3 Easy Steps to Teach Your Child to Read and Keep Reading!

Updated on October 8, 2018
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As an educator, I know parents are best suited to teach their children to read. The loving one-on-one connection makes it so effective.

Should Parents Teach Their Children to Read?

  • Are you troubled by the large number of people you know who rarely read for pleasure?
  • Do you want your youngster to love reading and develop a lifetime passion for it?
  • Are you concerned about school reading programs that emphasize phonics and sight words but not comprehension?
  • Do you worry that schools are doing more harm than good with their obsession about getting children to read in kindergarten?

If you're nodding along to these questions, you're the perfect candidate to teach your youngsters to read. Sadly, too many parents have the misconception that reading must be taught by trained educators and requires a pricey phonics kit, worksheets, alphabet cards, special books, and other resources. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nobody is better suited to teach their children how to read than their own parents!

Who can better build the association between books and the feelings of  love, warmth, and security than Mom and Dad?
Who can better build the association between books and the feelings of love, warmth, and security than Mom and Dad? | Source

The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.

— Jim Trelease, author of "The Read-Aloud Handbook"

Parents Are Best Equipped to Teach Their Children to Read

Nobody is better equipped to teach children to read than their moms and dads. That's because reading involves more than sounding out words on a page. At its most powerful, reading is an emotional undertaking as well as an intellectual one—an interlacing of the written text with one's own life. If a youngster is lucky, she gets to experience reading as a warm, loving time when she sits on her mom's lap, cuddles in bed for a nighttime story, or walks to the library with dad for afternoon story time.

She might be too young to understand what's being read to her, but she makes profound connections that will last a lifetime: reading is love, reading is security, and reading feels good. To teach a child to read, parents should remember these 3 simple mantras: 1) Start with the heart. 2) When you're out and about, sound it out and 3) Comprehension is the key that turns sounding out into reading.

Teaching a child to read should start in the affective realm, not the cognitive one.
Teaching a child to read should start in the affective realm, not the cognitive one. | Source

There's an education adage that goes, 'What we teach children to love and desire will always outweigh what we make them learn.' The fact is that some children learn to read sooner than others, while some learn better than others. There is a difference. For the parent who thinks that sooner is better, who has an 18-month-old child barking at flash cards, my response is: sooner is not better. Are the dinner guests who arrive an hour early better guests than those who arrive on time? Of course not.

— Jim Trelease, author of "The Read-Aloud Handbook"

1. Start With the Heart: Conception—Age 5

Parents of infants and toddlers lay the foundation for reading success long before there's need of formal, systematic instruction. While some gung-ho moms and dads get tempted by products that claim to promote early reading, they should resist the temptation to buy them. Introducing formal instruction too early may actually backfire—making youngsters see reading as a task that wins parental favor, not as a pleasurable activity unto itself. Studies show that youngsters who receive early instruction in reading are less likely to read for enjoyment when they get older.

Reading is all about the affective realm for this age group and parents should adopt the mantra: Start with the heart. When reading to their children, they should focus on the following:

  • Scaffolding. When reading to young children, parents should keep in mind the image of a scaffold—one piece placed on top of another to make something bigger and stronger. If the bottom of the scaffold is weak and wobbly, the entire thing will collapse. Little children have limited experiences so parents should build upon what they already know. Reading a book about butterflies to a child who has never seen a butterfly is largely meaningless. However, reading a book about butterflies to a youngster who spent the afternoon watching them fluttering around her garden is immensely powerful.

  • Tap into prior knowledge. Before reading, parents should tap into their children's prior knowledge—priming the pump for deeper learning. For example, when reading Make Way for Ducklings, a mother might recall the day she and her daughter went to the park to feed the ducks and ask: “What do you remember about those ducks?” Before reading Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, a dad might reminisce about the time he and his son watched the heavy equipment at the construction site near their house, asking: “What vehicles do you remember seeing and what were they doing?”
  • Make it warm and cozy. Many parents fall into the trap of reading to their children at bedtime when they're exhausted from a long day. This often makes for an unsatisfying experience for both parent and child. It's far better for parents to choose a time when they're feeling fresh, energized, and involved in the process. Most importantly, they should make reading a warm and cozy experience: sitting under the shade of a tree, sipping hot cocoa by a warm fire, or cuddling together in bed on a lazy Sunday morning.

