As parents, we want to give our kids the best launchpad into life — and reading is one of life’s essential skills. Many children have difficulty learning to read though. In fact, almost 40 percent of children find reading challenging, and 68 percent of fourth graders in America do not read at their age-level. If your child is struggling to read, there are ways to make it easier and more enjoyable for them!
Reading is a complex activity, and it can be a struggle as a parent to find ways to help your child build their confidence as a reader and discover a love for reading. The good news is there are tons of ways to support your child while still having fun.
So, put on your reading glasses, snuggle up with your young one and get ready to explore the joy of reading.
When Do Children Develop Reading Skills?
Every child is different, and it might not be a cause for concern if yours takes longer than others to start reading. However, don’t hesitate to reach out to your family doctor or your child’s teachers for help if you’re concerned about their reading skills.
Up to age one, children start to:
● Imitate sounds
● Respond to speech
● Pat images in books
● Pick up books and turn pages with help
As toddlers, children will begin to:
● Identify and name familiar images in books by pointing to pictures
● Pretend to read books
● Recognize the names of books and point them out by their cover
● Turn pages without assistance
● Request to be read their favorite book
Early preschoolers or 3-year-olds start to:
● Explore books on their own
● Retell familiar stories
● Listen to longer stories read aloud
● Practice the alphabet
● Sing the alphabet when prompted
● Imitate reading a book aloud
● Make symbols that represent letters
Late preschoolers or 4-year-olds tend to:
● Recognize familiar signs and labels
● Create rhymes
● Write some letters of the alphabet
● Read and write their names
● Name beginning letters or sounds of words
● Match some letters to sounds
● Try to write words
● Understand reading goes left to right and top to bottom
● Retell stories
Kindergarteners or 5-year-olds will often:
● Recognize words that rhyme
● Create words that rhyme
● Match some spoken and written words
● Write some letters, numbers and words
● Recognize common words
● Retell stories in detail
Children between 6 and 7 years old start to:
● Read familiar stories
● Sound out unfamiliar words
● Use pictures and context to help them define unknown words
● Use simple punctuation in writing
● Self-correct when reading aloud
● Write logical sentences
Kids between the ages of 7 and 8 begin to:
● Read longer books on their own
● Read expressively
● Use paragraphs in writing
● Correctly spell many words
● Take notes
● Play word games
● Use new words and phrases
● Edit their writing
Children around 9 to 13 years of age tend to:
● Understand different kinds of texts and genres
● Read for a specific purpose or pleasure
● Identify metaphors and similes
● Identify story elements, such as plot or setting
● Write for fun
● Analyze the meaning of texts
If you think your child is falling behind, keep reading to learn how to help your child build their reading skills.
What Are the Basic Techniques to Teach Reading?
Reading involves five basic components, which include:
1. Phonemic awareness
We’ll take a look at each component below, as well as some techniques for helping your child improve in each area. Also — if you can — make learning a fun, multi-sensory experience whenever you can! It’ll not only help your child become a better reader but also create happy memories to remember later.
1. Teach Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize individual sounds in spoken words. Before we can learn to read, we have to be aware of how words sound. Spending five to 10 minutes each day practicing phonemic awareness activities can help improve their phonemic awareness.
A few activities you can do with your child include:
● Teach word families: Word families are words that rhyme. Teaching word families helps your child recognize patterns in reading. Once your child learns the word “cat,” for example, they’ll have an easier time reading words that rhyme with it, like “bat,” as only the word’s first letter changes. There are dozens of word family games you can play with your child to make learning even more fun.
● Develop listening skills: It’s important to be able to listen when developing phonemic awareness. Close your eyes with your child and point out different sounds you hear, such as the dishwasher running or the cat meowing. Talk about the sounds you both discovered.
● Practice syllables in song: Help your child recognize how words can be broken up into smaller parts. Break words into syllables through song and dance for a fun way to practice pronunciation. For example, clap and stomp out syllables of different words with the “Clamp, Stomp and Chomp Syllable Song.”
2. Teach Phonics
As phonemic awareness focuses on the sounds in spoken words, phonics focuses on the relationships between sounds and written words. The goal of phonics instruction is to help your child decode, or sound out new words.
