Helping Your Child Become a Successful Reader

I often get asked how parents can help their child with reading. Reading is a process, and there are steps that children follow sequentially to become proficient readers. Mastering these steps requires practice as well as developmental readiness. Here are 10 ways that you can help your child in his or her reading journey.

1. Read early and read often. I put this first because it is the number one thing you can do to help your child become a successful reader. The first step in the process of reading is language acquisition. This begins before a child is even born. Your baby can hear you in utero and begins to pick up on sounds. Talking to your baby and reading to him or her is a great way to develop language and vocabulary skills. Learning sounds is auditory, and these sounds have to be developed before a child can transition to written language. As your child develops and begins reading on his/her own, it is important to keep up the read-alouds so your child has a model of fluent reading.

2. Practice reading daily. Learning to read is like learning to play a sport. It is a process of skills that needs continual development. Setting aside time daily to read to your child and having him or her read on their own is the best way to practice these skills. Choose books that are appropriate for your child’s reading and developmental level. Children first learn sounds. Then they learn the letters and that these letters make up the sounds. Once your child knows the letters and sounds, help him/her begin to recognize rhymes and identifying initial sounds in words. As you read with your child, point to the words you are reading. Help your child recognize basic sight words. You can even find simple sight word books at the library or a teacher store to read with your child. The simple text and picture cues in these books make them ideal for beginning readers. As your child begins to read simple sight words and gains confidence in reading, help him or her start figuring out words he/she doesn’t know but can easily decode. Use decoding strategies such as identifying the initial sound, looking for word parts they know, reading through the word, and using the pictures as clues. Reread familiar books often to help build fluency and confidence. Talk to your child often and explain unknown words to him/her to help build vocabulary. A strong vocabulary will help your child with reading.

3. Learn to Read – Read to Learn. Once children learn how to read, they transition from decoding skills to comprehension skills. They no longer focus on trying to figure out words and building fluency, but instead they start to focus on understanding what they read and gaining meaning from what they read. It is during this transition that you may begin to see your child struggle, especially if they haven’t yet mastered decoding skills. Reading comprehension involves higher level thinking skills and interaction with text. You can help your child with reading comprehension skills by asking comprehension questions, using comprehension strategies (Into the Book , , is a good online resource for this), and helping your child build his or her vocabulary skills and background knowledge.

4. Recognize if your child is struggling and get him or her help if needed. Reading skills build upon each other, and if a child begins to show signs of struggling with reading, it is a good idea to get him or her help, through reading services at school and/or with a tutor. Kids who fall behind in their reading skills need even more practice, and the farther they fall behind, the more practice they need. Sometimes struggling readers are hard to identify. Reading requires many skills, and a child can struggle with any one or combination of these skills. Often times a child may seem like they are a good reader because they can decode well and read fluently, but they may struggle with comprehending what they read. Or a child may comprehend what they read but continue to struggle with decoding or fluency. Your child’s teacher and school assessments can help identify if your child needs additional help in any areas of reading. Needing help with reading does not mean that something is wrong with your child or that your child will always struggle. Reading is a complex set of skills, and sometimes a child just needs a little extra help mastering some of those skills. Not getting needed help early on though can lead to greater reading and learning problems later.

5. Work with your child’s teachers. Your child’s teachers will know best how your child is doing in each area of reading. They can give you suggestions for how to best help your child practice reading at home.

6. Make reading a priority. Many schools will send home reading logs or offer incentives for reading at home. Some teachers even make reading at home part of daily homework. It is hard to find time to read daily, but as I mentioned in #1, practicing reading regularly is the best way to get better at reading. Read with your child (books that are at his/her instructional level which they can read with a little bit of help), read to your child (books that are too difficult for your child to read on his/her own), and give your child time to read independently (books that your child can read without help). Doing a combination of these kinds of reading at home and asking questions about what is being read will help your child practice different reading skills. Also remember that kids do what you do, not what you say, so be a reading model for your child as well.

7. Help your child find materials he or she is interested in reading. Keep trying different genres, series, or types of text for your child to read. Many kids’ movies today are based on books so if there is a movie they like, or a particular genre of movies they like, this is a good place to start. Reading doesn’t have to be limited to books either. You may find a kids’ magazine or newspaper your child enjoys reading. The articles are shorter and often the text is nonfiction, which may appeal to your child more. Try to expose them to a variety of texts so they have practice reading different genres and types of writing.

8. Find reading activities in daily activities and games. Reading is everywhere. You can help your kids practice reading while shopping (they can write and read the grocery list, read labels with you, read signs); cooking or baking or making things (they read directions or a recipe); traveling (have your kids read a map or road signs, or if you have younger kids they can play the alphabet game by finding the letters on signs); playing on the computer (there are many great educational websites that help build literacy skills); and even watching TV (there are great educational shows that help build literacy skills or you can turn on the caption setting on your TV and have your kids read along with their favorite shows).

9. Visit the library often. Libraries are rich with resources that promote literacy. They are a great place to find books and other materials your kids might be interested in, play educational games (computer and otherwise), and participate in story time and other reading and educational activities and programs. Libraries offer the perfect environment for learning and getting your child excited about reading.

10. Make reading fun. Reading shouldn’t feel like a chore for children. It should be a positive experience and something they enjoy. It just takes finding the right books or other texts and reading activities that your child enjoys. Reading skills can be practiced through board games, online games, toys, TV shows, movies, favorite books, and even every day conversations and outings. Take your kids on fun family trips to places like museums, the zoo, a farm, the beach, parks, nature preserves, orchards, etc. Outings like these provide great opportunities for building background knowledge, vocabulary skills, and practicing reading (for example older kids can read informational signs and maps while younger kids can point out objects or animals that begin with each letter sound). Finding ways to make reading skills fun for your child will help make reading a positive experience for them. This will help kids enjoy reading more, and the more they enjoy it, the more they will want to practice, and the better readers they will become.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sarah (@MadeinUSABlog)
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 14:58:10

    Great tips! My son is only 20 months old but I’ve loved reading with him since he was born. He’s just getting to the phase now where he wants to sit on my lap and really listen to the story and follow along with the pictures. He loves turning the pages and pointing out objects/animals he knows!


    • Petra
      Oct 24, 2011 @ 15:09:08

      Thanks for the feedback! I love that stage of literacy development. Won’t be long and your son will be reading/reciting his favorite books to you!


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