I hear a lot of anxious parents worrying about their children learning. And as I have said a hundred times before, I’m not an expert in the field of early learning, but I’ve got a little more experience in seeing children learn than most folks have. So I thought I’d like to share with you what I think parents can do to help their kids to read. Ready?
First, have books available! Children aren’t going to begin to learn to read without the proper equipment. That means they need a chair or even a rug with a light source and they need books!
Second, remind your children that reading is simply recognizing patterns. If your child can tell the difference between a Burger King sign and a McDonald’s sign, then they are already reading. The only difference between reading words and reading icons is it takes a bit more practice to decode words.
Third, remember when you started driving and you didn’t know how far ahead you had to look in order to safely move the vehicle forward? For me, I remember starting with a steely eyed glare a few feet in front of my bumper. Then I began to understand taking a longer view. Reading is exactly the same. While it’s hard to convince non-readers that their eyes aren’t going to be sending direct input to their ears so they can sound out words forever, it’s a fact. Good readers aren’t fixated on letters. A good reader might not even notice a misspelling. (Note: Good readers often misspell misspell.)
Fourth, tell your children to take their time. It is heart breaking to me to see children racing through sentences willy-nilly. Kids make mistakes and somehow, somewhere too many of them have learned that making an error is simply an indication of what a lousy reader they are. Too many mistakes in a row can dash the hopes of even the best potential readers. Just imagine, a child is struggling with a sentence and feeling frustrated, now imagine a parent standing over their shoulder who barks at them that they should remember a word that they’ve seen time and time again. That image makes me shudder. I guess my advice is never bark “hurry” at your child when they are trying to read.
And lastly I’d suggest that parents get real when they are worried about their children not learning to read. Take a step back from the situation and try to figure out what it is that your child isn’t getting. Are they having difficulty with sounds? Then work on sounds. Is it a problem with recognizing similar letters? Then work on that. Are they having trouble with word endings? Do they do okay with reading till they come to an unfamiliar ending to a root word? Or is it the font? An ‘a’ looks very different in different fonts. So too do ‘g’s, or even ‘t’s.
Reading is important. It’s important for young boys and for young girls. Children need to be exposed to picture books and to early reading texts and to textbook like materials. They need to learn to read maps and brochures and menus. If you have a struggling reader have them plan a road trip using a map. Ask them to order a meal at a diner using their menu. Have them choose a favorite television program by pointing to an item on a list you create. Hand them a newspaper or a comic book. Use a coloring/activity book together with them that has a lot of words and word games in it.
Any questions, just ask!