11 ways to Improve Your Child’s Reading
Encouraging A Life-Long Love of Reading in the Process
Research is crystal clear: Do not wait! If reading is even somewhat behind expectation, parents take an unnecessary risk with their children’s academic success, as well as self-esteem, by waiting to see whether they naturally improve or get further behind. Of course, there are some children who do suddenly catch on or mature but, why risk it when there is so much parents can do? Here are 11 ways parents can do their crucial part in helping their children not only read, but come to view reading as an important and enjoyable experience.
1. Place high value on literacy in general and reading in particular.
Why all the fuss about reading? Where do math and other areas of study fit in? Reading is a gateway to learning. Even strong math students will often slip without good reading skills. For example, to solve practical story problems a student must first read and understand all the written words. Students work on reading skills through third grade and at fourth grade they are expected to use those reading skills to learn, thus the saying, “First children learn to read then read to learn.”
Students with mediocre reading skills can get through the reading requirements of elementary school but over time learning requirements become much more complex. According to a US Dept. of Education report, “Good reading skills are required to study geography, do math, use computers, and conduct experiments. Even motivated, hard-working students are severely hampered in their schoolwork if they cannot read well at the end of third grade.” Placing a value on reading is an important precursor to children wanting to learn to read.
2. Emphasize learning reading skills.
The “phonics vs. whole language” battle has raged since the 1980s. Whole language supporters say children will learn to recognize individual words by using context clues, pictures, and previously learned words to understand what they read even if they cannot pronounce each word. Advocates for teaching phonics concentrate on the importance of children learning to decipher or decode (in other words, read) each word for optimum understanding of what is read.
Research shows that a phonics focus works. According to Time Magazine, “Indeed the evidence is so strong that if the subject under discussion were, say, the treatment for mumps, there would be no discussion.” And, that was written back in October 1997! So, if you are in a position to help your child learn or improve basic reading skills, phonics – learning to pronounce words – is the way to go.
3. Have a variety of types of reading materials available at home.
Books, and entire bookshelves, are often off limits to the family members who need the most free access, the children. Books, from very easy with loads of fun pictures to high-level tomes, should be in sight and physically available. Magazines and comic books count too. They offer reading practice and connect fun with the act of reading. Also, make online and other digital reading opportunities as available as possible.
4. Offer your child rich and varied language experiences.
Talk with your children. Provide many opportunities for conversation. Tell stories, sing songs using words and/or sign language, describe the world around your child and encourage your child to do the same.
What does this have to do with reading? Children develop literacy skills before being able to read. When parents talk, sing, and read to their children, links among the brain cells are strengthened and new links are formed. Language therefore is an important predictor of how well a child will read. Develop the use of language and you further optimize the ability to read.
5. Read to and with your children.
With easy books, the old, “You read a page then I’ll read a page,” can work wonders. Also, read to your children harder books, depending on their intellectual level, for exposure to higher level vocabulary and to train the ears to hear the rhythm and nuances of written language. The National Research Council concluded that regularly reading to a child has a greater effect on later reading achievement than any single early reading program.
Read aloud to your child no matter how young or old they are. The Pittsburgh Organization of Reading’s first goal is that every child is read to every day from birth onward. Read often and have fun with the reading. Go to the library. Go to the bookstore. Go to garage sales. Buy or borrow a variety of books, magazines, and games for reading.
6. Have your child’s eyesight and hearing tested every year.
General health, nutrition, and good functioning of the senses are important for the foundation of reading. It may seem obvious that vision problems would affect reading but hearing difficulties do too. Words are at least in part sounded out according to how we have had experienced hearing them pronounced.
7. Make certain all care givers do their part.
Whether a paid baby sitter or kind relative, there will be other influential folks spending time with your children in your home. Go through this list and have them do whatever fits with the situation. For example, let your baby sitter know it is encouraged for your children to look at books before bed.
8. Ask your child’s teacher for an assessment of your child’s reading and how it compares with the others in the same grade.
Parents as Teachers (PAT) recommends screening to determine early in a child’s life the need for reading assistance. According to reading research, as many as two-thirds of reading-disabled children can become average or above average readers if identified early and taught appropriately. There remain about 2% of students that will need even more specialized techniques and even special education services to be able to read. For these children, says the Council for Exceptional Children, the evaluation is critical. Besides schools, some learning centers – like Total Learning Centers – also offer a variety of assessment tools to give you the information you need to decide if extra help is needed and if so, exactly what help will be most useful.
Check out all concerns about reading through a professional evaluation.
If you have even a gut feeling that your children are not where they should be with reading, check it out. Typically, parents wait one year after they have a feeling and/or signs that something is not going right to take action. Do not wait.
9. Expose your children to as much age-appropriate cultural literacy as you can.
Cultural Literacy and What Your 3rd Grader Needs to Know (or whatever grade level is appropriate for your children) both by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., are good resources. Visit the library and bookstores. While there, let your children find books or other resources about books, sayings, plays, poems, etc, that they may have heard mentioned but did not know about. Let them witness you doing the same.
10. Every child that needs a tutor should have one during or after school.
If you already know these suggestions are not enough or you do not see reading growth, have a professional assist with improvement. A learning center will have curriculum to improve reading. Also, if the teaching style and attitude of the tutor is not a good fit with you or your child, the best tutoring program in the world will be much less effective. Look for a center with friendly, open, accepting tutors with a definite plan of attack and means to measure success.
11. Have and convey confidence in your child’s potential to improve.
No test or person can tell you anyone’s real potential. Help your children see themselves as “smart” meaning they have incredible potential regardless of their current reading ability. Your faith in their potential can make a vital difference in their attitude toward themselves and learning. Once you have helped them realize they have what it takes to move toward, whatever goals they have set for themselves in life, give them the support and tools needed to prepare today for success tomorrow.