Kids learn in myriad ways. Some readily pick up visual cues. Show them a word, and they know intuitively how to sound it out. Others learn best when information is presented orally, still others when they have a chance to draw or manipulate objects. A visual learner will be better able to read and remember the word "apple" if he draws an apple with a red marker, and if the teacher has apples lined up on her desk.
Late kindergarten into early 1st grade is the time to identify your child’s learning style. Raise the alarm with your child's teacher if, after reviewing the questions below, you are concerned about your child's progress.
- Does she know the alphabet? A child this age should.
- Does he make the connection between a letter's symbol and its sound? Words are made up of speech sounds — experts call them phonemes. At 4, a child should recognize and isolate sounds: to know, for instance that "b" makes the "buh" sound, to answer correctly when you ask, "What is the first sound you hear when I say the word 'top'?" He should also begin to rhyme and perhaps clap out the syllables of a word. By 6, he should be able to read simple words.
- Does she confuse words that sound similar? A child should notice the difference between, say, "map" and "hat," "phone" and "foam," "motion" and "ocean." Signs of a potential problem are if she regularly confuses basic words or consistently makes errors in reading and spelling by reversing letters ("b" for "d").
- Can he comprehend stories read out loud? If he listens with a blank look when asked what he just heard, he may not be processing information normally.
- Does she avoid reading activities? The child who is disinterested in reading, who complains that reading is hard, or who runs and hides when it's time to read is sending you a message that something is wrong.
- Do any of his older siblings have a learning problem? Do you? Learning disabilities tend to run in families.
What to Do Now
Perhaps you've noticed something is awry, or simply have a gut feeling that your child is having more trouble than his classmates. Raise your concerns with the teacher. Perhaps he has trouble learning in a large class but will thrive in a small group or working one-on-one with a teacher. Maybe he easily grasps spoken concepts but stumbles when reading.
If you are aware of your child's learning style, discuss with his teacher how she can use a variety of teaching tools and strategies to engage him. At home:
- Continue to make reading aloud a high priority, stopping often to discuss the story and explain new words.
- Make sure your child has plenty of opportunity to practice reading simple books on her own. Keep phonics readers on hand — easy stories focusing on three-letter, short-vowel words such as "hat," "big," "fun," and "pop."
- Point out the similarities between words that look and sound the same ("fill" and "hill", "night" and "sight").
- Help him write his name. Start with upper case — it's easier for little fingers — and gradually add more letters.
- Point out words that begin with the same letter as your child's name, drawing attention to the similarities of the beginning sound.
- Sing rhyming songs, emphasizing words that start with the same letters.
- Clap out the syllables of songs as you sing.
- Get the whole family playing with words: "How many words can you name that start with the letter 'p'?" Or, "I'm thinking of a word that rhymes with 'top.'"
- Take alphabet and rhyming books in the car or on family outings.