The more you read aloud at home increases your child’s development!  The biggest bonus is bonding together.  Nothing beats snuggling with Mom or Dad, one-on-one, reading a book.  Life is good!

— Jennie Fitzkee, preschool teacher for over 30 years
Parents should teach phonological awareness in an organic way: reciting nursery rhymes, listening to kids' music, and playing games. They should make up rhymes throughout the day: "Get in the car. We're not going far!"
Parents should teach phonological awareness in an organic way: reciting nursery rhymes, listening to kids' music, and playing games. They should make up rhymes throughout the day: "Get in the car. We're not going far!" | Source

2. When You're Out and About, Sound It Out: Phonological Awareness Ages 3-7

Studies show that children with weak phonological awareness become weak readers. Parents can almost guarantee their youngsters will become proficient readers by starting early with phonological awareness. They should forget flashcards, workbooks, and pricey kits such as “Hooked on Phonics” and just keep it fun, light, and simple. Phonological awareness is about being silly with words, making it a game, and celebrating the magic of language. There's no need for parents to sit their children down and give formal lessons. Instead, parents should teach it throughout the day in a fun and organic way by remembering the mantra: When you're out and about, sound it out:

  • Get creative with rhyming words. Parents should talk to their youngsters using rhyming words: “Time to get into the car, my little star.” “Let's clean your room. Do we need a broom?” “Eat your dinner or you'll get thinner.”

  • Read nursery rhymes, short poems, and books that rhyme. Dr. Seuss is a great place to start.

  • Play word games in the car. Driving from place to place presents a terrific opportunity to play simple word games. Think of as many words as possible that start with “m”: man, moose, muscle, machine, mailbox, monkey, meat. Think of as many words as possible that rhyme with cat: bat, sat, mat, that, fat, gnat, pat.

  • Play “I Spy”. While waiting in the doctor's office or sitting at the dinner table, play a game of “I Spy”—“I spy with my little eye something that's brown and starts with the 'sh' sound” (shoe). “I spy with my little eye something that's green and begins with the 'l' sound.” (leaf).

  • Play games that promote phonological awareness. Good ones include Uncle Wiggily, Hedbanz for Kids, and Boogle Junior.
  • Play kids' music that rhymes while in the car. This is one of the easiest ways to instill phonological awareness in children. Some favorites include beloved performers: Hap Palmer, Linda Arnold, Charlotte Diamond, Dr. Jean, and Joe Scruggs.


What is phonological awareness?

Phonological awareness in young children is the foundation for early reading. It involves the ability to hear and manipulate sounds, syllables, and words. It includes skills such as recognizing when words rhyme, clapping the number of syllables in a word, and identifying words with the same beginning sounds such as "cat" and "cow." When children develop phonological awareness, they see the patterns among words and use that knowledge to read.

Making connections between one's own life and what one reads is the magic of books. Reading is the search for meaning
Making connections between one's own life and what one reads is the magic of books. Reading is the search for meaning | Source

3. Comprehension Is the Key that Turns Sounding Out Into Reading: Ages 4-8

Parents and teachers are often overly impressed with children who have decoding skills, incorrectly labeling them as “readers.” But, of course, reading involves much more than merely sounding out words on a page; it also includes comprehension, which is more complex and harder to teach. To comprehend successfully, children must not only have solid decoding skills, they must read fluently and find meaning in the printed text. Once again, when it comes to teaching comprehension, parents are best suited to the task.

To make meaningful connections with the printed word, children need rich and varied life experiences. A kid who has never strayed from the inner-city will not get much from a story about farm life. A kid who has never visited an aquarium will not have the background needed to comprehend a text on marine life. Moms and dads can boost comprehension by remembering the mantra: Comprehension is the key that turns sounding out into reading. They can engage in the following activities.