Here are a few ways you can help your child build their understanding of phonics:
● Teach the alphabet: For younger children, help them learn the letters and sounds of the alphabet by pointing to a letter and asking them to name it.
● Practice decoding words: Teach your child words by having them sound out each letter or individual sounds of the word. The more they practice sounding out words, the easier it will become. You can make letter “tiles” on index cards and show your child how to say each sound. Then push the tiles together to form a full word.
● Introduce sight words: Sight words are words that we often use but are difficult to sound out. For example, the words “said” and “from” are considered sight words. Help your child learn sight words by memorizing them with fun games such as Sight Words Bingo.
3. Improve Reading Fluency
Reading fluency is the ability to read fast and with accuracy. For adults and kids, if we want to understand a text, we have to able to read quickly. Otherwise, the focus is on pronouncing words rather than understanding their meaning.
To help your child improve their reading fluency, try these activities:
● Choose books that interest your child: Make reading fun for your child by providing books they’ll enjoy. Perhaps they have a favorite animal they would like to learn more about, like Fiona the Hippo, or maybe they’re Spiderman’s biggest fan. Encourage them to explore their interests through books.
● Take turns reading the same line: Read a line from a book and then have your child read the same sentence or paragraph back to you. Act-out lines in different voices or as a character to make this activity more exciting, as well as incite a few giggles from your little one.
● Read the same passage together: Choose a paragraph or short poem and read it while your child listens and follows along. Then read the same passage together.
● Practice at a higher level: Choose a short passage that is a bit above your child’s reading level and have them read it. If your child struggles with a word — which you’d expect because of the boosted reading level — read it aloud to them and have them repeat it before continuing. Afterwards, reread the same passage.
● Turn readings into a performance: Help your child perform a poem or song. If your child enjoys playing characters, encourage them to share their performance with the family at the end of the week.
4. Build Vocabulary
The more words your child understands, the easier it’ll be for them to read quickly and comprehend what they read. It’s essential to introduce new words in exciting and memorable ways when you can.
Here are some ideas to help you build your child’s vocabulary:
● Expose them to new words: Talk to your child and read with them to show off new words. Take a few moments to discuss a new word in a book and then continue reading. Try to introduce words that are commonly spoken by adults but don’t often appear in children’s books.
● Provide a simple definition: Make new words as easy to understand for your child as possible. For example, describe the word “enormous” as something that is “really big” versus as “vast” or “monumental.”
● Provide a real-life example: Use a new word in a scenario your child will get in an instant. For example, you might ask them if they remember that enormous pancake they ate the other day.
● Ask your child for an example: Ask your child to give an example of the new word to further their understanding of the word. If they struggle, encourage them and give them hints. You can even make it into a fun game, such as “I, Spy.”
● Use the new word regularly: Try to incorporate new vocabulary words in everyday conversation throughout the house. Maybe even ask your child how they’d describe an item you see while taking a walk or spending the day at the park.
● Play vocab-building games: Encourage your child to play vocabulary building games, such as word match games. Games make vocab practice less of a chore and are something your child can look forward to on the drive home from school or daycare.
5. Improve Reading Comprehension
The point of reading is to gain something from what you’ve read, right? Whether you read to acquire knowledge or to have a laugh, written material is meant to be understood. By helping your child improve their level of reading comprehension, they will learn to love reading and are more likely to become lifelong book readers.
Some activities for building reading comprehension include:
● Ask questions: Start with simple ones, such as asking your child to point to a character in a book. As your child’s reading level increases, ask more complex ones. For example, you might ask your child to describe a character’s feelings.
● Encourage them to understand: Help your child learn that reading is not just about sounding out words, but also understanding. Encourage them to appreciate the message at the end of a fable, for example.
● Teach different genres: Help your child classify stories, and they’ll have an easier time recalling what they read. This activity encourages kids to use the information in a book to determine its genre, such as fantasy or fable.
● Encourage your child to read aloud: Reading aloud makes us — kids and adults — read slower and think about the story or topic we’re learning about, which helps us learn.
