Q&A: What can I do to boost my child's reading skills?
Q My son is six years old and I'm worried about his ability to read. He appears to be only reading a few words while some of his classmates can read sentences. He is very happy going to school but I don't want him to fall behind. I would welcome any advice you can give that would help me to encourage him to read.
A My first piece of advice is to talk to his teacher to see if she has any concerns about his reading ability. Just as toddlers learn to walk and talk at different times, not all children learn to read at the same time.
Some children can read words or even sentences at four, while other children may not manage to read sentences until they are seven. There is a wide variation in reading and writing ability and development plays a large role in acquiring this skill.
There are some things that parents can do, however, to encourage their child on their reading journey.
Traditionally, parents read while the child listens passively. The problem with this method is that young children have difficulty sustaining their attention and understanding the verbal language when not actively involved in the process.
When encouraging reading ability in your child I always recommend an interactive approach. This encourages your child to be the teller of the story. Adopting this method, especially in the pre-reading years (ages three to seven), has been shown to build the foundation for formal reading.
Interactive reading is enjoyable and important for promoting your child's school readiness skills and will also cultivate social, emotional and academic skills.
Comment and describe
As you look at picture books with your child, name the objects and describe the story on the pages. Comment on what you see on the page while pointing to each picture as you describe it or each word as you read it.
You can name the pictures and describe the action as well as the colours and the size of things. Using prepositions such as under, on top of, over and beside as you describe the pictures also helps children to understand the meaning of these prepositions.
You can also comment or describe the feelings of the characters in the story. By labelling emotions, your child learns feelings and vocabulary and this can also help them to talk about their own feelings.
Ask open-ended questions
Ask your child what they think is happening on the page and in the pictures. This will encourage them to make up a story and increase language fluency.
You can ask your child to guess what picture might be on the next page or what will happen next in the story. This encourages their imagination. This approach makes a game out of the story, which both you and your child will enjoy.
Praise and encouragement
To increase your child's self-confidence and motivation to read, praise them for their efforts. And be enthusiastic with your praise. Too often as parents we praise our children while watching TV or reading the newspaper without raising our head or changing our tone of voice.
Encourage your child to tell you what they are thinking or feeling about the story. Listen while your child reads. As you listen, your reactions are important. Don't interrupt and give your child time to figure out difficult words.
Expand on what your child says
By repeating what your child says and by adding an extra description to their comment you can expand on what they say. For example you might say: "Yes, you are correct, that is a car and it is a big, yellow car." You are praising your child's knowledge of the word or object and then adding to it by providing a description.
You can also expand your child's understanding when you relate their comment to some other meaningful event in his life: "Yes, this is a big yellow car and it reminds me of Uncle John's car."
Choose books with topics of interest to your child
Allow your child to choose the story book they wish you to read. You can also go to the local library and allow them to pick out books on topics of interest to them.
If your child likes horses or space objects you can look for books on these topics. Try and select ones that are not too difficult. Don't worry if the books selected are a little easier than those that come home from school.
Set up reading time each day
Try to set a time when you read together each day. This may be before your child goes to bed at night or after dinner. Make this a quiet time by turning off the TV and finding a comfortable place to sit.
Once you create this habit you'll find your child will continue with these learning habits for years to come.
Children really love if parents or care-givers use their imagination. I was recently visiting a friend's house around her two young children's bedtime. They said they wanted Dad to read them their story because he "made things up" and used lots of different voices.
Make reading fun
Engage your child in reading by having fun. Sing songs such as the alphabet song and recite nursery rhymes and encourage your child to join in. Read with drama and excitement. Use different voices for the characters in the story. When you make reading fun, this will motivate and interest your child in reading for the rest of their lives.
Remember that learning to read doesn't happen all at once. When your child learned to walk, he began by crawling and then gradually pulling up and finally taking that first step. Similarly with reading, it is a gradual process.
Model good behaviour
Remember that you are a role model. You can help your child to become motivated to read by reading books yourself. If your child sees you reading the newspaper or books they will want to copy your behaviour.
Tell family stories
Tell your child stories about your family -- aunts, uncles, grandparents -- and experiences you had growing up. Tell him about family traditions, holidays, etc. All children are interested in what it was like when you were young.
Cereal boxes, street signs, poems, comics, recipes, newspaper articles, read everything. Encourage family and friends to give your children books as gifts. Keep reading to your child even after they have learned to read themselves. This will keep the magic alive.
Talk to your child's teacher
Talk to your child's teacher about your concerns. She/he will be the best resource to find out about their reading level and if there are any genuine reasons to be worried. Ask about any reading strategies they use and could recommend.