Excited for your child to start reading on their own? Most parents are! It is a major milestone to celebrate! It is no small feat to get kids to that independent reading stage.
During the school day, there are a lot of people and resources in place to help your young reader build phonemic awareness, make sense of the words on the page, and learn the rules of our complex language. Part of becoming an independent reader is practice so when that first book comes home and your child opens it, you become the teacher. It can be overwhelming as you try your best to help them as they stumble over the letters and words. For some, it can be frustrating. Let us take some of the stress out of it with these 5 tips for you and your emerging reader.
- Look over the book on your own before your child reads it to you.
Just taking a quick glance through the pages of a book before your child begins reading aloud will help you both in the long run. You will quickly see if there are words that break rules, words with digraphs (sh, th, ch, wh) and blends that your child may need help with, or character names or words relevant to the story that will be beyond their reading skills that could cause frustration.
- Introduce names and important words in the story that are beyond your child’s reading skills before you get started.
Even though teachers will send home books that are completely appropriate for your child’s reading and comprehension abilities, there will occasionally be a word in them that just can’t be sounded out by an emerging reader without struggle. Words like this will require some introduction from you. It is 100% okay to point out that word ahead of time, pronounce it for your child, and have them repeat it back to you. You are not doing the work for them, I promise. This is actually a strategy used in classrooms. It helps build a child’s vocabulary as well as their understanding of how letter sounds come together to form words. It also will build their confidence which is an important part of independent reading. Rather than stumbling over the one word in the story that is the hardest and giving up, they will be able to focus on other things like the story’s content and other words that are adequately challenging and successfully read.
- Take a picture walk.
Pictures are in children’s books for a reason. That is important to remember! Before you read, take a minute or two to look at the pictures in the story with your child. Ask your reader questions like what they think the story is about, who the main character is, or how characters may feel about things happening on certain pages. Ask your child to make predictions about what will happen based on what they see. Pictures are used to give important literacy clues and context for subjects that may be totally new. For example, if your child sees the word “balloon” in a book, that may be tricky to sound out. They may have the phonemic awareness to get part of the word and then struggle to complete it. However if they take a quick glance at the picture and see a character holding a balloon, they can draw the conclusion for what the word should be and go on. While I’ve heard some parents discourage this, it actually shows how resourceful your young reader is because they understand all the tools they have been given to make them successful. Don’t be afraid or think your child is cheating just because they are using the pictures as they should!
- Chunk up words.
At the early stages of reading, kids are likely to remember sight words (the words they have to memorize, sometimes called rainbow words). They are also likely to feel confident with words they can sound out. Play on this confidence when they are stuck or stumbling on a word by chunking the word. Chunking is when you take a word and cover parts of it so your reader only sees a small chunk of a larger word at a time. As your child successfully reads the part you show them, uncover another chunk of the word you have covered so they slowly put the whole word together chunk by chunk.
For example, the word “together” is very long and overwhelming! Use your fingers to cover up all the letters except for “to,” a word they recognize from their sight word list. Next, uncover the “ge” which should be easily sounded out. Next, uncover “the.” If this throws them off, cover up all the letters except those three because “the” is also a rainbow word they should know. Once they have strung those first three chunks together, they just need to add the “r” sound at the end. Have them read all the chunks and they will recognize the word “together.”
The great thing about chunking is that it works just as well for words without built-in sight words. You can cover up all but the first few letters, then keep moving down the word, uncovering a couple more letters at a time. Once they have sounded out the chunks, ask your child to put the sounds all together. They should recognize the word and be able to move on.
- Let them make mistakes.
This one is tough as a parent. When we hear our child make a mistake while reading, like reading the word “out” instead of the printed word “our” in a sentence, we want to stop them right away. We know it is the wrong word and want to stop them and have it corrected right away to help them.
The problem is that in the classroom, we won’t be by their side to point this out! Your child will need to be able to do this for his or her self so the best thing you can do is let them make the mistake. At least for a little bit. Let your child complete the sentence they are reading to give them a chance to catch the error on their own. Your reader will likely realize the word they read aloud doesn’t make sense without you saying anything. You waiting gives them the chance to correct this on their own. This is very important since reading is not only about sounding out the words but comprehending what’s happening in the story. It shows that even though your reader made an error, their comprehension skills are strong enough to know that something in their story isn’t making sense and want to go back and investigate.
Don’t be surprised if occasionally your young reader gets to the end of a sentence with an error and is ready to keep going without fixing the error. If it is a book with more than a sentence on a page, let them finish out the page to see if they catch the error.
If they are still ready to turn the page without recognizing the error, ask questions that can steer them towards seeing the error themselves. For example, if the sentence printed was “Our cat is orange,” but your child read it aloud as “Out cat is orange,” ask them to reread the sentence. Hopefully they correct the error from the first go through, but if not, ask your reader if it makes sense. If they are still unsure of the error, give them the choice of which makes more sense and read the sentence as printed and then as they read it. See if they can figure out what word makes more sense, then point out the “r” in the word they are misreading.
Giving them the chance to see the error without having to be told directly still builds your reader’s confidence. You will also be walking them through some different ways they can problem solve once they are reading independently.
- Bonus Tip: Be patient.
This is as much for how you interact with your child as it is for how you treat yourself in the process. Learning to read is not an effortless process for most of us. There will be times your child will have read the same word beautifully 5 times in a row but for some reason the next time that same word pops up it is a mystery to them. You will get frustrated. Your child will get frustrated. Neither of you is doing anything wrong. It is part of the process for most kids. Just breathe and remember it’s normal. It is also temporary. Those bumps in the road, with your support and encouragement, will become less and less and before you know it, you will have a confident, independent reader.