How to teach your child to read – Best tips for parents
Reading and writing are fundamental skills necessary for one’s success in life. Now it shouldn’t be surprising why parents usually ask how to teach their child to read. From the very first day of school, the greatest efforts are invested in the acquisition of this skill, because the sooner a child masters it, the sooner they will be able to acquire the knowledge of other school subjects. Therefore, reading is a key skill and a predictor of future academic success.
What parents need to know is that children are not required to know how to read before they start primary school. Some children master this skill before they start school, whereas others struggle with it long after they’ve enrolled in primary school. This is the reason why many parents want to help their children learn to read.
What do you need to know before you start teaching your children to read?
Enjoying reading (regardless of whether they are able to read on their own or are being read to by another) is one of the main predictors of success in primary school children, so it is not only important to help your child learn to read, but also to transfer a lifelong love of reading to them.
Your approach will depend on whether your child is just beginning to learn to read, or they are already able to spell with letters and syllables.
One thing is certain: there is no simple answer to the question of what is the best and easiest way to teach your child to read. Regardless of whether you are teaching your child to read from scratch, or helping them improve their reading skills, you should keep one thing in mind – although it may seem easy and intuitive to you, reading is actually quite a complex process that doesn’t happen by itself. The best way to teach your child to read is to make the process fun.
Reading exercises for first-graders
Acquiring the ability to read is a fundamental part of the learning process in the first year of primary school, and greatly determines the child’s overall academic success. Simply put, reading is used to master all other school subjects, which is why it is extremely important for the child’s academic performance.
There are several ways in which first-graders can master reading:
- by recognizing parts of the sentence (capital letter, full stop at the end);
- by reading monosyllabic words;
- by breaking words into syllables (reading syllable by syllable);
- by recognizing the difference between fiction and non-fiction;
- by discussing and answering questions about the text;
- by reading aloud;
- by understanding the basic elements of a book, such as the title, content;
- by reading age-appropriate poetry for children.
In a good primary school, your first-grader should learn to read by the end of the first grade. However, you can speed up this process by doing some elementary reading exercises with them.
First of all, you should teach them to hold a pencil correctly, because learning to read will be more successful if it is accompanied by learning to write. In other words, to be able to write, draw or underline, your child first needs to learn to hold a pencil correctly. Here are some of the most effective ways to teach them this skill:
- give them a ball to hold in their dominant hand so that their pinky and ring finger would be busy, forcing the child to hold the pencil correctly;
- new is not always better: give the child old, worn-out wax crayons that they will be forced to hold with three fingers;
- let your child peel an orange or a tangerine by themselves, thus practicing holding small objects.
When it comes to reading, the following exercises and activities can be very effective:
- READING ALOUD: Read stories or poems aloud using different voices and appropriate facial expressions for the protagonists and the narrator. This way, your child will slowly learn to use an appropriate reading speed, to emphasize and understand parts of the text.
- READING RHYMING POEMS: These poems are not there just for fun, but they enable children to distinguish between different sounds and to read syllables. You can recite them together, and it would be even more fun if you make your own rhymes.
- BREAKING UP WORDS: Make things easier for your child by first teaching them to read short words. Begin by practicing reading letter by letter, then syllable by syllable, and finally, let them read the whole word.
- DECORATE THE CHILD’S ROOM WITH WORD POSTERS: This way, you will create an environment that encourages the child to read. Ask them which letter stands for which sound and what other words begin with the same letter.
- USE MODERN TECHNOLOGIES: Our children are growing up in the 21st century, so, to motivate them to persist, you need to make use of the devices and content they know well and love. You can play hangman or scrabble together on the computer, or find another reading game designed for young children.
- READING AND DRAWING: The child’s task is to draw a scene from their favorite book, or a character from the story you’ve read. After that, they can write a short description of the drawing.
- BECOMING POETS: The best way to master language is to use it. Read short poems and talk about them, and then try to compose your own poems about people you know, or situations you’ve encountered.
- USING ALPHABET CARDS: Assemble ‘serious’ and ‘funny’ words, letter by letter, using alphabet cards. Use short words in the beginning, and as the child progresses, try to assemble longer and longer words.
- CREATING YOUR OWN DICTIONARY: As your child learns new words, write them down together in a notebook. For example, let the child write them down, or draw a picture to illustrate the entry, or to use the word in a short sentence. As the number of words grows, so will your satisfaction.
When you teach your child to read at home, your success may entirely depend on one thing – FUN! Make sure that both you and your child are having fun in the learning process.
Every child has a learning pace of their own, so forcing them or rushing them may be damaging. Use some of these exercises, try to read regularly, and let them choose the books they would like to read.
This way, you will transfer your love of reading to your child, and that is the surest way for mastering the art of reading, and for maintaining this nice habit throughout one’s life.
How to teach the child to read fluently?
Even when they learn all letters and are able to recognize whole sentences, many children still struggle with reading. Whether it is reading aloud or silent reading, primary school students often stammer, hesitate and are simply unable to read fluently.
The ability to read fluently is acquired in the later years of primary school and is very important for a child’s later academic performance. As the child progresses to senior grades, reading becomes even more crucial for other school subjects, such as math, science and social studies, etc.
