Reading is probably the most integral and important skill that children learn while they are in school. Nearly every other aspect of learning and education builds off a strong reading foundation. Science requires students to be able to read and write lab reports, scientific articles, and other pieces of scientific writing. Social studies is built around the ability to read primary source documents, textbooks, speeches, and other written documentation effectively. Even math requires the ability to read and understand writing. Unfortunately, some children have problems with reading and find themselves behind the curve for the rest of their educational careers. Additionally, children who do not read well often feel embarrassed or nervous to read out loud in class or ask for additional help and thus fall even further behind their classmates. Luckily, there are some things you can do to help your child read better.
First, make sure your child understands the different sounds that letters make. The first line of defense when encountering an unknown word is to “sound it out.” While some reading teachers are debating the efficiency of this strategy, it still seems to be the most prevalent way to begin reading. In order to sound out a word a child must know what sounds the different letters make. This can be tough in as nuanced a language as English (like the -gh in the word “tough”!) so be prepared to experience some frustration. Flashcards can be an effective way to help your child recognize the different letters and the sounds they make.
Secondly, encourage your child to use context clues to determine the meaning of unknown words. Depending on the age of the child, these clues can sometimes take the form of pictures. Encourage children to use the pictures in their books to help them figure out what is going on. Also, using the known words surrounding an unknown word can often provide the clues to what the missing word is. When your child encounters such an unknown word, don’t immediately give it to them. Encourage them to use the context clues to figure it out. By helping them through this process and modeling it for them, your child will become more confident deducing the meaning of what they’re reading.
Another way to encourage your child to read better is to continually provide challenging (but not too challenging) material for them to practice on. Children (and adults) learn best when their abilities are being challenged but not at such a level as to overly frustrate them. If you keep a wide array of different levels of reading materials available you can make sure that you always have the appropriate level of challenge for your child.
Most importantly, don’t worry too much about the speed at which your child reads. Far more important is the amount of material they retain after reading. This is known as reading comprehension and it is a much more important skill than reading quickly. Indeed, the easiest way for your child to begin reading more quickly is to not belabor the fact too much. Speed comes with practice. As long as your child is reading and practicing, the speed will come later.
Make sure that you are a positive role model for your child when it comes to reading. If your child never sees you reading then why should he practice reading? If you watch TV in your free time why should he have to read instead? You provide very powerful motivation for your children when it comes to their reading and learning habits. Do what you need to do to improve the behaviors that you’re modeling if they aren’t at the level you’d expect your own children to be at.