One of my friends once called and told me that she planned to hire a tutor for her five-year old child to teach him how to read. When I told her that at his age he was not expected to read, she told me that although she knew that he didn’t need to read at that point, she did not know how to help him. She was trained in business–had an MBA from one of the top schools in the country–but that didn’t help when it came to helping her child know how to read. Here are some of the tips that I gave her.
First off, the first thing to do when you want to teach your child how to read is to read to them. Through story time, they gain all sorts of pre-reading skills: increased vocabulary, print awareness (how to hold the book, turn the pages, and read from top to bottom and left to right), narrative skills (the ability to understand and tell stories), letter knowledge (the understanding that letters have sounds that are different from one another), print motivation (the enjoyment of books), and phonological sensitivity (the ability to hear and manipulate different sounds). Speaking to children and playing sound/word games also encourages many of these pre-reading skills, so if your child is making up silly words though rhyming, play along because it help with their phonological awareness. It is also important while you are reading to stop at times and point out things in the pictures and ask your child what they think might happen next. This will get them thinking ahead and work on their narrative skills.
Most parents work to make sure that children recognize letters and know the sounds associated with the letters. In English, the vowels have many different sounds, so sometimes it is easier to work with consonants first and not worry as much about the vowels. Once your child associates letters with sounds, you can help him or her sound out easy words. It is helpful to start with games where you ask your child to substitute the initial consonant sound in order to form new words. For example, tell him that h-o-p spells “hop” and ask what t-o-p spells. Give several examples and play with the different sounds. After the initial consonant substitution, try ending consonant substitution.
When reading with your child before he begins to read himself, here are some strategies:
Memorizing: After reading books several times, children are able to “memorize” sections. As you read books that your child is familiar with, begin to let them finish sections
Using Repetition: read a book with a phrase that is repeated and let your child “read” that section (ex., The Very Busy Spider)
Read to Me: Ask your child to read you a book with which he/she is familiar. They will tell you the story using the pictures and parts that they have memorized.
Using Picture Cues: Let your child “fill in the blank” as you are reading by using the pictures.
Using Context Clues: Let your child “fill in the blank” as you are reading by asking what word makes sense in the sentence
Guess and Check: Same idea as picture cues, but now have them “check” using the initial sound, then later using ending sound
When your child is ready to begin to read some of the beginning reader books on his own, preview the book before reading it. Tell your child what the book will be about, using some of the more difficult words from the story. As he begins to read, encourage him to use the beginning sound to “guess-and-check.” This means that based on the story line and picture cues, he can guess what the next word should be and then check the beginning sound to see if the word matches. If your child is reading and guesses a word that is incorrect, he has still used an effective strategy, particularly if the words start with the same letters. Having a child sound out every sound in the word can be excruciating–it will not encourage a love of reading. At first, just give him the word of he is struggling or ask him to make one guess.
As parents, it is much more important to encourage a love of reading than it is to directly teach our children to read. However, the more exposure children have to print and the more that you work with them, the more likely they will become good readers themselves.