Growing Bookworms – Does speed reading matter for kids

When I was ten years old, I was one of a handful of kids in my grade who were selected to attend a speed reading programme. We attended a separate class where we were given a machine with a screen that displayed a page of text. There was a solid covering which moved down the page, covering the text as it descended. I remember having to read quite quickly to finish reading a sentence before it disappeared. The speed with which the covering moved could be increased or decreased by twisting a knob on the side of the reading machine. This was under the control of the reading teacher.

Speed reading suited me and with practice I became a very quick reader. Some of the kids never took to the exercises and gave up quite quickly. I was keen to learn to read faster. Faster meant more books in a day or week. By the following year I was reading 14 children’s books a week and making two trips a week to the local library on my bicycle. I bribed my younger sister into giving me her three library cards. I had four of my own.

I am still a fast reader and can read an average book in a week. I only read for leisure for approximately one hour a day. I rarely read one book at a time and usually have at least two physical books on the go and one audio book. If I get a little tired of one book, I switch over to the other which makes it harder to measure the speed with which I read. Of course, the most important thing with reading is comprehension, there is no point in reading fast if you don’t comprehend the story.

I like to believe I do understand and remember everything I read (unless it is testing my oldest son on his chemistry – that is so deadly boring for me I never remember a single word afterwards). Has my ability to read quicker helped me in my working life. I think it has, I can read and summarise contracts and documents a lot faster than many other people.

This brings me to the benefits of teaching children to speed read.

The way I understand the learning to read process is that young children first learn to recognise and assign sounds to specific letters. Those letters become words that the young reader must decode in order to read. Practice enables the child to recognise words and their reading becomes more accurate and automatic. Once the brain no longer has to focus entirely on decoding words, it is able to focus on comprehension. This is why reading teachers concentrate on reading fluency which is a combination of rate, accuracy and expression. It is, therefore, obvious that rate is not the only factor, but it is important. The quicker a child develops reading fluency, the faster they will achieve good comprehension of the reading material.

Neither of my sons have had the opportunity to learn speed reading. I assume this is because this type of learner extension is no longer provided by schools. It could be because speed reading is not considered to be particularly necessary as one contributor out of three to effective reading. My oldest son reads very quickly and with excellent comprehension. He reads his complex school set works in a short period. His comprehension is good and he scores high marks on language comprehension tests. He would probably be a good candidate for speed reading as he would enjoy the challenge and not lose out on comprehension by reading faster.

Michael, on the other hand, is a slow reader, but he is now quite fluent and accurate. I always start Michael reading his school set works at the beginning of the holidays or school term so that he has lots of time to read the book at his own comfortable pace. I often buy him the audio book too, so that he can listen to the story again after he has read it. Michael also usually scores well on comprehension tests. Michael is motivated by interest and often finds his school set works boring. Trying to get him to read quicker would certainly backfire as he would have to sacrifice comprehension for speed. Slow and steady works well for him.

Possibly the answer is the same as always, you need to understand your child and appreciate their strengths and weaknesses when accessing the best approach for teaching them to read.

Have you done a speed reading programme? Did they offer this at your school or your children’s schools? Do you think it helps to practice reading faster? Let me know in the comments.

If your interested in teaching yourself to speed read, you can learn more about it by watching this YouTube video:

About Robbie Cheadle


Robbie Cheadle has published nine books for children and one poetry book. She has branched into writing for adults and young adults and, in order to clearly separate her children’s books from her adult books, is writing for older readers under the name Roberta Eaton Cheadle.

Robbie Cheadle’s Sir Chocolate children’s picture books are written in sweet, short rhymes which are easy for young children to follow and are illustrated with pictures of delicious cakes and cake decorations. Each book also includes simple recipes or biscuit art directions which children can make under adult supervision. Her books for older children also incorporate recipes that are relevant to the storylines.

Roberta Eaton Cheadle’s supernatural stories combine fabulous paranormal elements with fascinating historical facts.

