March is National Reading Month and to celebrate it, I asked my sister, Keri Buisman, reading specialist, to show us how to best assist our kids with their reading.
"How can I help my child read?" is a question I get asked a lot.
The problem with that question is that there are many ways and many answers depending on the age of your child and where your child is at in his/her reading development. To try and simplify this answer, I will break the process of learning to read into its five main components and give you tips for helping your child read at each stage of reading development.
1. Phonemic Awareness: This is the first stage of reading that happens before and during the preschool years. It is really the focus on hearing and manipulating the sounds in the spoken words. Rhyming, singing, rapping, blending sounds, “playing” with the language are really the best ways to help develop phonemic awareness. It is never too early to read to your child, even if it lasts for only a couple of minutes. Books that have rhyming words, repeated phrases and colorful pictures are perfect for phonemic awareness. Reading aloud at any age is vital to your child’s reading development.
2. Phonics: Phonics is the foundation to a successful reader. These are the idea that letters make sounds, sounds then blend together to make words. Phonics is best taught in a systematic, explicit way. This is typically done during preschool/kindergarten to first grade. Your child may need more time to develop his/her skills and some children need help with their phonics into third grade. Interactive strategies are great ways to help your child learn phonics: singing the ABC song while also saying the sound that each letter makes, writing patterns or letters in sand or rice or with playdough while talking about the sounds the letters make, writing with shaving cream, sounding out words while moving different parts of your body, playing with magnetic letters and the sounds they make are all ways to foster phonic development. Continuing to read to your child and pointing out letters/sounds while reading is another wonderful way to help your child grow in his/her phonic skills.
3. Fluency: Fluency is the ability to make your reading sound like you are talking. If someone is reading the words accurately, has a smooth flow, uses expression and a “just right” pace (not too fast, not too slow), we would say that person is a fluent reader. Ways to help your child become fluent: Repeated oral reading (rereading a poem or a phrase several times), record his/her reading on the phone or iPad and then self-assess his/her reading, read and reread stories/poems to a younger sibling or a pet, participate in a reader’s theater or a play with friends, read aloud to you using the same passage with different tones/expressions. All of these ways will help your child become a more fluent reader.
4. Comprehension: This, of course, is the ultimate goal of reading. However, your child cannot comprehend what they read until they have the first three building blocks of reading in place. Ways to help your child with comprehension: Preview/predict what the book will be about before reading, ask questions about the book before and during reading, talk about the characters of the book and the plot, make connections with the book to another book or a real life event, visualize while reading, and continually monitor and clarify during reading so that your child understands reading is an active process, not a passive one.
5. Vocabulary: The last building block of reading is vocabulary. Vocabulary development is extremely important to build background knowledge in the developing reader. Ways to promote vocabulary development: integrate words from different experiences into everyday language, take words apart to learn a new word and its meaning (break into syllable or prefixes, root words, suffixes), play charades with new words, take mini trips to the zoo, or a museum and reinforce new words learned while there, discuss new words that may come up while reading together. All of these ways will help develop your reader’s vocabulary.
There are many ways that parents can help foster their child’s reading growth.
The very best thing a parent can do is to read to and with their child every day. Let them see you reading for information, education, and for enjoyment.
As you can see, learning to read really is rocket science! But if reading is broken down into these five components you can help your kids move toward becoming independent, fluent readers.
Keri Buisman, Reading Specialist, MAED