For kids, learning to read can be pretty daunting. While it's second nature to us adults, putting those letters and sounds together and deciphering their meaning is an entirely new world for kids.
For Ann Sackrider’s son, Hudson, it was really tough. “Even when he was in third grade, he had a hard time grasping how letters form words,” says Sackrider, who is based in Brooklyn, NY. “It was sad to see him wrestling with it.” So she gave him constant exposure: telling stories, keeping and reading books in every room, and talking about characters. In other words, she made reading something to look forward to instead of dread. You can, too!
1. Make it a game.
Cuddling over a book shows kids you’re their biggest fan. But it’s hard not to step in quickly when they struggle. What to do instead? Talk to them about the story to help them work it out, says Richard Gentry, Ph.D., author of Raising Confident Readers. Discuss the pictures, hunt for words they know, or ask them if the story reminds them of an event that’s happened to them (here are more great questions to ask during stories). Also help your child pinpoint where things have gone wrong — and see if they can spot the little words inside the larger ones (“at” inside “hat”). The BOB Books are great for that!
2. Go to the dog(s).
Sounds crazy, but reading to animals can help boost a child’s skills. How so? Because animals are nonjudgmental — they can’t criticize and they can’t correct — so kids feel safe reading aloud to them. If you don’t have a dog, see if your local library or animal shelter offers a program where kids can read to cats and dogs. “Kids learn best by teaching someone else,” says Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. “So whether they read to the puppy, the guinea pig, or Grandma over Skype, the unconditional positive feedback they receive will make them feel better about themselves.” (Same goes for baby siblings!)
3. Get crafty.
Add a few books you make together to the reading rotation, suggests Gentry. Your child's DIY book can be about trucks, pets, or any other interest. Start with a few words on a page (“My cat is in the basket”), a favorite photo on each page, and a simple title (like My Animal Book). You can get started with the Create Your Own 3 Bitty Books set.
How does homemade hone fluency? Reading about the familiar is fun, says Gentry. Plus, repetition builds up the brain’s reading circuitry. “Every time you point to a word in the story, it reinforces the connection between symbols on the page and the sound and meaning of the word.” For instance, once your child recognizes the word bunny, and you show her that the b makes a buh sound, look for other words that begin the same way with the same sound to help build up her sight words. Even re-reading the same books can be helpful — here's why.
4. Shorten sessions.
New readers can easily get overwhelmed. To figure out how long your child can last, compare his attention span when he does similar activities, like coloring, says Borba. Once you’ve got a clue, use a timer to gradually lengthen the session so that your child is reading for longer and longer stretches. “It’s like gently stretching a rubber band without snapping it,”she adds. “If your child knows he only has 15 minutes to read, he’ll be more focused and engaged — and the spurts will be more productive.” For newly independent readers, the Branches books bridge the gap between picture books and chapter books, with engaging illustrations that keep kids focused as they read. (Here's a full list expert-approved books for beginners!)
5. Look past books.
No need to limit reading adventures to books — trips to the grocery store can be great teaching experiences, says Borba. Your kiddo can create a shopping list and find those items at the store. Little sports fans can use trading cards to discover more about favorite players. “And don’t overlook the obvious, like word games on the back of the cereal box. Kids won’t even realize that they’re learning while they eat,” says Borba.
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