Help for Young Readers

By Margie Gillis, Ed.D

AT A GLANCE

It’s never too early to help your child develop literacy skills • From playing word games with little ones, to discussing movie themes with older ones, encouraging literacy can be part of every-day life


Humans are biologically wired to learn how to speak. Reading, however is not learned instinctively. It must be taught. The earlier you begin, the greater your child’s chances are of becoming a fluent reader. It’s helpful for early elementary programs to continue with the pre-literacy activities that are often offered in preschool settings. Parents can reinforce the emerging skills at home by using games and other activities to keep it fun.

Preschool and Early Elementary
  1. Syllable Recognition: Clapping so kids can hear how many syllables a word contains. Words like bi-cy-cle and el-e-phant engage attention.
  2. Rhyming: Reading rhyming books is fun. So is making up nonsense rhymes or playing “I see something that rhymes with hat.”
  3. Alliteration: Try Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers with 3 or 4-year-olds, calling their attention to hearing the /p/ sound at the beginning of the word.
  4. Oral language comprehension: Ask your child to retell a story you have read, or to repeat a sentence. Using a puppet to demonstrate delights your kids. If your child has difficulty with words out of context or multiple meanings (confuses letter of the alphabet with a letter that is mailed), explain it.
  5. Abstract words: Demonstrate abstract words such as prepositions. For example, “Let’s put Danny’s shoe under, next to, and on the table.”
  6. Background knowledge: Relate to real experiences. To understand a story about the zoo, it helps to have been there, or to have seen a zoo on TV.
  7. Sentence structure: Explain complexities, particularly for sentences that are long and have several parts. Some children need help understanding that “I went to the store after playing in the park” can be expressed as “After playing in the park, I went to the store.”
  8. Oral language expression: Children that learn to talk late are at a disadvantage. Give them the chance to express themselves. Talking with a puppet may help.
  9. Vocabulary: Learning to read requires knowledge of vocabulary (recognizing what words mean) and verbal reasoning abilities. Ask your child to explain things such as why it gets cold at night.
  10. Print awareness: This includes recognizing that the words on the page—not the pictures—carry the message, and that words are read left to right and top to bottom.
  11. Letter recognition: To help kids identify letters with confidence, play with 3-D letters, watch Sesame Street together, look at alphabet books and notice familiar letters in signs and names, particularly the child’s own.
  12. Phonological and phonemic awareness: Children begin by recognizing and producing words that rhyme. Nursery rhymes and poetry are great for this. As they move into Kindergarten the focus shifts to individual sounds in words. For example, “What sound do you hear at the end of fish?” “Tell me the three sounds in fish.”
Late Elementary & Beyond
  1. Oral Language Expression: Watch a TV show with your child and discuss it afterwards. If applicable, ask your child to relate it to a life experience, predict what will happen in another episode, or comment about why one of the characters behaved in a certain way.
  2. Reading Fluency: Help overcome an aversion to reading with subject material that interests your child. If he loves cars, read articles together from Road and Track magazine. If Harry Potter is too difficult, read it to your child. Listening to popular audio books also encourages interest in reading.
  3. Written Expression: Many children with reading disabilities also struggle with writing. Have your child write a letter to a distant relative or friend, make a to-do list, keep a diary or journal. Encourage your child to learn how to keyboard, either by taking a class or at home with typing software. 

Margie Gillis, Ed.D., is the President of Literacy How, an organization that trains teachers to use research-based reading methods in the classroom.

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