6 Ideas for Parents to Get Kids Reading
According to a research study from 31 countries, homes that have 80 or more books have a positive impact on childhood literacy. This begs the question, should we be loading up our homes with books? Do e-books count? What if we own the books, but have never read them?
While there may be merit to this study, I can say conclusively that cultivating proficient readers does not happen simply through osmosis. Although it may seem that children simply just start to read when they are ready, this is not the case. Many children benefit from explicit instruction in order to learn how to read. In fact, learning to read is very scientific in nature. It can be explained through a simple mathematical equation.
Reading = Decoding (word recognition) x Comprehension
A child who can decode (read the words on the page), but who cannot understand their meaning, is not truly reading. Both decoding and comprehension are essential to becoming a proficient reader. Interestingly, the skills children learn on their journey to reading also carry over from one language to another. At Bialik, children who are exceptional readers in English are often exceptional readers in Hebrew as well.
What can parents do to support reading mastery at home?
1. Play games
Before children even pick up a book, you can start working with them on letter recognition and letter sound. Play a game with your child where you say a letter sound and they respond with words that start with that sound. For example, if you say “d-d-d” they may say “dog” or “dinosaur.” This is important for identifying and segmenting sounds in words. You can also try calling out a word and then ask your child how the word changes when you omit or substitute a letter. For example, if I say “cat” and I take away the “c” sound, what will the word become?
2. Go on text scavenger hunts
Go on a scavenger hunt for letters that your child knows in a book. Once they have mastered letter recognition, ask them to go on a hunt for specific letter sounds. While the English alphabet has 26 letters, it is made up of 44 sounds or phonemes — for example, “sh” or “th.” Learning the letter sounds are important for manipulating sounds, counting syllables, identifying rhyming pairs and speech patterns later on.
3. Increasing sight word recognition
In the primary years, children are encouraged to spot sight words in the texts that they read. Sight words are words that cannot be sounded out and therefore need to be memorized visually (“the”, “are”, “your”). They can also be words that appear so frequently in our reading that we do not need to decode them by stretching out the sounds (“at” or “can”). Instead, we simply recognize and name them. Eventually, the goal is for all words to become sight words as most adults are able to do automatically.
4. Get into character
If your child is already able to decode, it’s always a good idea to encourage reading fluency. As you read together, point out punctuation or text formatting and explain that these help us read with proper pacing and with the right expression. Have fun using different voices for characters and play with the volume of your voice to help convey meaning and encourage comprehension.
5. Talk about books
Talking about the books before, during and after you read with your child is extremely important for promoting good comprehension. Before you even begin, ask your child what they think the book may be about based on the cover or the title. As you read, encourage your child to make predictions based on their prior knowledge or experiences. Our hope is that children will also use evidence from the text to support their inferences. You can help encourage their verbal reasoning by asking, “How do you know that?” and also by offering your own predictions or thinking aloud as you read. It’s also important to talk about the pictures in order to gain contextual knowledge.
6. Read and re-read the same book…and then read it again!
Read the same book multiple times. Reading comprises a multitude of different skills and each time you read and reread a book, your child can focus on a different skill. Sometimes parents will say to me that their child has already read the book that they brought home from school, or that the book was simply too easy. My response is always the same, “What skill is your child working on today?” The path to reading is not always linear and that’s perfectly okay. Sometimes we need to read a book that we can decode very well in order to practise reading with expression or to build vocabulary. We can also gain new insights each time we read the same book. While the book remains the same, our experiences, knowledge and influences have changed, thus altering our perception or interpretation of what we have read.
If your child is not reading, do not panic! Children show reading readiness at different times. Most importantly, we do not want to push children to read before they are ready or before they show interest as this can have a detrimental effect on their motivation and confidence. Instead, take the time to cuddle up with your child and read to them, and share the special time together. Although there is a science to reading, I promise you that the three “P”s can wait (phonemic awareness, phonics, phonological awareness). Rest assured, you do not need to buy 80 new books from the next Scholastic catalogue.