KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) seems appropriate when teaching kids to read. The skill of reading is so difficult and requires so much concentration, that children don’t need distractions. I have even been known to cover up black and white BOB book illustrations when my kids were getting too distracted by them. Generally, if I saw my child’s eyes drift from the words to the picture and then they stopped reading, I tried to redirect them to the text, I reminded them to finish the sentence and then we would talk about the picture, and if none of that worked, I took an index card and covered up the picture.*(see below)* I only bring this up to show how very easily distracted children can be and to offer the advice to look at your child’s eyes if they seem to be struggling with a text.
Are they tracking the words or are their eyes wandering away? If they are wandering, is it time for a short break? Is there a phrase you can use to help bring the child back to the task? I end up saying things like, “Let’s keep going, I want to know what happens!” and “You’re almost done. Let’s finish strong and then we can play, but you are only one page from the end.” (Why did my kids stop with one page left? Self-defeatist tendencies? Feeling like they got so close to the end that it’s really the same as finishing? Child stubbornness? Who knows.) Does it help to ask the child about what is happening in the story? To pause and talk about the picture before going back to the beginning of the sentence/paragraph/page so that comprehension doesn’t suffer?
It can seem silly, but these little redirects are helpful in reminding kids to finish what they start and that even if tired, they can finish the sentence (if not the book) and be proud of what they accomplished. Which leads me to my last tip on this – if my child was lagging, I gently pushed until I sensed that they were done (as opposed to having a moment), then had them continue until the next logical break (sentence, paragraph, page, chapter), and then we stopped. There’s always tomorrow.
** I want to be clear that sometimes, kids use the pictures to decode a word. This is a GOOD use of a picture, and also why picture books are so important to early readers. I only covered up the pictures when the next word was something I knew my child knew, and he or she was distracted as opposed to struggling with a word. If you pay attention, you can see the difference, and base your reaction on your child’s need at that moment.