How to help your Child to Read

Sometimes parents are unsure of the best way to help their child to improve his or her reading skills.  The reading book comes home from school and instead of the learning process being a pleasurable experience it can feel like yet another job to be ticked off each day or even worse, turn into a bit of a battle for both parent and child.  It does not have to be this way.  Here are some tips to help you support your child in learning to read and to turn reading together into an enjoyable experience which will benefit you both.

Step one – get organised to read

– Find somewhere quiet and comfortable to read.  Let your child help with choosing this quiet place and try to read in the same place each time.

– Choose a regular time to read or create a simple timetable to track when reading is going to take place. 

– If your child is a reluctant reader you might want to consider creating a sticker chart or other reward strategy such as placing a marble in a jar which, when filled up would lead to a small treat. Have this on display in your reading space. 

– Set a timer.  Decide on how long you are going to spend reading.  It is unlikely that very young children would benefit from a very long reading session.  Ten to fifteen minutes per day is a realistic goal.  Remember you do not have to read the entire book in one sitting.

– Assess your child’s mood and your own.  Is reading time going to be successful today?  It is important that reading is a positive experience.  If your child is exhausted or you are feeling stressed out or rushed off your feet then the reading experience is not likely to be of much value.

Step two – introduce the book

– When your child brings home a new book, don’t just rush onto reading the words. 

– Look at the front cover together.  What is the story called?  What is happening on the front cover?  What does your child think is going to happen in the story?  (Predicting storylines is an important skill and helps develop early story writing skills).

– You might want to look through the pictures first together.  This will help your child consider what the story might be about and encourage your child to think about the types of words that might be used.

– Is there a blurb (writing on the back of the book)?  If so, read it to your child or encourage them to read the blurb.

– If your child brings home a non-fiction book, ask them to talk about the photographs and the different features such as the contents page or index.

 Third stage – read the book

 – It is important that young children are encouraged to point to the words as they read.  This helps them follow the text and can help them split words into sounds.

– The majority of children learn best through the phonetic approach and this will be the key strategy taught in schools.  This should be used as one of the strategies to read unknown words.  So for example, if faced with the unknown word ‘frog’, children should be encouraged to sound it out ‘f’, ‘r’, ‘o’, ‘g’ and then blend the sounds together to make the word.  Make sure the child says the word clearly after they have sounded it out so that you are sure they have blended the word correctly before going onto the next word.  When your child is confident with their sounds, they will be introduced to blends such as ‘sh’, ‘ch’ ‘er’.  Your child should then be encouraged to use this knowledge when they read e.g. when faced with the unknown word ‘shop’, they should be encouraged to sound it out ‘sh’, ‘o’, ‘p’.

– Sounding out is not the only strategy to working out unknown words.  Your child could be encouraged to look for clues in the pictures or carry on reading the sentence and then come back and try and work out the unknown word.

– There are some words that cannot be read by sounding out for example ‘the’, ‘be’ and ‘there’.  Your child is going to have to learn to recognise these words by sight.  These could be taught through word cards shown in random order.  Be careful to only introduce a few words at a time so your child is not overwhelmed.  Lots of schools send home key words to learn.

–  You may wish to consider telling the child a word from time to time, especially if the word is very tricky or your child is becoming frustrated after several attempts.

– As your child is reading, stop from time to time to ask them about what they have read.  For example, ‘How do you think Floppy is feeling?’, ‘Why did he do that?’, ’What do you think is going to happen next?’. The reason for doing this is to check your child’s comprehension.  Many children can happily read a sentence without really understanding the significance of what they have read.

– At the end of the reading session, find out how your child felt about the book.  Did they enjoy it? Why?  It is ok for your child not to enjoy a particular book.  You may find it useful to jot down words that your child found hard so that you can refer to them at a different time.  If your child has a reading record note down the pages they have read and write a brief note to let your child’s teacher/teaching assistant know how your child got on.

Other tips and opportunities for improving reading skills

Some parents frequently become frustrated by the number of times their child changes their book at school.  Ideally a child should be heard once or twice a week and their book changed at least once a week.  Teachers and their assistants have a great deal of expectations laid on their shoulders and have a great many other things to do and teach during the day – imagine trying to reading with 30 children on your own every day.  Having said that, reading is a vital part of school life and I think that you would be surprised by the amount that takes place each day at school e.g. guided reading, phonics, Literacy, topic work…..

Your child’s school book is a useful starting place for reading but there are many other opportunities such as:

– reading books around the house

– reading books of interest – perhaps related to a hobby (ponies, pets, cars, etc.) and these can be both fiction and non-fiction

– using the Internet (under supervision).  There are some great websites to support early reading e.g. the cbeebies  or starfall websites

– reading comics

– playing sound games and puzzles

– using read-along story tapes/cds

– looking at instructions e.g. manuals, recipes and guides

– looking at brochures for places that you visit

– visiting your local library is also a good way of encouraging children to read a range of books.

It is also possible to extend reading into other experiences such as:

– Make believe (vital for the basis of good story writing).  This can include dressing up, taking on different roles, making and using puppets, playing with small world toys such as a farm set.

– Story writing – children can create their own picture books or simple written versions.

– Creating props or making things linked to the book e.g. if you read the story ‘The Gingerbread Man’, you could make ‘Gingerbread men biscuits’.  If you are reading a book about pirates why not encourage your child to make a treasure map?

Finally, if you are concerned with the progress your child is making with their reading or for some reason you are not able to read with your child at home, it is very important that you arrange a time to go and see the child’s class teacher to share your concerns or problems.  I am sure they would be glad to help and full of their own ideas to help your child move forward.

Useful web sites Letters and sounds Phonic information find out more about the Primary Curriculum here this is the Jolly Phonics website  this is the Cbeebies website (a BBC site) full of fun, interactive activities, aimed at the younger child this is a fun, interactive, American website which encourages children to read this is the Oxford Reading Tree site which has further information about the series of books used in many British Primary Schools