Helping School-Age Children Become Better Readers

By Sharon Darling, founder and president of the National Center for Family Literacy

Sharon Darling Question: How can I help my child become a better reader?

Answer: When you are involved in your child’s learning, he or she will be more successful! Providing language and literacy support to school-age children helps connect learning at school to learning at home. When school and home learning are linked, children are more focused and confident as they learn to read.

Here are a few strategies – ranging from simple to more complex as their abilities grow – you can use to help your child become a better reader.

Phonemic Awareness
Sing songs, say chants and poems, and share nursery rhymes.
Ask your child to think of words that begin with the same sound.
Say a word; ask your child to say words that rhyme with that word.
Clap syllables in words and names — "How many syllables in hippopotamus?"

As you read with your child, point to letters and ask him to name them.
Make an alphabet book together with drawings or illustrations for each letter.
Encourage your child to write notes, lists, letters to family and friends, and stories.
Play word games — "I spy something that starts with the letter M. What is it?"

Read aloud to your child, changing your voice for different characters in the story.
As you read, pause and show your child where sentences begin and end.
Read books that your child is interested in, taking turns reading a page; when your child slows down or makes mistakes, encourage her to read the page again.
Encourage your child to read lots of different things — books, magazines, newspapers, letters, signs.

Talk with your child often about family events and interests, their friends, and activities at school.
As you read or talk with your child, draw his attention to new words and what they mean.
When reading with your child, ask him to describe the pictures or illustrations and then point to words in the text that match his descriptions.
Write new words in a list, display the list at home, and encourage your child to use these new words again and again when talking and writing.
Look up new words in the dictionary or thesaurus to find out what they mean.

Encourage your child to tell stories; ask her questions that focus on the characters, the message, and the beginning, middle, and end of the story.
When reading with your child, encourage her to predict what might happen next in the story; discuss events in the story and compare to her own experiences.
Read many different kinds of books (poetry, fiction, nonfiction), magazines, and newspapers.
Visit interesting places (museums, zoos, parks, cities), do things together (cooking, shopping, sports) and then talk about the experience with your child.
Encourage your child to write for different purposes (lists, letters, stories, reports) and different audiences (family, friends, general public).
After your child has read a book, ask him to talk about the meaning of the book.

Written by the National Center for Family Literacy

About Our Guest Columnist: 
Do you have a question about reading and literacy? Just Ask Sharon. Sharon Darling is the founder and president of the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), the worldwide leader in family literacy. A leading force for literacy and reading, Darling serves on the boards of numerous national and international organizations. Among her many honors are the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism, Johns Hopkins University (1998), and the Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Education (1996). More than one million families have made positive educational and economic gains as a result of NCFL’s work, which includes training for more than 150,000 teachers and thousands of volunteers. For more information about Sharon and the National Center for Family Literacy, please visit
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