● Get the right books: Make sure your child has access to lots of books they can understand. If a book is too difficult for them to understand or beyond their vocabulary level, for example, they’ll struggle to understand the overall meaning. Books that suit your child’s ability will help boost their confidence.
● Discuss the book: Having a conversation with your child about what they’re reading helps them develop meaning out of it. They’ll think about the book on a deeper level when asked questions. Make it fun for them, and ask your child what interested them most about the book.
What Are Some Practices Kids and Parents Can Do?
If you feel overwhelmed about helping your child learn to read, know that it’s the small steps that lead to the big changes. Day by day, you can help your child makes leaps in their reading ability. It only takes a few minutes a day.
Here are some regular practices you and your child can do to develop their reading skills:
1. Read With Your Child
● Read every day: Aim to read at least three to four books a day, regardless of your child’s age, or for at least 20 minutes a day. If the print is large enough, point to each word as you read to help them understand that reading goes left to right. If your kids are older, have them read aloud instead.
● Read the same book or books that rhyme: If your child has a favorite book, set it aside and read it to your child over and over. The repetition will help them remember words and sounds, and they’ll enjoy it too. Books with rhymes, such as those by Dr. Seuss, also help your child identify word families.
● Discuss new words: Make sure your child understands what you’re reading together, and help them learn new words by talking about words, from what they mean to what they look like, such as an enormous pancake.
● Talk about the story: Ask your child what is happening in the book to make sure they’re following along with the story.
● Read everything: Try not to limit your child’s reading material to one type of book. Explore a variety of topics and genres with your child, and discover what interests them most. Nurture their interests and curiosity, and encourage learning about unfamiliar subjects too.
● Make reading easy: Make sure lots of reading materials are available and within reach for your child. Consider setting up a cozy corner with a chair and light source for your child to get comfortable with a book.
● Tell stories: Even if you struggle to read, you can still help your child develop reading skills by telling stories instead. When your child listens to your storytelling, they’ll develop an appreciation of language and story — as well as your knack for character voices.
● Limit TV: Encourage your child to replace screen time with enjoyable books. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young children spend no more than an hour a day with any screen.
2. Turn Reading Into a Fun Activity
● Write stories: Have your child make up a story and write it down while they talk, or work with your child to write the words together. Your child can illustrate the story with drawings or pictures from a magazine and compose it with markers or crayons on colorful construction paper to make this activity even more fun.
● Send notes to your child: Pack a short and handwritten letter for your child in their lunch or leave it where they are sure to find it. It’ll let them practice their reading skills and help them value the meaning of words.
● Encourage activities that involve reading: Whether you need help assembling a new toy, making a bowl of mac and cheese or playing a game, invite your kids to join in the fun by reading the instructions or cards.
● Talk with your child: Talking to your child helps them develop listening skills, as well as a deeper appreciation for language.
● Do reading craft projects: Turn words and letters into works of art, like an alphabet book.
● Point letters out: Opportunities to practice reading with your child are everywhere. Point out letters or words on labels, signs, billboards and boxes whenever you get a chance.
● Play rhyming games: Ask your child to rhyme as many words as they can with the word “clock” for example, or “cat.”
● Produce a play: Ask your child to act out their favorite story or play. For a shorter version, ask them to recreate a favorite scene from a movie, such as from “Finding Nemo” or “Toy Story.”
● Make greeting cards: Show your child how personable reading and writing can be by creating greeting cards together for family and friends. If they’re not yet able to write, let them add creative drawings to your homemade greeting cards.
● Invent names: Share the joy of word sounds with your child by helping them assign unique names to their favorite stuffed animals or toys.
● Visit the library: Take your child to a local library’s storytelling hour, or join a children’s reading group with your child.
● Make music: Explore the lyrical side of reading and writing by creating songs or poems with your child. Consider incorporating instruments too for the full musical experience.
● Play games: Word games are fun for children and adults, and the options are endless. Choose games that match your child’s reading level so they can have just as much fun. You can make many of these games at home with only a few materials.
● Create photo captions: Look at family photos or magazine photos with your child and work together to make funny or informative captions.