Children’s picture books – available as a square book and an A5 book (co-authored with Michael Cheadle):
Sir Chocolate and the strawberry cream story and cookbook
Sir Chocolate and the baby cookie monster story and cookbook
Sir Chocolate and the sugar dough bees story and cookbook
Sir Chocolate and the Condensed Milk River story and cookbook
Sir Chocolate and the Sugar Crystal Caves story and cookbook
Sir Chocolate and the Fondant Five story and cookbook
Sir Chocolate and the Ice Cream Rainbow Fairies story and cookbook

Middle school books:
Silly Willy Goes to Cape Town (includes five fun party cake ideas)
While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with Elsie Hancy Eaton)

Poetry book:
Open a new door (co-authored with Kim Blades)

Supernatural fantasy YA novel:
Through the Nethergate

Horror Anthologies (edited by Dan Alatorre):
Dark Visions

Paranormal Anthologies (edited by Kaye Lynne Booth):
Spirits of the West
Whispers of the Past

Murder mystery Anthology (edited by Stephen Bentley)
Death Among Us

Find Robbie Cheadle



Twitter: BakeandWrite

Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram

Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books

Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Growing Bookworms” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.

73 Comments on “Growing Bookworms – Does speed reading matter for kids”

  1. C.E.Robinson says:

    Robbie, I forgot about speed reading until I read your post. I’m a slow reader, but my middle-age son speed reads. And comprehends well. I have 4 young great-grand children and I’ll ask my granddaughters if they know about speed reading. It may interest them. 📚🎶 Christine

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Robbie's inspiration and commented:

    Can you speed read? Have you ever considered learning how to speed read? My Growing Bookworms post for Writing to be Read this month discusses this topic and whether speed reading matters for kids. Thanks for hosting me, Kaye Lynne Booth.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. trentpmcd says:

    I took speed reading as a kid as well. I can read pretty fast, though perhaps not at a “speed reading” pace, though usually I read at a much more leisurely pace. More exactly – I like a conversational pace. Funny, but I write at about that same pace. I can see how it could help some kids with fluency.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think speed reading is a bit out of fashion now, Trent. It was popular when I was at school, but my sons have never been offered an opportunity to learn. Maybe its because kids read a lot less now and practice is necessary to speed read. I’m not surprise to hear you were selected for this programme.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. marianbeaman says:

    Years ago I was a reading teacher in both the grade school and college level. In grade school, the administrators invested in machinery which could be set to varied paces of reading, with the intent the student would increase speed incrementally.

    Another technique I used was having students use index cards to show the lines, one by one, with the idea that readers would not be distracted by the words yet-to-be-read. I’m not really sure how successful these techniques were, but students who liked machines embraced the idea of seeing words on a screen instead of on a paper book page.

    About the YouTube video: I’d find the lines drawn vertically to be a distraction though I think there is power in using peripheral vision.

    My husband says that I “inhale” books. I think he is right. 🙂
    Thought-provoking post, Robbie!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Marian, thank you for sharing your experiences with speed reading. I also read fast and may subconsciously use the techniques I was taught at school. I certainly read a lot more deliberately and slowly when I read poetry or classic books. You have to savour some pieces of literature. Contracts, well, those are boring so speed reading helps a lot. I’m glad this topic interested you, Marian.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. We did not have the opportunity to learn speed reading in school. However, I do rip through books rather quickly. That is, of course, unless I am editing or proofing a book for someone or myself. It seems that having the ability to speed read would bless some and curse others.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree, Annette. Some people embrace speed reading and benefit from it, and others don’t like it. i’m glad I had the opportunity to learn. I read more slowly when I edit too. Otherwise you miss things, especially spelling errors.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. It’s a difficult concept–speed reading. I thought it was identifying phrases instead of words, something I never became adept at. Really good discussion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I imagine there are different ways of teaching speed reading. I watched a few videos and this one is the closest to what I was taught although we used a machine so no lines were drawn. I know that I use these techniques for work purposes but rarely for leisure reading. Fiction must be more interesting than work documents [smile].

      Liked by 1 person

  7. An informative post, Robbie. I had a frieind who could speed read, and I could never figure out how she did it. She could finish a novel in a day. It was amazing. I always thought it would be a great skill to have.

    It isn’t offered in the school system here in the U.S. to my knowledge. I think it would be wonderful for children to have such an opportunity available, although I have to agree that it wouldn’t be a good fit for all children.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the work is so complex now that the teachers don’t have time for anything extra, Kaye. I also think they don’t single kids out for extension any more. I can’t comment on whether that is better for the general student body or not. I did several extension programmes as a learner, including computer programming. Certainly speed reading has helped me in life, I didn’t enjoy the programming though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I took computer programming in college. It was quite frustrating and I did not care for it. I am not a techy, but any stretch of the word. I get frustrated too easily when the equipment doesn’t do what I want. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I enjoyed your experience, Robbie. This is something that will benefit your entire life.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Reblogged this on Pattys World and commented:
    What a lovely post to read and enjoy here on this #WordPressWednesday afternoon.
    If you’re a parent with interests in helping your children learn, you’re going to want to read this post.
    You’ll also want to check out the author’s children’s books.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Teri Polen says:

    Speed reading wasn’t offered when I was in school – I definitely would have taken it. More books! It isn’t something that was offered at my son’s schools either.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I wonder if it came from the UK then, Teri. South Africa has always been closely aligned with Britain. I think the benefits are arguable and special treatment for selected kids is not popular now. If I want this course for my boys, I would have to do it privately. Greg reads quickly and would probably embrace this. Michael is better slow and steady.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I remember hearing about speed reading when I was a kid and being interested in it, but my mother was not keen on it at all. Speed reading isn’t the same as skimming,is it, what we tend to do online?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Liz, I don’t think my mom even knew I did this course. Parents were not very involved when I was at school and she was busy with my sisters who would have been babies at the time. I must ask her if she had to give permission. An interesting thought. I think skimming is different as it involves scanning a piece of writing and picking out points of interest to read. Speed reading involves training the mind to only read the middle part of a sentence and effectively to insert the beginning and ending based on the context. That is how I understand it.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Carla says:

    Yes, we had that machine and the teacher controlled it. I became quite competent at speed reading, but many others did not. As long as understanding and enjoyment are not thrown out, then speed reading is a great thing.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Chel Owens says:

    We never had a speed reading program (or programme) in my schools. They *do* test my boys on speed, comprehension, and vocabulary.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. petespringerauthor says:

    A most interesting post, Robbie. As you so aptly explained in your experiences with your two sons, one size doesn’t fit all. I don’t ever recall speed reading being part of the curriculum in all the years I taught, though I can see its applications. We sometimes timed kids to see how fast they were reading a passage, but that was more to see if they were reading more quickly over the course of a year. Students did frequently take computer assessments to determine their reading level and measure growth. These left a lot to be desired in terms of accuracy. A child could take the assessment one day and test at a 3.5 (middle of third grade) reading level. If a child took the same examination a couple of weeks later, the same child might have a 2.4 or 4.7 reading level. Common sense should tell us a child will not lose or gain a year in two weeks.

    As you point out, comprehension is more important than speed. I would much rather see a student read a little slower and retain most of the information than a student who reads much faster but recalls less.

    One of the fascinating things is that some children had the ability to block out all the outside noises and distractions that are happening simultaneously in a classroom. I was not that child, and I’m still not today.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Pete, thank you for adding your experience and thoughts. I agree that comprehension is king and speed reading is a nice to have for some kids. I was one of the children that could block out noise and distractions when reading or working. I still do this and often don’t hear people speaking to me. My sons complain I don’t listen to them but they fail to realise that if I’m engrossed I won’t even hear them and take to to switch my concentration to them.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Toni Pike says:

    Very interesting post, Miriam. I never learnt to speed read, but remember it talked about a fair bit when I was a child. I’m afraid I’m not a fast reader. Toni x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Toni, I never thought that I was a fast reader either except when I deliberately speed read for work. I am told by others I read fast. I don’t think it matters that much as long as you derive pleasure from reading. That is key for me.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. memadtwo says:

    I remember talk about speed reading as a child, but I don’t remember ever having any instruction. I do not think I would be a good candidate, as I am easily frustrated. Also, I often spend time going back over things. Speed typing I do remember. I was fairly good at that. (K)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I loved speed reading when I learned the techniques, Kerfe. I thought it would be super to get through books double time. It is effort to do this for me and I prefer to read at my usual comfortable pace for leisure. I been using speed reading recently to review numerous contracts, practice has made me better so I have been thinking about it and did a little research about it.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. Thank you for this very interesting information, Robbie! This reading machine – first ever seen by me – makes sense, and i think is a very important tool, in teaching youngsters for great progress in reading. Myself i had missed any official teaching in faster reading. However its making sense. But for me its – like you wrote – a difference in reading for work or for leisure, and reading fast foreign languages not always means for me a better understanding of the texts. 😉 Michael

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Michael, lovely to hear from you. Speed reading in a foreign language would require an excellent command of that language. I read slowly when I read in another language. It is a challenge for me. I only speed read for work where I need the full context but don’t need to appreciate the language. Have a lovely day, Michael.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you very much for taking time on this posting, Robbie! Thats a great and very informative one, in fact here i never had heard about a reading machine. I am able to fast read several foreign language (beside the cyrillic ones), but this doesnt mean i also understand them. Have a lovely day as well. Michael

        Liked by 2 people

  18. Jim Borden says:

    interesting post, Robbie. While I’ve never taken a formal speed reading class, I’ve always been curious about it. I think I read fairly quickly as it is, but it would be nice to be able to read more quickly, with the same or greater comprehension.

