On the go? Listen to this article!
I’ve been teaching children to read for a long time and I’ve seen curriculums come and go, “proven” supplemental reading programs fade in and out, and parents and educators waxing and waning about whether the whole language, balanced literacy, or phonic-only approach is the best way to teach a child to read.
I do not wish to weigh in on the reading wars today but you can read how Mark Thogmartin and I feel about this war in our book, Teach a Child to Read with Children’s Books. For now, I will share with you the things that do work when teaching children to read — the strategies and actions that continue to turn even the most reluctant readers into lifelong readers, despite trends and opinions about reading that may come and go.
I like to tell the parents that I work with inside my Facebook group, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to teach reading.”
Sure, there are those who will make you feel that way. But don’t let them intimidate you. I’ve known thousands of parents who did not possess teaching degrees who’ve taught their children to read and raised children who love to read.
Now, I’ve also known many who failed in this attempt. Is it because they were incapable of teaching their child to read? I don’t think so. I believe it was because they failed to implement some basic things into their reading approach.
I believe in some cases they relied too much on one way of approaching reading and when their child did not respond they were stumped, so they gave up. Or they continued to drum this method into their instruction until their child lost confidence or learned to hate reading.
I don’t want you to give up. I don’t want any child to hate reading. I don’t want you to give up on your child learning to read or becoming a lifelong reader. I don’t want you to abandon your dream of homeschooling, or having the freedom to make decisions about your child’s educational needs.
I want you to succeed at this reading thing. And I want you to do it with aplomb. I want your child to love reading and I want other parents to look at your child with a book in his hand instead of an Xbox controller and ask, “What did you do?”
What really works when teaching children to read
Read aloud to them. This is the simplest thing that anyone can do to help students achieve success as readers. It’s simple but it’s important and powerful. Don’t dismiss this as only for children before they learn to read on their own. Research shows that reading aloud to children is beneficial even after they begin to read on their own and even on into middle and high school years.
“Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.”― Marilyn Jager Adams
Model. When you show children how to read by reading to them and show them reading is important by reading around them, you model behaviors that will set the stage for success in reading. Children need to hear what good reading sounds like, understand why you read, and see you enjoying books too. Make your life a living example of what it means to be a reader.
Let them choose. Choice is a powerful motivator and can turn an unmotivated reader into a highly engaged reader. Whenever possible allow your child to choose the book, the type of book, the topic, or have some say in what you read together. For independent reading practice, please allow children to choose books that they want to read. This will pay off big time for you and your child!
Worthy and McKool (1996) found that allowing students to make choices about their reading material increased the likelihood that they would engage more in reading. — Reading Rockets
Be excited about reading and value books. If you are not excited about reading, chances are high that your child won’t be either. There are some children who seem to be born with a book in their hands, but each passing year more things compete for our children’s attention. Digital devices, 24/7 television, video games, apps, and busy schedules can all take your child away from reading real books. If you don’t show enthusiasm for books, your child will most likely be distracted by other things. Buy your child books, visit the library regularly, make a big deal about reading time, and eliminate as many distractions as you can.
“You became a reader because you saw and heard someone you admired enjoying the experience, someone led you to the world of books even before you could read, let you taste the magic of stories, took you to the library, and allowed you to stay up later at night to read in bed.”— Jim Trelease
Give them strategies. Independent readers have learned that it’s their job to make sense of what they read. They take ownership of their comprehension of a story and they take risks when it comes to decoding and trying new words. By giving your child strategies that they can use when they are reading on their own you are teaching them to become independent readers. There are a variety of strategies new readers can use to decode words and make sense of the text. Learn to go beyond, “Sound it out.” and your child will learn that he is in charge of his own reading and not get frustrated when encountering new words.
Provide easy books to read. Parents (and sometimes teachers) think that reading isn't productive unless it’s hard for children. In fact, the opposite is true. Without reading material that is easy for children, they will become easily discouraged and fluency will suffer. When children can’t read fluently, they won’t be able to comprehend what they read. When encouraging your child to read independently, offer a wide variety of books you know your child can read on his own. This will build confidence which goes a long way in making your child believe in himself as a reader. Save the harder books for when you read together and can help him.
Allow them time to read. Amazingly enough, educators will tell you that children do not get enough time in school to simply read. Make sure your child has time to read — not answer questions and complete worksheets — just time to read books. Think about when you sit down to read a book and know you only have 10 minutes before you have to get ready for another activity. Chances are you won’t open the book or will not get engaged with that book. We like to “get lost in a book” and spend time settling into a story. Children need this time too.
Teach them phonics but individualize the approach. We now know, without a shadow of a doubt, that phonics is a necessary component for learning to read. What’s not always as clear is how to teach phonics, how much emphasis to place on phonics, and ways to differentiate for diverse children’s needs. Some children will require intensive phonics instruction (those with dyslexia or special needs, for example), whereas some will take off on their own after they master the basic sounds and sound combinations. Continuing to hammer isolated skills at a child who is already reading well above grade level isn’t necessary, yet scripted reading programs and many classroom curriculums call for a one-size-fits-all approach. Learn to recognize where your child needs support and let him move forward.
Now, does any of that sound like rocket science? Most children, when given a nurturing environment and surrounded by books, will blossom as readers. It’s never too early to start and it’s never too late. What is most important is that you ignite a desire for reading early and give your child some key support along the way!
Teach a Child to Read with Children’s Books has been supporting parents and grandparents for more than two decades. With updated references and research in the 4th edition, we are helping a whole new generation raise lifelong readers.