So, the ability to read fluently, at a normal speed and without pauses will greatly facilitate the acquisition of knowledge of other subjects, so it is very important that the child learns to read fluently as early as possible.
Good primary schools use a variety of advanced methods to help children master reading, enabling them to make good progress in the most efficient way. Parents can also play a significant role in this process. You can practice at home with your child, thus helping them to master fluent reading as soon as possible.
Fluent reading comprises three components:
- prosody (how the reader uses timing, phrasing, emphasis, intonation, etc. to emphasize meaning).
When you listen to your child read, you need to take all three elements into account and identify those your child struggles with the most. These are the things you should focus on. In order to correctly determine your child’s reading level, you need to give them age-appropriate texts.
If you give them a more complex text for older children, they will waste too much time trying to understand it or to pronounce unfamiliar words. If the child misreads more than one word in every 20 words, they will focus on recognizing the word, instead on fluent reading. In that case, find a text that is more appropriate for their age, and one they are more familiar with.
Exercises for reading fluency
There are a number of ways to improve your child’s reading. If you practice the following exercises, you will help them improve their fluency and reading comprehension:
- PROVIDE A CHILD WITH A MODEL: To learn to read fluently, the child first needs to hear what fluent reading sounds like, so read aloud to them: emphasize appropriate words, make pauses after the comma, and after the full stop. This way, your child will start imitating your reading, i.e. they will have a model they can emulate. In addition, try to read expressively, because that way, you will help the child to understand the meaning of the text, as well as to express and convey it to others through reading.
- ECHO READING: One of the versions of modelled reading. Instead of having you read the whole text while your child listens, in echo reading, the parent reads one sentence, and then the child reads the same sentence. While doing this exercise, it would be good if the child traced the words they were pronouncing with their finger. This way, you will be sure that they are connecting sounds with words, and not just mechanically repeating what you’ve just read. As the child makes progress, you can make the exercise more complex by reading several sentences in one sitting.
- USE AUDIO BOOKS: Another great way to show the child how fluent reading sounds is to use audio books. Their main advantage is the fact that children can listen to them over and over again, giving you the chance to take a break from reading aloud.
- PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Regardless of whether your child is a talented reader or not, you should remember one thing: the best readers are not born, they are made (through exercise). One of the best exercises is to have them read the same paragraph over and over again until they achieve fluency. For starters, use shorter paragraphs under 100 words.
- MEMORIZATION: As the child makes progress in reading, encourage them to learn short poems, excerpts, or stories by heart. This way, you will achieve three things; first, your child will familiarize themselves with certain words, structures and meanings, and will be able to easily recognize them in other texts. Second, as your child memorizes paragraphs, they will be introduced to the rhythm of written language. Once they are able to read whole paragraphs fluently, they will also learn to read whole texts fluently in no time. Third, successfully memorizing poems or stories will make your child feel successful and self-confident, and a self-confident child will embark on new challenges more easily, and thus achieve reading fluency faster.
- PRACTICE CRITICAL READING: Although fluent reading is related to rate, accuracy and prosody, it is more than the sum of its parts. To be able to read fluently, the child needs to understand what they are reading about, and this means to recognize the meaning of the text and to be able to talk about it in their own words. Therefore, talk to your child about what you’ve read, ask them questions, discuss characters and the story. Critical reading skills will be particularly important in senior grades when the child will have to apply them to other school subjects.
- BE IN TOUCH WITH THE CHILD’S TEACHER: A good relationship between the teacher and the parents is crucial for the child’s school performance. Good schools nurture a partnership with parents, and involve them in the process of making important decisions for a child’s education. Your child’s teacher can tell you about their reading level, if they are progressing at an appropriate pace, and suggest exercises and activities you can use at home to speed up their progress.
Although focus, exercise and repetition are important for the development of fluent reading, don’t let it turn into a routine, because if you do, your child may develop resistance toward reading, which can be detrimental for their academic performance. Try to make the reading activities and exercises you use varied and fun.
Success is a particularly good motivator. One of the ways to help them is to adequately reward them after each successful reading session or achievement. Another way is to record the child reading the same paragraph at the beginning of the exercise, and once they’ve mastered it. The difference between two reading sessions will be immense, and the child will be satisfied with themselves and motivated to continue.
CAUTION: Some parents equate fluent reading with speed reading. Their favorite question is: How to teach the child to read fast? However, as we have seen, fluent reading is not the same as speed reading. Fluent reading is reading at an appropriate pace, while taking into account all prosodic elements in order to correctly convey the meaning of the text. Speed reading techniques are something completely different, and are not appropriate for children in primary school.
Enjoy the process
It is very important that you don’t cause additional stress for a child when it comes to reading. Teachers will certainly help them master this skill at school, you can just help them by practicing at home. The best way to do it is to implement one of the exercises and tips mentioned in this text.
And the best advice we can give you is to relax and enjoy the process. One of the most beautiful things in life is watching your child master a fundamental skill such as reading from scratch, and getting better at it every single day.
Try to make them fall in love with reading in the process, because the love of reading will improve their chances of success and provide them with the necessary depth to develop. Good luck!