Learning to read
Teachers talk about how you can help your child learn to read – and love to read.
At a glance
- Read to your child often.
- Let them look at the pictures to help figure out the story.
- Encourage them to sound out the words.
- Don't jump in and tell them – let them try to figure it out.
- Practise sight words such as: the, where, who, why, there, one.
- Pause, prompt, praise.
- Praise for trying gives kids confidence to have a go.
- Practise – learning to read requires repetition.
- Try to find books about subjects your child is interested in.
- Be patient – reading takes time to master.
- Reading should be enjoyable time together – try not to get anxious about it.
Helping kids learn to read can sometimes be frustrating. Here's some practical advice from experienced teachers.
The biggest thing I would suggest for parents to do at home from birth is read to your children.
Show them the way that you are supposed to read, the sounds that you are supposed to use, the intonations, [it] helps them realise what they are supposed to hear when they are reading themselves.
Read to them, let them pick up, find words that they know. A child might be in Kindergarten and learning basic sight words. You might be reading a picture book to them, let them pick up: "I know that word, Mum".
Let them read the words and follow along with you, read the words that they know.
Children who can look through a book and get the idea of the story from pictures, [that] is half way to beginning to read.
If they stop reading and look at the pictures that's OK too. The child gets a clue from the pictures. The pictures are there specifically to help the child gain meaning from the text.
If it's a struggle, read the book to them first and enjoy the book, and then give them a go.
The thing that parents can do to help their child is to give their child ownership of the book. Let them hold it. Let them look through it. Remind them that their eyes track from left to right in the book.
Point to the words as they say them to make sure the words match up with the number of words they're saying.
Don't try and rush them too quickly, just take it one step at a time.
Keep your cool. Don't just jump in and tell them what it is, talk about it, look at the pictures. "What do you think it might be?"
Just give your child undivided attention. When you're sitting down with them to read they are the most important thing for that five or 10 minutes. And make them feel that reading is special.
Sounding out words is really important with children at home, so if you're looking at a word – for example "cat" – you might look at the first sound, so the "c" sound, then look at the end sound, the "t".
You might look for words that are within the word, like "at", and then blend it together. So "c"- "at".
Put sight words onto cards, have the children going through those cards at home.
Sight words are those simple small words that we find in text every day, so they might be words like 'girl', 'boy', 'man', 'the'.
One thing I think is a great strategy for kids, when they're first reading, [is] strips of paper or strips of cardboard and just pick a sentence out of one of these books.
"Mum is swimming." Write it on a piece of cardboard, talk about it first, read it, cut it up into pieces, put the pieces on the table and say: "OK, you make that sentence for me now."
The concept of pause, prompt and praise is where a child comes to a word you don't know, you stop. You pause. Give them a chance to work it out for themselves.
You prompt them if they can't come up with the word independently.
So you might give them visual prompts; "What does the word look like?", "What do you think would fit into this?" And then if they do make the right attempt and get the word correct, then you praise them.
Make your child feel success. You know, that they've done it themselves.
Praise is very important when the child is starting to read, because it builds up their self-confidence and it makes them want to read. If they feel they're failing in reading, then they won't want to do it.
It is about practise. And that's one of the things you see in Kindergarten. The children who have parents who are diligently helping them with their nightly reading and are helping them with their sight words, they are the ones that take off quickly. The others take off of course, but it's about practise. It really is a lot of repetition before they learn words and learn letters.
Debra van Aanholt
There's lots of little things – reading stories to your child at night before they go to bed, if there's something they ask you about while you're cooking, you know, telling them what the label says or, "Yes, that's a stop sign" when you're driving.
I really think home-reading is an important thing to do.
If your kid just did an extra 10 minutes of home-reading a night, 50 minutes a week, you're looking at an extra hour of work that can basically just be done as a parent and child.
The most important tips for parents to encourage reading is looking at their interests. And building on that – children who struggle to read find it hard, so if it's something that they're interested in they'll want to read.
Some good ways to get boys in particular reading, there are some great series out and they're geared towards boys, they're written for boys.
If they want to read their BMX magazine, their comics, it's still reading. They're still learning words, they're still understanding. It doesn't have to be the traditional novels we're used to.
But hang in there because reading's really important and any child that loves reading has a pleasure for the rest of their life.
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