How can I help my child with reading?
In this blog post I explore three important aspects of children’s reading: how to support early readers; how to be a better reader; how to get children interested in reading.
How to support early readers – as a guide, if a child needs help with more than one in ten of the words in a book then the text is too challenging: to persist with a book that a child is struggling to read might result in demotivation, loss of interest in reading and poor self-esteem. Clearly, if a child is to progress to trickier texts there needs to be an element of challenge, so here are three ways to help when a difficult word appears:
Encourage the child to sound out the letters, or blends (e.g. ‘ch’, ‘gr’, ‘sp’), in the word. This phonics method helps a child to link the letter sounds to the letter shapes, which enables them to read more challenging words as this skill develops. Unfortunately, the phonics method is not suitable for all words because many words have unusual spelling patterns and cannot be sounded out using phonic knowledge e.g. ‘was’ (even a picture clue is not possible for this word). So what can be done? This leads on to the second strategy for learning to read, which is to develop a child’s sight-vocabulary.
Sight words account for a significant proportion of the words used in children’s books, so if a child is able to recognise these words then his or her working memory is freed from decoding them and available to concentrate on understanding the meaning of the text. Sight words, also called high-frequency words, can be learned from flash cards, lists, or simply by repetition of seeing the word in a sentence.
The context of the sentence can be used to help an early reader decode an unfamiliar word. If a child is struggling to read the word ‘beautiful’ in the sentence ‘The beautiful princess kissed the ugly frog’ ask the child to read on to the end of the sentence then return to the challenging word: to support this strategy the child could use illustrations near the text to contextualise the sentence.
How to become a better reader – the best way for a child to become a better reader is to read regularly, which means most days. Reading aloud helps a child to develop skills in expression and fluency. A significant advantage of reading aloud to an adult is that a child cannot skip over a challenging word. To support a child to become a better reader an adult should model how to read aloud, which must involve engaging with the story rather than reading in a monotonous tone! Discuss with the child how punctuation is used when reading aloud – when speech marks appear use a different voice for each character’s speech – do you use intonation to indicate a question? – show surprise when seeing an exclamation mark! When sharing a book with a child ask him or her to predict what might happen next in the story; ask how might the ending be different; ask what might you do if you were the character – all these ideas help a child to engage with the book as well as with you, which helps the child to share spoken language and enhance his or her vocabulary.
How to get children interested in reading – perhaps this should say ‘how to keep children interested in reading’ as many young children are keen to read, but lose interest as other, often electronic, activities take up their time. A child should not find it a chore to read, but should enjoy the experience. This can be achieved by providing reading material that a child can read without adult support and that engages his or her interest. If a child doesn’t enjoy story books then supply information books, which can often be more fun as they do not need to be read sequentially but can be dipped into at any point. Perhaps a child is studying a particular topic at school (dinosaurs, farming, Victorians) – so why not provide a range of information books based around the topic? Often, when reading more challenging texts, a child is likely to encounter a word he or she doesn’t understand – have you thought of having a dictionary handy so the child can check the definition?