Teaching a child to read is a job that many families leave up to the school. However, if you want your child to excel at reading, there are things that you can do at home to give your child a boost. Reading is a skill that is interwoven into everything your child will do at school. The better your child is at reading, the easier everything else in school will become.
Here are five things you can do at home to help your child grow as a reader:
Encourage Reading as Early as Possible
It goes without saying that the sooner your child starts to read the better off they will be. This does not mean that you should sit down and start trying to teach a three year old how to read Dr. Seuss! Instead, you will want to start off with very simple stuff. How early? You can start pretty much as soon as your child can talk in complete sentences.
Two great places to start reading are your child’s name and with environmental print. Environmental print is simply the words we see all around us every day. Stop signs, restaurant logos, and the names of TV shows are all words that your child gets exposed to on a regular basis so there are plenty of opportunities for practice. Don’t worry about having your child “sound out” the words. The important thing is that they recognize that groups of letters can create words and that words mean something.
Make Reading Fun
Reading with your child doesn’t have to be boring and super structured. Sitting down and reading together with your kid is something that should be fun for both of you. After all, if both of you are having fun doing it, then it is more likely that you will do it again. Not only that, having fun wakes up the brain and makes learning easier.
There are a ton of fun books to read with your kids, no matter what age they may be. Find books with colorful pictures and easy to follow story lines for the youngest readers. For kids who are a little older look for books with exciting plots and colorful characters. As you read, try to imitate the voices of the characters. Read louder in exciting parts and settle down to a whisper during sad or scary parts. Have your child read along or imitate you as you read. Do whatever it takes to keep them (and you) interested and having fun.
If your child wants to read a page, but they don’t actually know the words yet, let them read anyway. Turning pages, following along with a story, and looking at pictures are all what experts call reading like behavior, and it is important for your child to learn. It doesn’t matter if the younger kids get some (or all) of the words wrong, all that matters is that THEY think they are reading and that you are spending time together.
Let Them Read (Almost) Anything
Many parents get frustrated or confused when their child wants to read the same book over and over again. However, it is actually very good practice and you should not discourage it. Like any other skill, reading takes practice, and practicing skills we have already mastered not only helps us maintain those skills it also makes it easier for us to learn more advanced skills.
A quarterback doesn’t throw a ball once and call it a day. They throw the ball thousands of times a year in practice. All of the easy throws add up and when it’s time to make the hard passes, they are ready. Of course the quarterback will practice harder skills. So will your child – when they are ready.
Your child might sometimes pick up a book that is way beyond what they can read. Don’t discourage this behavior. Your child will come to realize on their own that the book is too hard now, but it won’t be forever. No matter what the book is, the child probably recognizes some of the words so that means they just need to practice some more. Letting them come to this realization on their own will help them encourage themselves to keep trying.
Talk about What They Have Read
Fluency is the ability to quickly and correctly read words. Comprehension is the ability to understand what has just been read. By the time your child enters the third grade, school will be focusing more on comprehension than fluency. Fortunately, comprehension is another reading skill that you can practice at home.
When you are reading with your child, ask them questions while you are reading. Have them retell the story in their own words. If they have never read the story before, ask them what they think is going to happen next or why they think something in the story happened the way that it did. Look at the pictures before reading the book and have your child tell you what is going on in the pictures.
One powerful way to help with comprehension is to have your child make connections with the books they are reading. Have they read any books similar to the one you are reading? Ask the child to tell how they are the same. Do they know someone who looks or acts like one of the characters in the book? Ask them to explain how they are the same and how they are different. If the book is about a real place, has the child been there before? How is the place in the book different than when the child went there?
When your child is in school, they will be asked to write about things that they have read. Talking to your child during reading about what they have read is a good way to help them think about what they are reading more deeply than they might on their own. Just remember to have fun with it. Don’t ask your child to sit down and write an essay about Cat in the Hat!
Show Them That You Like to Read Too
One of the best ways to get your kid to love reading is to show that YOU love reading. When children see their parents doing something, they want to do it too. If you never read then don’t be surprised if they don’t take reading seriously either.
If you’re actually not much of a reader, don’t feel bad. You don’t have to be reading all the time to show your child that reading is important. Just make sure your house is well stocked with books and magazines and grab one every once in a while instead of flipping through social media or watching reruns.
Even though we live in a digital world and books and magazines are not as widespread as they used to be, reading is still incredibly important. Reading serves as a foundation for communication. People who are better readers are usually better writers and speakers as well. As communication becomes more face to face and instantaneous, kids who developed strong communication skills by being good readers at an early age will have a leg up on their peers.
Take the time to help your child become a good reader while they are young. It will pay off immensely not just in school but in whatever career they pursue later in life.