Helping your child become the best reader they can be
Back to school means a fresh start for many. A new class, new friends, new teacher and new skills come along with the Fall weather. For many children, one of these new skills is reading. There are many different levels of reading competence and numerous benefits that come from being a skilled reader.
Here are some tips and tricks on raising skilled readers:
The old saying “practice makes perfect” rings true again. Reading with your child on a regular basis is a great way to spark a love of reading and also provides an opportunity to spend some quality time together. Even at a very young age, children are learning “pre-reading” skills from watching you: how to hold a book, what order the pages are read, what are the words and what are the pictures… there are countless skills that can be learned, well before a child learns to read.
Reading skills happen during non-reading activities. This can include telling your child a story aloud, having your child summarize a story for you i.e. what happened in their favourite show today. Ask your child questions that encourage explanation of the plot such as “who” “what” “where” “when” and “why” questions. Have your child predict what may happen in a book or a movie then talk about whether they were right or wrong after it is finished. All of these activities help to teach children about aspects of stories and reading such as plot development, character development, and how to use information to make predictions about events.
It is very important when a child is first learning to read that there is a focus placed on instruction of “phonological awareness” skills. Theses skills refer to an innate understanding of sound manipulation. It also includes the ability to identify and produce rhymes. Encourage your child to complete rhyming phrases, try playing games such as “can you say “tulip” without the “lip” or change the last letter in “bean” to “d”. These skills are paramount in a child learning to become a skilled reader. If a child struggles with these skills, chances are they will struggle to become skilled readers.
A big difference between an early reader and a skilled reader is how fluent they are when reading. This is a skill that can be worked on with flash cards or repetitive books/phrases. Try picking out some popular functional words (ex. The, is, as, of, this etc.) Have your child practice reading these words fluently. Next, add them into a sentence or phrase. Repetitive books such as “Green Eggs and Ham” can be great for repetitive lines.
By spring of 1st grade, children should be reading 40-60 words per minute. This rate then increases to 120-180 per minute by the 4th grade and above. Speed-reading can be practiced in conjunction with fluency training. Time your child reading a familiar or repetitive book and keep track of the rate. As speed increases, your child can graph or chart the results and see the improvement.
Lead by example. When children observe you reading for enjoyment it may prompt them to do the same. Try blocking off some time each week for pleasure reading. Taking 30 minutes out of a Sunday morning to sit and read books together can help to reinforce that reading can be an enjoyable part of spare time, not just something that is done in school or for homework. Allow your child to select their own reading material whether it be a comic book or a novel. Offer suggestions for new books to expand your child’s repertoire. Take them to the library to present numerous options.
What if things aren’t going as planned??
Occasionally, even with all the appropriate instruction, children begin to fall behind in their reading development. What to do in this situation?
Speech-Language Pathologists, Psychologists, and tutors can all play an instrumental role in helping children with reading challenges catch up. If you are concerned about phonological awareness skills, a Speech-Language Pathologist can provide an assessment to determine if /where strengths and weaknesses lie. A Psychologist can provide a more comprehensive assessment and a diagnosis of any formal reading challenges such as dyslexia. Tutors can help provided some extra one-on-one learning time. Keep in mind that it is important for all members of the team to be in communication to aid in the development of a direct intervention plan that will meet the child’s needs.
Reading challenges can occur in children who have no other delays or diagnoses. In many cases, very intelligent and successful people can have reading challenges and can learn to over come them. It is important that your child continue to feel successful and supported throughout what can be a frustrating process.
At the end of the day reading is one of the most important skills we learn as a young child. Unlike talking, reading is not an innate skill, but a learned one. If at any time you would like to provide your child with further reading support, feel free to contact a Speech-Language Pathologist and talk about the options for assessment, intervention and instruction.
Emily Merritt is a Registered Speech and Language Pathologist with the College of Audiologists and Speech Language Pathologists of Ontario as well as Speech-Language & Audiology Canada. She graduated from Dalhousie University with a Masters of Science in Speech and Language Pathology following the completion of an Honours Bachelor Degree in Music Cognition from McMaster University