Thursday, 5 March 2015

What Do I Need To Know to Help My Child Learn to Read?

That's an awesome question, and one I am asked often enough that I figured I should record the answer!  The development of literacy is incredibly complex in many ways, but there is a TON you can do at home to help!  Read on for some tips and some knowledge points that will help you as you encourage your young learner in their reading skills.  This is certainly not the whole package (I kept it to ten points because I can get carried away when talking about reading!) but if you are a teacher or want more detail as a parent I would be thrilled to provide it - just ask!


  • It is crucial to read aloud to children.  It is, perhaps, the single most important thing you can do.  You can read to them at their "listening level" which is higher than their independent reading level.  This exposes them to new vocabulary and often keeps their interest high.  Use silly voices, make predictions, and talk about the book after you finish - make it fun!
  • Let them see you read.  Whether you enjoy a good novel, the newspaper or the side of a cereal box, point out to your child what an important skill reading is as an adult and how much enjoyment it can bring to our lives.
  • Read alongside your child, modelling smooth tracking of the text with your finger underneath (with them eventually taking over this job) and assisting/encouraging them as they begin to identify sight words and use their skills to try to sound out new words.
  • If you have a pre-reader or new reader in your home, consider labelling everything.  Put words around your house in as many places as you can think of...light switch, door knob, door, table, fridge, stove, bed, dresser, bathroom, stairs, railing - there are potentially hundreds of things in your home you can label.  Children will see these words and equate them with the item.  If you point them out regularly, you may be surprised how quickly your child starts to recognize those words in other contexts.
2. Sounds do not have /-uh/ on the end.  This applies to the sounds /b/, /c/, /d/, /f/, /g/, /h/, /j/, /k/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /p/, /q/, /r/, /s/, /t/, /v/, /w/, /y/, /z/ and the blends /sh/, /ch/, /th/. Also, /r/ is not /er/.  When you say /-uh/ at the end of these sounds, your child will copy you and may struggle to sound out words correctly.  Imaging trying to sound out the word “cat.”  You don’t realize it as a proficient reader, but it is very difficult to make a word out of /cuh/ /a/ /tuh/. Now try (/c/ /a/ /t/.)  Do you hear the difference?  Now, try /er/ /a/ /puh/.  Sound familiar?  Not to me!  It is supposed to be /r/ /a/ /p/.  To a developing reader or an English Language Learner, that would be pretty tough to blend.

3. There are words that we can "sound out"  and words that we cannot.  Phonics is awesome, but it doesn't always work.  This is why we teach sight words.  There are certain words that we must memorize visually, and our children must learn the difference as well.  In order to be an efficient reader, children must have both sight word memorization and phonetic skills.  Home practice makes a BIG difference in the development of both of these skills.  Consider giving your child a 'target word' (or a few once they get the hang of it) to focus on for a week.  Post them, and let them loose on the newspaper with a highlighter each day to find their target words in as many places as they can.

4. When you take a word and break it into its separate sounds, it is commonly called phoneme (sound) segmentation.  When you practice this skill explicitly, you are facilitating better writing skills.  We break words down so that we are able to say a word in our head & then sound it out.  Point out the sounds that make up words to your child.  Ask them to try!

5. Alternatively, when we take separate sounds and ask a child to say the word, it is commonly called blending.  When you practice this skill explicitly, you are facilitating better reading skills.  We want children to be able to hear each sound in a word and then blend it together.  Give them some sounds and ask them to put them together to make the word.

6. Children should track their text.  Model it done correctly, and have your child do it when they read.  Left to right, top to bottom, and smoothly...not jumping word to word.  This encourages their eyes to focus on the correct spot and to develop fluent, rather than robotic, reading.  Children often think they don`t need to track before they are actually ready to stop.

7. Encourage comprehension from the beginning.  Make it a habit to ask your child what they have read after, and even throughout, a book.  Even a pre-reader can talk about the illustrations.  Making up a story using only the pictures IS a pre-reading skill!  Beginning with simple recall of details, you can progress to questions requiring more thought as children become more proficient readers.  Ask children to predict, connect the text to their past experiences, ask questions & summarize.  We want children to know they are reading for a purpose.  

8. It's okay to let them struggle!  Do not simply give them the words or they will begin to depend on that.  Instead, give them a strategy that they can use in the future.  Encourage them them sound-it-out, cover part of the word, chunk the word, or look for a base word/compound word.  Consider asking your child's teacher what strategies they are using so s/he hears the same vocabulary when reading at home.

9. Encourage children to stop if they do not understand what a word means.  Model what this looks like often, because children won’t naturally do this on their own when they want to finish.  (When you are reading aloud to your child, you can do this using `think alouds`where you share a thought process you`d like to model for them out loud.)  Before they move on from a word they do not understand, they should clarify the meaning of the word.  They will need to use a strategy such as: read on, reread, look for context/picture clues, use background knowledge etc.  Again, you may consider asking your child's teacher about the specific strategies vocabulary they are using in the classroom.

10. Develop a culture of eager learning.  Know and talk about the value of literacy.  Tell them stories about how important it is for them to become better readers and writers.  Tell them about how glad you were when you could read the map on the way to Elbow, Saskatchewan, the stop sign for the cross walk, or your favourite childhood book.  Sharing these stories of literacy helps children to make real life connections.

"The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ¸[haven't] read." — Abraham Lincoln


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