Especially if you struggled with academics yourself, it can be tough to envision how to teach your child to read. But here’s the great thing about parents and kids and books: You can help your child the most simply by modeling a love of stories and reading aloud. Sure, you can also follow one of the strategies for learning to read in 100 easy lessons once your child is developmentally ready, especially if you’re the parent of a home-schooled child. But it’s more important to spend time together and let the process unfold naturally. Within that framework, you can offer reading help with these techniques:
Make sure your child is developmentally ready
Kids grow and learn at different paces. It’s important not to push reading before your child is ready. If you do, reading becomes a chore and a conflict, which can make your child give up long before it’s truly time to learn to read. Instead, before you try to teach your child to read, look for signs of readiness. It’s difficult to grasp, but a child’s reading readiness cues start in their first year and build as they achieve each new development stage.
Between 6 months and 12 months, a child who’s on track to learn to read in later years will reach for a book, look at pictures and put the book in his mouth, for example. Between 24 months and 36 months, they are able to flip back and forth in a picture book to find their favorite pictures. And at 3 years and up, developmentally a child may be able to recount stories verbally and follow along with the text in a book using their finger. There are many other cognitive, motor and language skills that indicate a child is progressing to a point where they’ll be able to learn to read.
Reinforce reading readiness at very young ages
As your child moves through the reading readiness stages, you can reinforce the skills and stages without any formal structure or educational materials. At very young ages, for example, you can provide books with big pictures that are “chewable” at the bedtime-story hour. Around age 2, it’s a good idea to ask a child, “What’s that?” as you’re enjoying a favorite picture book. If you read a rhyming book together, pause a little to see if the child will finish the sentence you started. This would have to be a favorite book, of course. The Wonky Donkey, a rhyming book, became an Internet sensation because it can be hilarious. But those rhymes and the “cumulative” storyline, which adds a phrase to the end of the sentence with each page, are both great reading readiness builders.
Make reading an upbeat activity
Research has shown time and again that reading aloud is the top way to promote language development that will help your child become a top reader. “This can be fun for you, too,” American Academy of Pediatrics experts explained on the Healthy Children website. “The more excitement you show when you read a book, the more your child will enjoy it. The most important thing to remember is to let your child set her own pace and have fun at whatever she is doing.”
It won’t feel like you’re offering reading help, but you should also try to be as upbeat and amusing as you can while the two of you enjoy a book. If your child is used to you only being humorous or talkative when you’re out with friends or doing something adventurous, this is a great chance to show you have another side. Try out some different voices for each character in a book, and design a few other activities to sustain the read-aloud interest. You could bake cookies after reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe, for example. Make sure to visit flea markets and used book stores so you can provide your child with some inexpensive books to keep on the shelf at home, too. A comfy bean bag chair or a designated reading corner will also make the experience one that both of you look forward to.
Know your child’s learning style
Once your child embarks on the formal reading process, you should pay close attention to his reaction. This applies whether the learning is happening at school or you’re the one teaching your child how to read. Learning experts will tell you there’s more than one way a child learns to read a book. The first is word recognition, the second teaches your child to read by learning how each letter sounds. That’s called phonics. Your child’s teacher may use one or the other or a combination, but you should also pay attention to which method works best for your kiddo. It may be that you can reinforce word recognition at home, for example, if the classroom setting focuses on phonetics. And as your child makes progress, make sure you celebrate milestones and offer plenty of praise. A tradition like letting your child choose a board game to play each time he finishes a chapter book lets him know you value reading and his education.
Continue to read to your child
Once your child has learned to read, don’t sacrifice the read-aloud bonding time. Studies have shown that if you keep reading aloud to your child even after she can read herself, you help her build an understanding of the material that’s beyond her reading level. You also motivate every child within earshot to keep getting better at reading so they can keep up with the rest of the family. So continue your family’s promotion of reading throughout childhood, and into the next generation.