    It’s also interesting how different your boys are, which you have noted before. But each of them seems to have found a way that works for them…

    Liked by 2 people

  19. olganm says:

    A fascinating post, Robbie. I’ve never learned fast speed reading, and it wasn’t on offer when I was a child here, in Spain (and as far as I know, it isn’t on offer now either). I read about it, or rather listened, as we did some work transcribing tapes as teenagers, to earn money for a trip, and the tapes were about study techniques (memorisation, speed reading…). I wondered about it, but I prefer to read at my own pace, although it would have been useful for work. I think it’s a bit of a double-edged sword, and as you comment, it might work for some people but not others. I read fairly fast (strangely enough, I noted that after becoming very fluent reading in English, I also read much faster in Spanish and Catalan), and I also type quickly, but sometimes I type quicker than I think. Reading for enjoyment is not about speed for me, and it also depends on the book and the writing style. Some books are demanding and must be read slower than others, and enjoyed as well.
    Thanks, Robbie.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Olga,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s an interesting topic. You bring up a good question, which I’d like to pose to Robbie.

      I had a friend who could speed read, and it was great because she would buy books and read them in a day or two, then give them to me, so my reading list was always full. But I often wondered if she got the same enjoyment from the book, reading it that fast. We’ve talked a lot about reading comprehension, Robbie, but how does speed reading affect reading enjoyment?

      Liked by 1 person

    • HI Olga, I think your thoughts are the same as mine. Speed reading has a time and a place for certain people who are able to retain the comprehension at the higher reading speed. I have only ever used this technique for work purposes. I read at a fairly fast pace for usual reading purposes and a bit slower for classic novels and complex works of fiction where a slower pace is required to enjoy the language better.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Thanks Robbie.. I don’t remember speed reading programmes at school but I was already reading well by the age of four as I was used to picking up books belonging to my two sisters who were 10 and 11 years older. Thankfully my first form teacher Mrs Miller recognised that I need more stimulation and gave me books to take home.. I have read a minimum of 1 book a week always and now upped to two most weeks. I don’t think I am speed reading but I know that like you I could read contracts and budgets very quickly and write executive summaries that apparently were accurate.. thanks Kaye Lynn for hosting. xx

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Robbie, this is interesting! In reading the comments here, I think there’s certainly a place for speed reading– you mentioned contracts and the like… But when it comes to novels, I like to savor the use of language, and write my own novels for those who do the same. That said, I found this a fascinating post and think it’s beneficial to know how to speed read so that one can use the skill appropriately!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Claire, thank you for visiting and commenting. Speed reading is not something I would use for novels and yours I would read at a slightly slower speed because of the beautiful language. Leisure is different to work and that’s a fact.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Erica/Erika says:

    An interesting topic, Robbie. I have not heard much about speed reading recently. Possibly not in my radar. I did investigate speed reading many years ago when I was going to University. I still read a great deal, yet, I am a focused, read every word reader. I also believe there are skills we can hone. Interesting about how your sons read. No right or wrong. Just different. And, yes, strengths and weaknesses. Thank you for sharing a fascinating post, especially coming from you, Robbie. You walk the talk.🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Erika, that is a lovely comment. I do try to live what I believe, especially when it comes to my children. I try to develop the best in my boys and to measure them as individuals. Speed reading is an interesting topic, I have been using my skills a lot lately so its been on my mind. Have a lovely day, Erika.

      Liked by 2 people

  23. […] Head over to read the rest of the post and are you a speed reader?: Growing Bookworms – Does speed reading matter for kids with Robbie Cheadle […]

    Liked by 1 person

  24. dgkaye says:

    Great article Robbie. An author friend once shared a speed reading program, of which I cannot remember now. But, I will say I did try it out and found it works fine for nonfiction but when I’m reading novels I don’t prefer to read fast. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  25. I vaguely remember my school curriculum touching on speed reading, Robbie, though it wasn’t really taught. I’m not a fast reader, but wish I was. The video was interesting! I plan to try it and see how much I can improve. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. TheIndianBookLounge says:

    We didn’t have speed reading in school and my kids didn’t have it either. Thanks for sharing Robbie. This was completely new to me.

    Liked by 2 people

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