One of the best things you can do to encourage your child to read is to demonstrate your love of reading. Let them see you skim the newspaper, work on a crossword puzzle or read nutrition labels. Spread a positive attitude about reading throughout your home and your children will be inspired to follow your example.
How Do I Know if My Child Is Falling Behind?
If you suspect your child is falling behind with reading, ask yourself the following questions, according to their age:
● Age 3 or 4: Is your child able to remember nursery rhymes and can they play rhyming games?
● Age 4: Does your child struggle to follow directions from a book or listening to you?
● Age 5: Can your child play simple word games, like listing animals that start with the letter “c”? Is your child beginning to write letters and numbers they see from signs and books?
● Age 5 and 6: Does your child understand words are broken down into different parts, and that by changing a letter you make a new word? For example, do they realize that switching “c” in “cat” to “b” makes it “bat”?
Other early signs your child might be struggling with reading include difficulties in the following areas:
● Pronouncing new words
● Remembering new words
● Breaking words into sounds
● Putting words together to form new sounds
● Recalling the names and sounds of letters
● Skipping words in sentences without correction
● Forgetting words
● Sounding out the same words repeatedly
● Guessing at unknown words instead of sounding them out
If your child shows signs of reading difficulties, don’t worry too much. Use the helpful techniques and activities discussed above to help them improve their reading skills — and most importantly — help them develop a positive self-image.
How Do I Help My Child Without Discouraging Them?
Depending on a child’s age, they might notice they’re not up to the same level as their peers. If this is the case, it’s not uncommon for them to have a lower self-esteem and talk down to themselves.
Here’s how you can help give them a boost:
● Counter put-downs with positivity: If your child says they hate reading or they feel stupid, reassure your child that struggling to read doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent. Focus on your child’s strengths and make a list of everything your child does well to help boost their confidence.
● Target the problem: The best way to help raise your child’s self-esteem when it comes to reading is to identify the specific issue they’re having, and help them overcome obstacles. Let your child know that they can improve their reading skills with practice, and don’t hesitate to ask teachers for help.
● Teach your child to self-advocate: Encourage your child to explain their difficulties to teachers and let them know that it’s ok to ask for help.
● Use patience: Learning to read can be frustrating for both parents and kids. If your child becomes upset when trying to read, it’s important to give some gentle positive encouragement. Sometimes it’s best to start small and work at your child’s pace.
By working together, you and your child can pinpoint where they’re struggling with reading. Teachers can often help here too. Once you know where your child’s having some hiccups, such as in vocabulary or comprehension, you can try specific techniques for making reading much more enjoyable.
Here are our tips for specific reading hurdles:
● Phonemic awareness: If your child doesn’t enjoy rhyming games and struggles to rhyme, slowly incorporate rhyming activities into a routine. Play rhyming games and read books that rhyme. Start small.
● Decoding: If your child often gets stuck on words and gets frustrated when asked to sound out words, practice sight words with your child. Help them recognize the sounds and letters they already know, and consider using games to help build their phonics skills.
● Vocabulary: If your child struggles to find the right word to describe something and often misuses common words, speak with your child every day and try to include new words. Read with your child, play word games and help them remember new words by grouping pictures of objects while naming them.
● Fluency: If your child sounds choppy and reads slowly aloud, they might need help building their decoding skills. If not, help them increase their reading speed by going over the same passages several times, or read aloud and have your child try to match you.
● Comprehension: If your child is unable to summarize what happened in a story or passage, spend more time discussing books with them. Help them connect tales to real-life events or movies. Read together and see what your child understands each step of the way.
How Aa to Zz Can Help
If your child is struggling to read, there’s no need to panic. Every child learns in their own way, and you may have to switch up your teaching methods to fit their unique needs. By making reading an enjoyable activity, and reaching out for support from teachers, family and friends, you can develop the best plan for your child.
Aa to Zz Child Care and Learning Center cares about helping your child grow and develop new skills through fun hands-on learning. At Aa to Zz, we focus on learning experiences that engage all the senses. From exploratory play to storytelling, we understand that learning should be fun, safe and imaginative. If your child is struggling with homework, we offer free tutoring too.
To learn more about our preschool and school-age programs, contact us today!