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Boost Your Child’s Reading Skills - Tools and Tips to Help

Becoming a reader is one of the most exciting learning adventures your child will ever experience. Many children need little more than exposure to books and they’re off on their own. But others need guided support as they struggle with sounds, fluency, and reading unfamiliar words. Reading is a complex process, but it’s vitally important to all learning. You’ll want to help your child build skills step-by-step and maintain a high degree of enthusiasm and confidence along the way. When a child is overwhelmed by the pace of new vocabulary or the expectation to ‘read faster,’ there is a higher likelihood of discouragement.

Reading together regularly is the best way parents can help their children learn to read. Here are some tried-and-true methods to use when you read side by side with your young learner:

1. First, be sure your child is ready to read. Have you read many and varied stories, poems, nursery rhymes, and a variety of non-fiction books to your child? Does your child know how to hold a book, turn the pages, and follow from left to right? Does your child know the letters of the alphabet, and does your child know the sounds that letters make? Can they recognize a few words such as their name, “mom” and “dad,” “stop,” “go,” etc.? Does your child know how to write some letters on their own? If the answer is no to most of these questions, take some time to get them ready for reading. And be sure the entire process is positive and enjoyable for them.

2. Create a reading/writing centre in your home filled with supplies. You might want to include all kinds of paper, pens, markers, crayons, scissors, tape and glue, pipe cleaners, envelopes, stamps and stamp pads, etc. Children love to make their own books and write their own stories.

3. Read their favorite books over and over again. Stop and let your child fill in the words. Allow them to memorize the book and ‘read’ it themselves. This kind of practice is confidence-building and sets the stage for independent reading lessons.

4. Once youre working on early reading material, remember that good readers use a variety of strategies to solve problems. As adults, we do this without giving the process much thought.

Here are some of the strategies adults use when we come upon a new or difficult word. Your child should use these strategies, too:

  • We go back and reread the word so it makes sense to us.

  • We break the word into chunks and read the parts we already know.

  • We read past the word to see what might make sense in that place.

  • We read carefully all the way through the word, part by part.

  • We use picture clues and other prompts from the text.

  • We ask ourselves questions, such as: ‘Does that make sense?’ ‘Would that work?’ ‘Does that sound right?’ 

5. Choose the right reading level for your child. Children need some books to practice on their own that are familiar and easy. They also need books at their ‘instructional level,’ which means books with a few challenges. When they are working on these more difficult books, you need to be with your child asking questions, prompting with correct strategies, and be available to prevent reading frustrations. Allowing a wait time of 8 to 10 seconds before stepping in with a prompt gives the reader time to try some strategies on their own.

6. Avoid labeling your reader with words that compare. They’re on the road to reading and it’s not important if they’re learning ‘as quickly’ as another child.

7. Be sure the culture of your home is pro-reading. Use your local library to enrich your home with good reading material. Newspapers, magazines, baseball cards, maps - these are all reading materials, too. Your children should see you reading for enjoyment, and there should be read-aloud times every day. Family read-alouds with time for discussion is a wonderful incentive for young readers to work hard to become fluent readers themselves.

8. Retelling a story out loud is a great way for children to gain the meaning of the story. They’ll become familiar with characters, settings, and the action line with a beginning, middle, and end.

9. Make reading fun with extensions and activities related to the stories they love. Let them draw, act out the story, make mobiles, puppets and all manner of art projects related to the characters and action of a favorite book. Make charts and graphs to depict the characters, setting, and storyline. Compare and contrast, chart the action, decide to change the ending or write new characters into the book.

10. Choose quality materials. Become familiar with great authors and illustrators. Look for books that have earned awards such as the Caldecott award for illustrations and the Newbery award for excellence in literature.

It’s a joy to watch children become fluent readers, but it can be a challenge to work daily with those children who struggle to learn. In most cases, lots of practice at the appropriate reading levels will provide growth over time. You may want to write a few books about your own family members and make that the reading practice of the day. Familiar names, places, and activities will make the story much more engaging. Your child will pick up on your enthusiasm for reading.

Your reward? Happy, successful learners.

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and a reading specialist. She is the author of Homegrown Readers: Simple Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Read and writes parenting, education, and family life articles. Find her at

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