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As a parent we watch our children learn so much even before they start school and we support them at every step. But when school starts, and they begin formal learning, important things like reading and writing always come more naturally to some children than others. What, as parents, can we do to support our children, really help them when they’re finding it difficult to learn to read and remove any reading problems?
Spend time reading with them
Teachers have told me repeatedly that the best thing you can do is to spend time reading with your children – and it’s never too early to start. In time children will learn to recognise words and when they start school they’ll learn to sound out words at which point they can begin reading along with you and even reading pages by themselves. Helping them to see books as part of everyday life and something fun and enjoyable really helps when they’re learning to read. Our children expect at least one book at bedtime now and it’s always one of our favourite times of the day.
Understand why there are reading difficulties
Whether you’re a parent or teacher trying to help someone learn to read it always helps to find out why the child is having reading struggles and the 9 Main Causes of Reading Difficulty book would be a great place to start with this. It’s reassuring to know that there’s never a one size fits all solution when it comes to those struggling to read and there are a wide variety of common reading problems. Once you know and understand the causes of reading difficulties in children it’s much easier to find a solution that works.
Get them to break words down
Guessing words is often the main reason for reading difficulty. Many children try to recognise a whole word just by looking at it. Instead it’s good for children to break a word down into individual sounds and then use those sounds as building blocks to be able to read the word. This doesn’t work on all words and children will gradually learn which words they’re not able to sound out and will recognise them as they become familiar to them. But the majority of words can be broken down and this is a great place for children to begin learning to read.
Once the children have broken down words and are working their way through each page in a book, get them to repeat sentences without having to break the words down. If they’ve sounded out four words get them to say those four words again. This will reinforce the words in the child’s mind but will also test how much they are taking in at the same time.
Make reading fun
Some children can’t concentrate for long periods of time and so sitting down for half an hour to work at reading may not be right for them. Instead, read regularly but for smaller chunks of time if that works for them. It could be that the children read road signs when they see them, labels of things in shops or the letter sounds in car number plates. Make sure you don’t take the fun out of learning to read and if the children show an interest in a certain type of book then work with that. Our children have always loved fact books or joke books where they get a little snippet of information at a time. These are books they can dip in and out of, they find them fun and have an interest in them without them getting boring or too bogged down in pages of words.
Test the context
Even when children can read well you need to make sure that they understand what they are reading about. Since they first read the Biff and Chip books at school we’ve asked them questions about the books as they’ve read them. This might be asking them where Biff or Chip went, how they felt or who they met along the way. Talking about the story really helps to check a child’s understanding and helps to teach them more about the wider world, emotions and the things that books suggest without actually saying too.
Always be positive
When helping your child to read always focus on the good things. Are they listening well? Are they making each letter sound really well? Can they break down the words nicely? Did they break down a really tricky word and manage to read it? Don’t focus on or really talk about the things they can’t do but really praise the positives and inspire them to keep going and to enjoy the reading process as much as possible.
Use a reward system
I have spoken to many friends about how reading works in their homes and how interested in reading their children are. One thing we have all had in common is some sort of reward system. Our children do their homework and school reading as soon as they come in from school. Their reward afterwards is that they can then spend the time before dinner doing other things that they want to do. The reward doesn’t have to be something big or special it just needs to be something that gets the child reading and wanting to read.
Learning how to overcome reading difficulties with children can be quite a process. They all learn in different ways and at different speeds. Helping Children to Read has many free resources that you can use at home from printable worksheets and activities to educational online games and even a manual to help teach your child to read and turn them into proficient readers.
Whatever stage you are at with helping a child to read there are so many resources available to you. My main advice would be to make reading as fun as possible, spend time reading with your children – even if it’s just a few minutes a day – and to seek help if you need it. They will definitely get there in the end.