Learning to read a major milestone and rite of passage for any child. And yet, one in four children in American grow up without becoming literate, according to DoSomething.org. Weak reading skills makes it harder for a child to succeed in school and work, and is even linked to greater risk for dropping out of school and incarceration.
As parents and teachers, we are eager to do all we can to support our children and give them a strong start in life with great reading skills. Here are 20 ways to get kids on the path to reading well—and loving it.
- Read out loud
A child can benefit from reading together even as a newborn. In fact, the earlier you start, the better you can establish reading and a special time for bonding and relaxing fun. This association can set kids up for a lifetime of learning and imagination.
- Read to yourself
Set a good example for children by modeling the behavior you wish them to emulate. When a child sees you reading, it shows that reading is an activity adults partake in and enjoy—and that s/he can enjoy it, too.
- Create a tactile experience
Babies and young children learn by touching, feeling and even chewing. Let reading be a safe tactile experience by opting for baby-proofed books make of cloth or sturdy cardboard. Also, look for books that create many different feels for young kids to engage with, such as tufts of fur, crackly swatches, buttons that squeak and mirrors to look into.
- Use your surroundings
Everywhere we go, there are examples of letters and words in action. No matter what stage of reading a child is at, you can use these real-life examples to help kids learn. Point out uses of this week’s new letters, or turn it into a game of “I Spy.”
- Explore the pictures
While reading together, ask kids questions about the pictures. This encourages children to interact with the story and develop important critical thinking skills that make reading meaningful. Ask questions appropriate to their age and reading level.
- Introduce the letters
Start with the letters in the child’s name, then move on to the most common letters like T, C, and M. Instructables recommends introducing two letters a week. Write each letter on a piece of paper together, talk about the letter’s name, and review the sounds the letter makes. Hold onto the written letters and review them together regularly.
- Point to the words
As you read together, children will pick up the basics of what a book is—the cover and the pages, how the illustrations relate to the words, how to go from front to back. When you point to the words, you help them pick up the correlation between the letters on the page and the words that create the story.
- Sound it out
Build on the alphabet by introducing phonetics. “Phonemes” are the small sounds of the English languages that words are built from. By learning these sounds, a child can begin to sound out words for him/herself. Sound out words together and break them into their pieces, then show how they come together to create a word.
- Teach sight words
Being able to recognize sight words is a key milestone in reading fluency. “Sight words” are the common, short words of the English language that we come across all the time, but don’t necessarily follow the rules of phonics, such as “the” and “said.” By memorizing these words, children can blow past them in a book and focus on sounding out bigger words.
- Get to know word families
If a child can recognize that the “-ain” found in “rain,” “train,” and “gain” are the same, they can begin to recognize these words more quickly in context. Being able to identify word families is a crucial step in understanding phonetics.
- Read predictable stories
There is a category of books for children called “predictable stories,” which use predictable sentence structures and clear illustrations to help kids make informed guesses about the words on the page as they learn new words.
- Up the ante
As children learn and grow, offer new, more challenging books to keep them learning and stimulated. This will make sure the child continues to learn new words and develop their critical thinking.
Stories with rhymes are another way to offer a child predictability in reading, while also reinforcing word families. In addition to this, rhymes are just plain fun, which helps keep the process enjoyable.
- Set a challenge
As a child learns, keep pushing him/her to reach for the next step. You can do this by teaching him/her new words, get more complicated books, or ask more advanced questions.
- Let the child set the pace
While it’s great to keep kids challenged, don’t push them. Every child has his/her own pace for learning to read. Pushing him/her will only make the experience stressful. To keep the challenge fun, turn reading into a game.
- Stay positive.
When starting school, it can be discouraging for a child who is not as far along in reading as some of their classmates But if you stay positive, you can help the child stay positive, too.
- Keep lessons consistent
Avoid confusing children by keeping reading lessons at home consistent with what they’re learning at school. Teachers can help by sending letters home about the methods you’re using in the classroom. Parents should pay attention to information from school.
- Talk about the plot
Reading isn’t just about knowing the words on the page. It’s about the greater meaning the words create, too—the story. Help a child develop this important comprehension by talking about the plot with him/her.
- Respect a good guess
A child uses a story’s context to inform his/her guesses as s/he reads. So if a child reads “I have soap to wash my hands,” when the sentence says “I have soap to clean my hands,” the child is showing s/he understands the meaning of what s/he is reading. Instead of just correcting the error, assure the child that s/he is close, and review the sentence again together.
- Schedule well
The timing of reading sessions matters. Keep them short (about 10 minutes) and keep it positive—don’t start at a point when a child is upset, tired or hungry.
Reading sets kids up for success
Beginning to read is a milestone in the learning process, and the beginning of a wonderful lifelong habit. These 20 ways to just some examples of the many ways you can help children learn to read. Whatever you do, keep it fun and show them how enjoyable reading can be!