Teaching a child to read is one of the most important things a parent can do. Though teachers may have more training or experience, parents are every child’s first teachers, and starting the process of learning to read begins long before any child attends school. Here are a few simple tips from an experienced elementary school educator.
It is important to view reading as one part of a child’s total language development, not a separate skill. With this lens, it is clear that early exposure to spoken language as well as written language will have lasting effects on the way a child learns to read. It probably isn’t a surprise to you that learning is intimately tied to your emotions. Stress, anxiety, anger, fear, or other negative emotions causes the release of hormones that can prevent retention of new information and slow the learning process. This is just one more reason why reading with your young child should be a fun shared activity, not a stressful one.
The single most helpful thing a parent can do to help their child learn to read is to read to their infants, and read with their toddlers and young children. There are so many reasons why this simple action has a strong effect on a child’s learning. First, the time spent with your child is vitally important to helping them develop positive self-esteem.
More than that, if you are consistent about reading with your child, they will learn from your example that reading is important. Finally, through watching and listening as you read, your child will naturally begin to pick up patterns in sounds and words.
It’s a Process
As with walking, talking, or riding a bike, there are many skills that contribute to a child’s ability to read. Good parents don’t dwell on the imperfections of their toddler’s speech--quite the opposite in fact, as most parents beam with pride at the short, mispronounced language experiments that come out of their children’s mouths. Learning to read is the same way. Just because it’s not perfect doesn’t mean that it’s not reading, and each new book should be another way to build confidence in your young reader.
There are many important steps that parents can guide their children through as they are learning to read. “Reading” pictures is a simple but powerful skill that teaches children to assign meaning to objects on a page. Reading pictures is a great habit for young readers to establish, because it helps them to rely on context for clues to unknown words or ideas.
Many parents observe that their children will begin reciting a favorite story or book long before they are actually able to read it. When children mimic reading in this way, they are experimenting with what reading looks like and sounds like, and building confidence that they can do it.
“Sounding out” is a well-recognized idea that often comes up in early stages of reading. Recognizing letter/sound patterns is vitally important to a child’s success as a reader. Rhyming games, sound games, and sound blending games will all contribute to a child’s ability to read. A simple example may be asking a child to say as many words as they can think of that starts with the same sound as “goat.” Making the connection between sounds off the page will only support them as they learn to connect written symbols and sounds.
There is a drawback to the phonics “sounding out” strategy. Many students and parents subscribe to the unconscious belief that if they can sound out a word, they can read the word. Separating the written word from its understood meaning is understandably dangerous. Even as adults, we encounter words that we have the ability to say or even spell correctly, though we have no idea what the word’s meaning actually is. We have come to rely on other strategies, primarily looking at the context of the word, to help us understand it. Young children are not different, and encouraging them to use pictures and prior knowledge to make sense of what they are reading can help them become skillful readers, even into adulthood.
Love Patience and Love
One very important thing to remember as you prepare to teach a child to read is that reading is a very complex and complicated process. As adults, it is easy to take for granted the many different ways that we process language. As teachers, it is important for every parent to recognize that it takes a lot of work to turn squiggles on a page into sounds, sounds into words, and words into meaning. Love, patience, and a love of reading will be visible to your child and will encourage them greatly as they learn.