How To Improve Reading Skills with Sustained Silent Reading

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No matter what level of reading your child is currently, those skills can be improved on with this super simple, daily practice.

Four year old girl reading a book

If you have read many of my posts focusing on reading skills, you know that I love the book  The Read-Aloud Handbook  (affiliate link) by Jim Trelease. Seriously one of my favorite books ever.

My favorite, number one tidbit of information in the book is on Sustained Silent Reading (SSR).

SSR is reading silently to yourself for pleasure. You read what you enjoy. Magazine, newspaper, scriptures, novels, parenting books…whatever it is you enjoy, you read it. The idea is that reading for fun gets you reading, and reading a lot makes you a better reader.

“Reading is a skill–and the more you use it, the better you get at it. Conversely, the less you use it, then more difficult it is” (page 84). 

As soon as I read about this, I implemented it into our daily schedule. As my kids entered school, I have always made sure to add this into our daily summer schedule. Read more about our daily summer schedule here

Why Do Sustained Silent Reading?

So what about SSR compelled me to put it into our schedule? And what about it makes me a raving fan even now, nearly a decade later? Here are some compelling reasons to do sustained silent reading.

SSR Builds Reading Skill

“SSR allows a person to read long enough and far enough that the act of reading becomes automatic” (page 85)

SSR Encourages Reading for Enjoyment

SSR is meant to be informal with no quizzes and no grading. This teaches children that reading can be for pleasure.

I have always been a big reader. The time in my life where the amount of time I spent reading dropped significantly was in seventh grade when reading became less about enjoying reading and more about the grading associated with reading. I read for pleasure very infrequently until I was no longer graded on what I read.

SSR Builds a Love of Reading

In young readers, the use of SSR shows improvement in both attitudes toward reading and skills for reading.

SSR Increases Vocabulary

It increases vocabulary. “…printed material introduces three to six times more rare words than conversation does” (page 86).

SSR Helps Avoid Summer Setback

SSR is a great tool for avoiding “summer setback.” Summer setback is when the child either does not make progress academically or, more commonly, loses progress academically through the summer.


Read: How To Avoid Summer Setback in All Areas


I remember back in my earlier days of parenting being concerned about my children losing ground they made in school. At the end of the school year, I asked both Brayden’s first grade teacher and Kaitlyn’s Preschool teacher what I should do with the child to help prepare them best for next year’s school year. The answer from both teachers was simply “read.”

Reading is the number one tool for keeping skills up for school. Read to your child 30 minutes a day, and as your child is able, have your child read.

For more on avoiding summer setback, see these three posts I have written on the Children’s Learning Activities blog:

How to avoid summer setback text overlay over a picture of a girl reading a book

How To Do Sustained Silent Reading (SSR)

Sustained silent reading is so simple. It can be used effectively in the home or in the classroom.

Here are some rules to go by in the home:

  1. Start with SSR being 10-15 minutes long at first. You can add time as you see your child is ready for it (and often the child asks for it to be longer).
  2. The child chooses what to read.
  3. Have a variety of available reading material. Newspapers, magazines, novels, picture books…any type of reading that is approved by you is okay. To keep material fresh and interesting, take advantage of your library. You can also subscribe to the newspaper and one or two magazines that would interest your child (my kids love National Geographic for Kids). Research shows that “the more kinds of reading material in a home the higher the child’s reading scores in school” (page 90), so don’t feel like if your child chooses to read the paper it is worthless time spent reading.
  4. Choose a time of day you can be consistent with this. 
  5. You do SSR, too. This is very important–the child will benefit greatly from seeing you read.
  6. No changing your reading material once SSR has started.
  7. No talking during SSR.
  8. No reports required. This is for fun.

The Read Aloud Handbook Book cover 

Our Experience with SSR

Since this is my favorite aspect I have taken from this book, you know we have implemented it. We started it a way back in 2010. It went very smoothly. The children loved it.

I remember our second summer with it. It was especially rewarding to me. Brayden was seven could read well, so SSR was more than just looking through books for him. In one week, he read five chapter books completely on his own. I think that is great!

My children have loved SSR. They talk about it as summer approaches and look forward to doing it daily during the summer. 

When the children cannot read yet, they still love SSR. They look through picture books and magazines. You can even get wordless picture books.

We do it in the afternoon and for 20-30 minutes. We all sit in the same room, but in our own space. One person per couch/chair/beanbag. I like it in the afternoon in the summer because it is a great physical and mental break from the activity of the day. The children come in from the heat, sit in the cool house, and just relax for half an hour. We follow the rules as I listed above in the How-To section.

I love SSR for me, too. It is hard to sit and read daily as a mom–especially while your kids are awake. This is time they do not interrupt me while I am reading. 

How To Improve Reading Skills Through Sustained Silent Reading. Great for preventing summer setback.

Fringe Benefits of SSR

A fringe benefit refers to perks outside of the obvious. I discussed the major benefits of SSR above. There are some other benefits that come from this activity you might not think about.

Time for Mom to Read

I don’t know about you, but I find it really hard to fit in time to read. Even with my kids all in school, I have a hard time reading a book. As soon as I sit down, I think of a thousand things I need to do. I think of the laundry I forgot to move over or I realize I didn’t get the meat out for dinner. I remember I needed to text my child’s teacher or hurry and make the grocery list. 

Having SSR each day is time that is on the schedule that I am forced to sit and read. And I don’t feel guilty because I know all of the benefits this time spent reading is giving my child. I know that when children see adults loving reading, it helps them to love reading. A huge goal for me as a parent is for my children to love reading, so I am willing to sit and read.

I have noticed that reading helps give me a break from life. It slows my brain down and I feel refreshed. I am in a better mood, which just impacts the entire family positively. 

Kids Forced to Rest

I touched on this earlier. SSR is time children are forced to rest. I strategically put SSR right after lunch. This is the heat of the day for us in the summer. It gets kids out of the sun. They take a breather mid-day and let the body cool and relax. 

Children are also programmed to only notice they are thirsty when they are required to sit still, so it is a great mid-day fluid replenish time. 

How to help your child absolutely love to read with a picture of a preschooler

Working SSR Into The Schedule

With all of the things to do in day, you can find yourself overwhelmed at the idea of adding in one more thing. If you have a school-aged child, I think SSR can reasonably replace rest time if you want it to. 

I would encourage you to give SSR a try and see if you recognize the benefits. Find 20-30 minutes in your day when you can fit it in. You will love it!

Related Posts On This Blog

How To Improve Reading Skills Through Sustained Silent Reading. Great for preventing summer setback.

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valplowman
valplowman

Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at Babywise.life, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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3 Comments

  1. Mollie VanderLaan
    June 21, 2012 / 6:42 PM

    Do you think it's ok for SSR to be during rest time? My daughter "reads" all during her 1 hour rest time. Do you think I need to add additional time outside of that?

  2. Plowmanators
    July 28, 2012 / 3:36 PM

    Mollie, so sorry for the late response! Personally, I would add some SSR. I know moms who count individual reading as SSR, but I do think a huge component of it is the witnessing mom or dad reading at the same time. It is a family activity :). So I would, but I know not all would agree with me. I do think Trelease would agree.

  3. Unknown
    September 4, 2012 / 4:53 PM

    A what age would you recommend starting SSR?

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