7 Ways to Support Your Reader at Home: Tips from a Reading Specialist
1. Praise effort
Remember how long it took your child to learn to talk? Having you cheering on the sidelines gave her the confidence to string words together and try out new words. Eventually, she became the chatterbox that she is today. Learning to read is a similar process. It takes years to achieve the level of proficiency that you are probably thinking of as “reading.” Praising small reading successes will give her the confidence she needs to grow.
2. Offer support
As with learning any new skill, expect mistakes. How you handle those mistakes sets the stage for how comfortable your child will feel flexing her reading wings in your presence. Rather than jumping in with corrections, give support in a non-threatening manner: “Let’s try the rest of the word together!” Validate her attempt to meet a challenge with positive phrases like, “I like how you got your mouth ready and tried the first two sounds.”
3. It’s okay to use the pictures!
Looking at the pictures before reading is an important previewing skill. Illustrations help set the scene and program the brain with viable options as to where the passage may be heading. Creating this framework gives your child’s brain a boost when she is trying to work out unfamiliar words.
4. Stumbling is natural
Just as your child’s first steps were tentative and awkward, her early reading efforts will be, too. The best way to handle stumbles is to allow her to finish the sentence, then say, “Let’s try again, now that you’ve got most of the words.” This chance to “replay” gives her time to gather her thoughts and compose herself before trying again.
5. Don’t allow your child to read like a r-o-b-o-t
Nobody likes to listen to monotone reading, and you shouldn’t have to spend your evenings listening to your typically bubbly child read like a robot. If she does not understand what she is reading, your child cannot move her voice appropriately. Reading “Help!” as an exclamation shows that the reader understands that a character is in peril; simply pronouncing “/H/-/e/-/l/-/p/” in the same tone and volume as every other word in the passage does not. Eliminating robot reading, then, requires a double dose of support. Focus first on comprehension, (“What is happening here?”) and then, expression (“How do you think the author wants you to read that?”)
6. Reread, reread, reread!
Struggling to get through a passage the first time is okay – this is when unfamiliar words are worked out and your reader is practicing her newly acquired word attack strategies. However, once your child has worked through a challenging sentence, ask her to read it again, smoothly. If she continues to stumble, make a game of rereading: take turns using silly voices, character voices, even the babysitter’s voice! With each turn, ask, “Who read it better?” Creating a friendly competition alleviates tension and allows your child to see you as a partner, rather than a critic.
7. You are your child’s biggest fan!
Be patient while your child practices her strategies. Remember that she crawled before she stood, and she held your hands for support before she was able to balance, walk, and eventually, run on her own. Your support helped her get to the next level of movement, and to feel comfortable there. Your gentle support of your budding reader will do the same. Try to support and celebrate each level of achievement as she embarks on this journey as a reader, and enjoy the precious moments together as you witness the miracle of yet another developmental milestone.
Lynn Mondello, M.A. is a state-certified Elementary Reading Specialist in Rockaway Township, New Jersey.