Two things parents can do to help their kids learn to read

…written by Amanda Davis MSc, MA, BSc (Hons), Speech and Language Therapist, Dyslexia Specialist 

It’s the first year of school and your child is just starting their literacy journey. You’re filled with excitement at the prospect of your little one soon being able to immerse herself in a book. For most parents, however, you’re also filled with apprehension and anxiety – will your child ‘get it’, will they learn to read, have you done enough to prepare them, how do you know if she’s struggling? Perhaps you struggled at school, perhaps reading didn’t come naturally to you and you can feel that rising panic that you would never wish on anyone, let alone your own child.

The reading process is likely to be a smooth process – as it is for 75% of children in the classroom. For 25% of children, however, it’s likely to be a bumpy process. Of those children who struggle, 10% will go on to experience significant reading difficulties that may be classified as dyslexia. Well, these are all statistics, but in my experience, they are usually correct and a useful way to think about how to teach reading to a whole class.

Anyway, today I’m not going to rant on about how to teach reading to a whole class, that is for another day. I am also not going to go in to detail about how children learn to read or where it can go wrong, that’s another workshop that I hope to do soon. Today I want to share with parents two tips on how YOU can support your child on their literacy journey. I want you to remember that your role in reading, while being vital, is two fold:

  • instill a love of reading
  • make it a pleasant and enjoyable experience

Whatever you need to do to achieve these two goals, DO THEM! Hopefully the advice below will assist in some way.

Firstly, reading is a language-based skill and oral language skills form the foundation of your child’s reading and reading comprehension. That’s why your child’s literacy journey started a LONG time ago – their early language experiences will now form the foundation on which reading is built. Let’s hope it’s a SOLID foundation. Language development does not stop as soon as your child starts reading, however, so you want to continue building on that foundation. So tip number one (which actually has nothing to do with your child actually reading) is:

  • Read to your child every day – choose books that interest your child, allow him/her to listen to you read for as long as possible (ideally 2o minutes every day). I like to use “Interactive reading” whereby you engage the child in the story, stop regularly to reflect, ask questions, think about what you would do, how you know the character feels a certain way etc. Chapter books are good for your beginning reader and my favourite authors are a) Roald Dahl b) Enid Blyton. Don’t worry if one book takes you a few months – just think of the rich language, opportunities for discussion, strength of memory that you’re developing. The benefit of reading aloud to your child every day is captured in the infographic I created below.

 

Tip number two is focused on those ‘readers’ that your child will be bringing home from school. You know, the ones with short sentences, are very repetitive and have a beginning, middle and end packed into 6 pages? Well, here’s what to do with them…

“I, together, you” (not to be confused with the Dolly Parton single Together you and I!) is an approach based on ‘paired reading’ that I use regularly. Here’s how it goes. After looking at the front cover and thinking about what it will be about, we turn to the first page – look at the picture, discuss and then, placing a finger under each word as we go and ensuring my daughter is looking at the page I do the following:

 

  • I read the first sentence then
  • WE read the first sentence together then
  • My daughter reads the sentences on her own, with excellent fluency because she’s heard it two times already!

This is how we read the WHOLE book; I, together, you. I am not interested in testing whether my child can read the words, my job is to ENJOY the reading experience with my child, show her that it’s an enjoyable thing and to share a few precious minutes together. This approach works wonders to build confidence, increase fluency and expression in reading. It results in good progress in reading as your child hears and sees the words as you read them repeatedly, in a non-threatening way.

I suggest doing this for the first 4-6 months of formal teaching. If, after this time, your child has not started reading semi-fluently (the simple readers from school, not the Enid Blyton books), please seek professional advice. Please do not watch and wait or try to do it on your own, I’ve studied reading development for 16 years and am only just beginning to understand it! There are many things you can be doing to support your child during the next precious months so don’t miss that opportunity and again, please, don’t try to do it on your own. Any good reading professional should give YOU things to do at home so you may not need to pay for weekly expensive therapy.

Please also remember that reading is a language-based skill NOT a visual skill. An optometrist or Occupational Therapist (unless they have specific training in reading), are not the ideal professions to support your child. Ritalin is also not going to help (unless your child has a significant attention deficit, of course). I know I’m sticking my neck out here, but the research and international guidelines are clear on this, please select the correct profession for your child.

I hope this has been useful in some way. Please feel free to send me feedback or ask me any questions:

UK parents can email me on amanda@wordsfirst.uk

SA parents can email me on amanda@kidsfirstcentre.co.za