How to Support Your Young Reader at Home
If your child is an early elementary school student, you likely know how critical these first few years are in his or her reading development. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the International Reading Association, learning to read and write isn’t an automatic—parents and teachers must expose young children to books and experiences in drawing, pretend play and symbolic activities and guide their instruction in learning to recognize letters and sounds in order for them to become literate. Also, the spectrum of literacy development is wide. Some children may acquire skills at different times than others, and the best teachers try different approaches and techniques based on the knowledge that students have.
As your child navigates preschool through the early elementary grades, he or she will acquire a range of literacy skills that will help him or her become a capable reader. Here are a few of those building blocks and tips for how you can best support your reader’s learning (as researched in depth by the National Reading Panel, a collaborative jointly established by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development):
Phonemic awareness – Put simply, the smallest units (or sounds) of spoken language are called phonemes. As your child learns more about language, he or she must understand that words are composed of different sounds (/t/ /a/ /p/ in tap and /p/ /I/ in pie, for example), that some words make the same sounds (bag, band and bet all start with the /b/ sound) and often, sounds are formed from multiple letters. Songs and games are a great way to help children understand the various sounds that words make. Give your child a word (row) and have him or her add sounds to the beginning and end of the word to form new words (such as grow when /g/ is added to the beginning, or rows when /s/ is added to the end).
Phonics – Phonics instruction includes the teaching of letter sounds, the relationships between letters and sounds, and decoding words. One of the more effective approaches to helping students learn phonics is encouraging them to spell words out based on how they sound. Your child will learn different categories of phonics, such as consonant blends (bl, br, sl, scr), short vowels (cat, dot), long vowels (stay, road, tie) and consonant digraphs (sh, ph, gh). As your child begins to understand the sounds associated with these different letters and letter groups, he or she can use that knowledge to sound out new words.
Fluency – The goal for all students is to get them to read fluently—with accuracy, speed and good expression. Without a doubt, practice makes perfect. Read aloud with your child every day. Take turns being the reader and allowing your child to read aloud and offer constructive feedback when your child reads.
Vocabulary – At a young age, children must learn high-frequency words that are common in written and oral language. Often, these sight words are not easy to decode, and therefore, it is important that newer readers can recognize them on sight. Over time, children must also learn words that are commonly used but unlikely to be known. Reading, writing and talking are the best ways to help children expand their vocabulary.
Reading comprehension – These days, there is great emphasis on the importance of reading comprehension—and it has long been known that reading comprehension is essential in the acquisition of literacy skills. A form of active thinking, comprehension involves inferring information that the author does not say explicitly, interpreting ideas and thinking through texts’ meaning. There are many reading comprehension strategies that you can try at home: summarizing passages while reading a story (and having your child do the same), asking questions about the story, thinking through the plot, structure, problem and setting of a story, and pausing to confirm understanding while reading challenging or intricate passages.
It is easy to take for granted that a child will learn to read, but there are many pieces that must fall into place for it to happen. While you may not know exactly how to teach phonemic awareness or the best reading comprehension strategies for your child, your role as supporter is still critically important. As your child’s teacher sends home reading exercises and assignments, invest the time to work on them with your child, knowing that the end result will be your child becoming a proficient reader and a stronger student.