  • Reading themselves. Parents who read for both pleasure and knowledge are powerful role models for their children. Moms and dads who want to learn more about a topic—whether it's gardening, U.S. government, or dog breeds—and go to the library to check out books are teaching their kids about the value of reading.

  • Making predictions. When reading to a child, parents should ask them to make predictions about what will happen next in the story. They should start with the cover and ask: “What do you think this book is about?” This gets kids involved in the story, alert to the plot, and improves comprehension.

  • Relate the story to the child's experiences. A parent should guide the child in making meaningful connections. For example, when reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a parent might ask: “How would you feel if someone came into your house and sat in your chair and broke it?”

  • Always follow up a story with a discussion or activity. Studies show that comprehension increases greatly when reading is followed up by discussing the book or doing an activity. Parents might ask: “What was your favorite part?” or “Who was your favorite character and why?” They might ask their child to draw a picture of an alternate ending or help them write a story with a similar plot or theme.

What is comprehension?

Comprehension is the ability to understand and interpret what one has read. In order for a child to comprehend what she has read, she must not only decode the text; she must also make meaningful connections between what she's read and what she already knows. She must also be able to think deeply about what she has read.

Final Thoughts

Parents have 3 mantras to remember when teaching their children how to read: 1) Start with the heart. 2) When you're out and about, sound it out and 3) Comprehension is the key that turns sounding out into reading. By keeping these in mind, parents have what they need to turn children into proficient readers who love books and will turn to them for both pleasure and knowledge.

What is your favorite series of children's books?

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Teach Your Child to Read and Enjoy Doing It With This Book

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

No matter what their level of education, parents are better equipped to teach their children to read than teachers are. As both a mom and an educator, I know parents have what it takes – the ability to combine the affective and cognitive realms to turn their kids into readers who adore books. I highly recommend Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons because it gives moms and dads the tools they need to make the process joyful and effective. It gives them the information they need and they supply the all-important love and encouragement.

 

Questions & Answers

  • My sons (14 and 12) hate to read. What can I do to encourage it at their current ages?

    While it's best (and easiest) to encourage a love of books in children when they're little, it's never too late, and it's always worth the effort. Of course, you'll need to use different strategies, but the goal is the same: to build a connection between feelings of well-being, security, and happiness and reading. Unfortunately, as kids get older, they start to associate reading with negative things (studying for a test, doing homework) and negative feelings (anxiety, stress). What you want to do is turn that around, so reading is seen as something relaxing and pleasurable.

    I suggest you set aside an hour each night after dinner for reading. The TV is off as well as cell phones and computers. Your family gathers in a cozy room, and everybody reads something of their choice (a novel, magazines, comic books, non-fiction), but nothing work or school related. To make it more enjoyable, serve hot cocoa, popcorn, and dessert from time to time. During the last 10 minutes, have everyone share something about what they read. If this sounds impossible to do because your family is too busy on weekdays, do it just one night a week—perhaps, Friday or Saturday--when everyone isn't so frantic with after school activities and homework.

    Also, make sure you and your spouse are setting a good example by reading often for pleasure. At dinner time, talk about what you're reading and why you're enjoying it. Discuss different genres and authors. Elevate the dinner conversation by discussing literature, not just the latest TV shows and movies.

    When my sons were in middle school, they loved participating in the “Battle of the Books,” a nation-wide program to promote reading. Kids formed teams and read selected books that were high quality and age-appropriate. Then they competed against other teams at their school and other schools, answering questions about the books: characters, plot, symbolism, etc. The team and competition aspect motivated my boys to read, and they had a fun time doing it. I also read a couple of the books aloud to them. Because the books were chosen by a committee of professionals, I enjoyed reading them and discussing the important ideas they covered (immigration, bullying, discrimination) with my sons.

© 2016 McKenna Meyers

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