Proven Tips to Help Your Child Improve at Reading

Rob Wherley (left) with one of the students at our Hillsides Education Center.

Rob Wherley (left) with one of the students at our Hillsides Education Center.

 By Rob Wherley

As a parent and educator, I am very passionate about reading development, especially considering the recent research that suggests that success in life is highly correlated with a person’s level of reading proficiency.  In 2013, as an attempt to provide support for some of the most vulnerable, at-risk students, I started the Reading Rocks Program at Hillsides.  Reading Rocks is a reading intervention program that aims to help struggling readers, many of whom are three to nine grade levels below expected benchmark.   By pairing each student with an adult volunteer or peer tutor, Reading Rocks offers targeted and intensive one-on-one research-validated intervention to these students.  Over the past three years, Reading Rocks students have demonstrated marked growth in decoding, fluency, and comprehension, with some improving by three grade levels in one year.

As an educator, I become easily frustrated with the lack of support for reading in the homes of some of my students.  But as a parent, I completely understand, We all lead busy, full, and often exhausting lives.  We love our kids and want the best for them, but often we struggle to find time to do that little extra when it comes to reading.   So, with our limited time and energy, what can we do if our child struggles with reading?

Before I proceed, I wish to mention four caveats.

  1. If you suspect your child has issues with language development, sight, hearing or mental processing, please contact the child’s pediatrician and teacher for an assessment, and then follow their recommendations.
  2. It can be extremely difficult to motivate our children to practice a skill that they find challenging, especially if they have easy access to more exciting “screen time” activities such as video games, TV, and a cell phone. I suggest that we try to limit “screen time” to 30 minutes a day, and I suggest that this screen time be a privilege that our children can earn after completing daily homework and reading practice.
  3. Dictionary definitions can be confusing for struggling readers; try to encourage user-friendly definitions of words, such as are found in the Collins COBUILD Dictionary.
  4. Remember that every child is different, and reading development requires patience and time.

Now, on to my suggestions, which I hope will be easy to incorporate into your busy schedules, rather than create more stress.   Our children who struggle with reading would benefit from practice in the following three skill areas: 1) decoding (sounding out words); 2) comprehension; and, 3) fluency.   Try one activity from each skill area every day for a week, and see how it goes. (I suggest that “screen time” is earned as a privilege each day after the child has completed one activity from each category):

  • Decoding:
    • Encourage your child to write/type as much as possible throughout the day.
    • Ask your child to verbally spell out a few of the words that they have typed/written and assist them in correcting misspelled words.
    • Assist your child in writing/typing shopping lists, wish lists, birthday cards, invitations, thank you cards, vacation schedules, etc.
    • Download an app on your child’s electronic device that practices spelling, such as Spelling City, Sight Words, or Reading Rockets.
  • Comprehension (both listening and reading):
    • When your child is with you, narrate your activities and explain new vocabulary terms as you go, such as “speedometer,” “nutrition,” “aisle,” or “tax.”
    • Play word games with your child when in the car such as the homonym game. For example, “jam” is a mess of cars and also something you put on toast.
    • Find enjoyable books on tape and allow your child to listen without following along in the book.
    • Read to your child each day and pause periodically to ask who, what, when, where, why, how questions.
    • Before you or your child reads a story, ask him/her to look at the title and the cover to predict what will happen in the story.
    • After you or your child reads a story, ask him/her to predict what will happen next.
    • After you or your child reads a story, ask him/her to pause for a minute and create a “movie” in the mind, and then ask him/her to retell it to you.
  • Fluency:
    • Get a library card for your child and have a weekly library trip.
    • Find easy and enjoyable books, and encourage reading everywhere, in the car, the waiting room, the grocery store, at a sibling’s soccer game.
    • For children in K-5 grades — Establish a daily 20-minute reading session that includes the following: 1) Your child reads aloud a page of her choice; 2) You explain any unfamiliar words; 3) You read the page aloud, modeling good fluency; and finally, 4) Your child re-reads the page aloud.
    • For youth in 6-12 grades — find one of his/her friends who is a fluent reader would be willing to be a reading buddy for your child, listening as your child reads out loud and modeling good fluency. Pay the friend if you have to – it’s worth it!

Rob Wherley is a teacher and reading specialist at Hillsides Education Center who has worked at Hillsides for 23 years.




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