by Victoria Waller, Ed.D., Reading Specialist

In order to “raise a reader” it’s important to know the definition of “reading.” Reading is when a person understands or takes “meaning” from printed words; simply stated, it’s “talk written down.” But now, you ask, how do I do this so my grandchild becomes a reader and understands what he/she hears and reads?

The first thing to do is: turn off the iPads, mobile phones, DVD’s and electronic games. Put them all away. Sit down on a couch with your grandchild in or on your lap next to you, and READ!

Let me say here I am not some old-fashioned grandma who doesn’t know how to use all the electronic gadgets. I have been known to go to YouTube with my grandchild and spend half an hour watching helicopters take off and land. BUT, you’d better believe that I‘ll have a book about helicopters ready to read and I’ll have pictures of helicopters from Google that I’ve already downloaded, printed and cut out. Then I’ll have a book with blank pages (, $29.99 for 10 books) ready so I can make up a story about helicopters with my grandson. When he was younger I’d make up the words (using my grandson as the main character), but now that he is a little older, he tells me a story and I write it down in this little book.

I’m sure you already know a lot about what I’m going to say next, but never really thought about it in terms of learning to read. Most children learn to talk, go potty, walk, and learn to read. Many factors contribute to a child learning to read and being successful in school. There are language factors, physical factors, emotional factors, social factors and readiness factors including vocabulary, attention, listening, critical thinking, self-confidence and independence. However, if the child is struggling in any one of these areas, it can impact learning.

Language, both non-verbal and verbal, is a factor in learning. My grandson didn’t talk for a while, but I talked to him the second he was born. We visit museums and I show him the animals in pictures, point out colors, people, and count the different things in the museum.  We have taken bus rides, looking at the scenery and “talking” about what we are seeing. And as we experience all of these adventures, we take pictures of our outings and put them in his very own “books”. He now has a stack of books where he can revisit any and all of the “fun excursions with grandma”.

I am continually using words when I play with him, talking about opposites in his cars, big and little, colors of different things, and singing kids’ songs over and over. Children learn by listening, doing, and going places, even if it’s the neighborhood. Every activity can be a learning experience that will help in a child’s readiness for school. Look at signs and point out words and say, “Oh that word is ‘Stop’.” “That word says ‘McDonald’s’.” Buy a dry erase board and magnetic letters. Put a word on the board. Say it, draw a picture of it, write the word in a sentence. Make it a game. Play with words.

Physical and emotional (parents divorcing, illness in the family, etc.) issues impact all areas of learning such as speech and hearing. You can’ t stop life but you can be AWARE of what the child is going through. Children know way more than adults give them credit for and it all impacts learning.

Social issues have a great impact on school success. A lot is being done all over the country on bullying…thank goodness. Again, just be aware and LISTEN to your grandchild. He may tell you something he doesn’t tell his parents.

Self-confidence and independence are two of the factors that I can tell you, as an educator in schools for 40 years, greatly effect a child’s success in school.  The parent who sits next to the child and says, “Let me do that for you” is telling that child, “You can’t do it, I have to do it for you.” (Of course, not in all instances.)

Constantly talking and reading to your grandchild develops vocabulary, attention, and listening, all readiness skills for reading and success in school. Using different genres of books and using good questioning techniques even at three years old, are also contributing factors to success in school.

As you can see, learning to read isn’t just learning sounds or words in isolation (alone, not in a sentence). Learning involves many factors that we, as grandparents, can do every opportunity we have with our grandchildren. As a grandparent you want to foster four things in your grandchild so they will become successful readers, students:





All of these add up to a love of learning…and reading soon follows.

Dr. Waller is a nationally recognized educational consultant who maintains a private practice for students to address various aspects of reading development. She works with young children on reading readiness skills and elementary students who are non-readers, beginning readers, remedial or advanced readers. Dr. Waller conducts workshops for parents and grandparents on creating an environment for their children conducive to learning to read and becoming lifelong readers. She is also a happy grandparent to Nick and Julia.