With the Happy Cheetah Reading System, developer Dr. Karen has mentioned that she doesn’t expect children to start picking up books on their own until the final book. There is so much for them to process, and it takes a while for the information to filter down.
My youngest son is currently working his way through the second-to-last book. Recently, he has wanted me to read him Dr. Seuss books. Repeatedly. Which is great. I’m happy to do so.
But it has left me slightly befuddled. Maybe I’m too much of a know-it-all, but if I know something, I want to share it! So when I would read, “Do you like . . .” I was consistently surprised when my son didn’t finish “green eggs and ham.” Not once!
This morning, he wasn’t feeling great, so he found some books and crawled into my bed. I was working on the computer, but suddenly realized that he had started in.
I am Sam.
I am Sam.
Sam I am.
I do not like
That Sam-I am.
I stopped working on the computer, but pretended to type for a page or two more — no need to spook the independent reader — but soon gave up the pretense, as we read through the book together.
And when we were done — less than a half hour later — he said, “That was a lot of words! I might read it again someday. But not today.”
Then he asked me to read it back to him.
Four Tips Before Reading a Longer Book
My next oldest son has also read through Green Eggs and Ham. It’s one of the easiest of the Dr. Seuss books. But it was far more challenging for him — it may have taken us an hour and a half, back before I knew that shorter sessions are better.
Here are some of the breakthroughs I’ve made in my own teaching abilities since that painful, lengthy earlier read-through with my next oldest son.
1) Make sure the story is familiar.
My youngest and I have visited Sam-I-am and his frenemy multiple times this last week. My youngest knew where the story was going.
2) Use a finger to mark the words.
I always read the book with a finger pointing to the first letter in each word. I don’t run my finger under the words smoothly, but rather go through the story in a series of hops.
When my son read, he didn’t use a finger to keep track of his place. He could have, but he chose not to, and he was fine. A few times, I used my finger to get him back on track, but overall, he was find.
3) Point out the patterns.
I didn’t do this for every page — that would have been excessive. But a few times, I pointed out the rhymes. “Look! This line says, rain, and here it says, train. When I cover up the t, it says rain rain. But when I show all the letters, these words say rain train.”
Or I’d emphasize the rhyme in mouse and house, or in fox and box.
I’m sure on some level that helped.
But the even more helpful thing was showing him the larger patterns on the page. “Here’s a page with a bunch of words. But see how every other line says, I will not eat them? And on this page, see how the entire column of words says, I do not like them, and then just the ending words change a bit.”
My son pointed out those patterns as he was going through, so he remembered that conversation.
4) Point out the page numbers.
At one point, maybe a little exasperated by my son’s complete lack of interest in reading even the first few pages, I said, “Look! If you just read I am Sam. I am Sam. Sam I am, you would have read seven pages of this book!” And I showed him where the page numbering started, and how the page count went up.
This must have been highly motivating for my little guy, because he referred to the total number of pages he had read about every four pages.
And at page 45, I mentioned that he had read three out of four of the total number in the book. He was really close!
Perhaps the page count made the total number less stressful? I’m not sure, but I was surprised by how much he commented on the pages.
Three Tips While Reading a Longer Book
1) Help as much as you can without frustrating.
My son absolutely read Green Eggs and Ham. But he absolutely could not have done it without some subtle help. Sometimes he would pause just a little too long between lines. I could tell that the unfamiliar word anywherewas a tricky one, and if he didn’t have a running start with the previous line’s here or there, I knew he wouldn’t recognize anywhere. So as he approached anywhere, I would quickly repeat what he had already read, to make sure it was in his mind.
The book alternates between sentences with Do you like and Do you eat. When the word eat showed up, I would make a small biting sound with my teeth. Did he need that? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it may have been a bridge at times.
A few times, I needed to point to the words. A few times, I needed to confirm that he was on the right track. Once I stepped out to get him a snack (“Food gives me the energy to keep going,” he told me seriously), and while I was away, he got caught in a few wrong words in a row and couldn’t figure out how to find his way back to sense.
No problem! That’s what I’m here for!
2) Feel free to help more near the end.
When we reached the last few pages, I could tell that my son’s stamina was just about at an end. So I gave him a couple of words. He maybe could have figured them out, but I wanted to make sure his momentum stayed high when he was so close. Far better to end with a completed book, than to get to the last two and melt down and leave it unfinished.
I think I could summarize this as: no straining! Let it be easy the whole way.
3) Celebrate the whole way through.
When children read anything, it’s miraculous. No less so because it’s common.
The brain has solved the problem of transforming symbols into meaning.
This is amazing.
Celebrate every small victory.
I’m cheering you on.