll wait forever. You have to take the reigns. You have to ensure beginners practice so they can like reading. If you prioritize 10 minutes a day, your child will begin to decode accurately and fluently. With these skills, he’ll build the foundation necessary to actually enjoy reading.
Beginners are excited to break the code
Reading mmmm-aaaa-nnnn 3x to decipher the word is not fun. However, reading progress is exciting. Kids are encouraged when they progress. They’re thrilled to enter the adult world of literacy. They want to read street signs and book titles and discover books they like. Catch this enthusiasm. It’ll carry kids through the early years of learning to read.
Learning to read is hard. Those who claim otherwise may be out of touch. Sure, some kids learn to read with ease. But they are the exception. For most kids, learning to read requires focus, diligence and decoding even when they don’t feel like it.
However, if you get in 10 minutes a day, something will happen. Reading will get easier. Much easier. Suddenly, their mind will be freed from the burden of slow decoding. They’ll get faster. They’ll begin to read more sophisticated stories. Then, finally, they’ll like it. Maybe even love it.
Sure, they may dislike daily reading now. But if you prioritize daily reading now…
your child will thank you later.
Reading Elephant offers printable phonics books.
Lee, Ross & Nisbett, Richard (2011). The person and the situation. Pinter & Martin.
Lepper, R., Greene, D. & Nisbett, R. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward. : A test of overjustification hypothesis. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 28, 129-137.