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Supportng Young Children’s Reading Skills

 Children learn to write by writing and they learn to read by reading.  What is often ignored is the activity needs to be enjoyable, meaningful and interesting to your child.  What topic is a favorite of your child –dinosaurs, trains, dogs, horses, mysteries?  Then, you need to find books within that topic and are readable by your child.  Your child’s teacher or the children’s librarian at the public library should be able to help you with the books’ reading level.  Or you might try a range of books in that topic and determine which seems easiest for your child to read.

 You can help your child develop comprehension skills by promoting the following strategies:

  1.  Predicting what is the topic of the book, or the theme of the book.
    1. Typically teachers have children look at the cover of the book or read the title and ask, “What do you think this book is about?”
    2. A great tool is for you to read enough of the book and then relate the theme to an experience your child has had.  Have your child then talk about that experience.  An example is reading the book The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrice Potter.  In the book, Peter learns to listen to his mother.   You might have your child recall a time when she didn’t listen to you and then experienced a negative event. With this example you might say, “Let’s see what happens when Peter doesn’t listen to his mother.”  Then have your child start reading the book.
    3. The illustrations throughout the book should help with understanding the text and illustrations should be directly aligned with the text on the page. 
      1. You can ask your child, “What do you think we will read about on this page?” or “What do you think happens next?”
      2. New vocabularymay be where a child needs help in understanding the reading.  Just because a child can read a word, doesn’t mean she comprehends what she has read. 
        1. You might make a short list of new words and talk about their meanings prior to reading or during reading.  In The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Potter uses the term ‘mischief’, this word would need to be explained.  Or you might have your child guess a meaning of the word based on the sentence, the events in the story, or the illustration on the page.
        2. Another reading skill is how fluent your child reads a text.  Oral reading may turn into a fast-paced activity.  By having your child slowing the rate of reading may help comprehension.
        3. A great comprehension activity is to have your child re-tell the story.  Sometimes you might see your child retelling or practicing reading to a sibling, pet, or stuffed animal.

 Learning new vocabulary is difficult unless it is within meaningful text.  One strategy when reading a book is to have your child or you write a new word on a small index card. These new word cards can be your child’s ‘word bank’.  In the classroom, a teacher posts the words on the wall, referred to as a ‘word wall’.  Words from the index cards then can be used in writing stories or future readings.  One doctoral study by Kathryn Sharpe (2007) was with Kindergarten children in five classrooms.  Teachers found the word banks were used successfully by the children in literacy activities and many children treasured their ‘words’.

 For years, reading specialists have studied the homes of early readers, where young children started reading without any formal instruction (Durkin, 1966).  Durkin found that children saw adults reading for pleasure, there were many types of reading materials in the home, children were included in meaningful literacy activities such as making grocery lists, and children were engaged in rich conversations.  Thus, teachers have tried to make classrooms reflective of these characteristics.  And parents can reinforce their children’s reading success through these same home activities. 

 Some school reading programs emphasize strategies of decoding new words, or words the child does not recognize.  This activity is saying the sounds of the letters in the word.  Sometimes the act of decoding takes so long, the child no longer remembers the meaning of the sentence or paragraph.  Another strategy is to have your child skip the word and go back later to guess what it means.  Think about your own reading strategies, do you stop and look up an unknown word in the dictionary or do you wait until that passage is finished?  The same may hold ‘true’ for your child.  The guessing of a word’s meaning takes into consideration the meaning of the paragraph or sentence, or the likelihood of the meaning.  Decoding words reduces fluency of reading, or the pace of reading.  There should be a balance of decoding and guessing the meaning of words.

One more important idea is that the most difficult words to read and remember are some of the simplest, such as  ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘of’, ‘were’, ‘is’, ‘she’, ‘from’, and ‘with’.  These high frequently appearing words may be termed by the teacher as ‘sight words’.  Your child may memorize these words, but the words need to be highlighted in a text so that they have meaning.  In this case, making word cards may not be as effective as highlighting a text with the words in sentences. 

One activity might be to take a book you own and having your child use a marker and highlight all of the ‘ands in the book.  The next reading of that book, your child could use a different color marker and highlight all of the ‘the’s. 

In many communities there are reading programs that bring mentors into the school to listen to a child reading.  Here in St.Louis is a program called PAWS.  Teachers request that a volunteer and dog come into the classroom.  All dogs are certified therapy dogs.  Children read to the dog.  And children, who may be experiencing the most frustration in reading, will happily read to the dog.  Evaluation of the program has indicated that the children’s reading test scores have gone up.  While this program may not be available in your area, you can replicate it in your home or a friend’s home with a dog, cat, bird, etc… 

A final suggestion is to have a reading time each day.  You and your child should take turns reading, and then you both should read independently.  Your attitude about reading is easily conveyed to your child.  Do you like to go to the library and get books for yourself?  Do you like to browse in book stores?  Or in our new technology age, do you read a Kindle or Nook?  And do you talk about what a good book you are reading?  Or do you read a newspaper or magazine?  Durkin’s research so many years ago did not identify that parents read the ‘classics’, but read things of interest to them.   Take time for reading in your busy schedule—the pleasure of the activity will quickly transfer to your child.

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