12 ways you can help your child learn to read

By Brigid Hamilton  |  Photos by Nick Alexopulos, '03

Whether during car rides to soccer camp, a walk on the boardwalk, or over a Popsicle, the summer months provide extra time for parents and family members to read to and discuss books with their children.

Kara Tignor is the division director of speech-language pathology and audiology at the Loyola Clinical Centers (LCC). She and Dana Reinhardt, division director of LCC’s literacy clinic, have created an interdisciplinary reading readiness program for children ages 4-6 called Ready, Set, Read!

Tignor and Reinhardt shared with Loyola magazine 12 tips for encouraging reading at home during the summer months—and throughout the year.

1. Make reading a special time.

Reading is a way of bonding with your child over a book; you get quality time together and they are learning through the experience.

Share your favorite stories as a child. Make a special trip to the library or book store. Have a favorite place to read books together.

2. Model reading and identify parts of a book.

Start by pointing to the title and author and read them aloud. Use your finger to track the words on each page. Even if the child is too young to read, he or she is learning the proper left-to-right reading pattern.

3. Read aloud to your child, no matter his or her age.

It is always beneficial for a child to listen to a fluent reader model reading for them. This is especially true if the level of reading of the book is above your child’s level. Children should listen to stories that are rich in language, as they are still learning to read the words.

4. Talk about the book.

Talk about the book before, during, and after reading. Children should be thinking about the story/topic in order to understand what they are reading. Encourage them to ask questions, summarize what they have read, and make connections to other stories or experiences that relate to the book. Ask a lot of “Why?” and “How?” questions. Have the child describe the pictures in the book and make predictions about what might happen next.

Tara McGarvey, a graduate student in Loyola University Maryland's reading specialist master's program, leads a discussion with children enrolled in Ready, Set, Read! at the Loyola Clinical Centers.

5. Read for a purpose.

Demonstrate how many times a day you have to read. Begin to ask your child to read the “everyday reading” to you: recipes, signs, directions, text messages to mom or dad.

6. Choose “just right” books.

When selecting books for your child to read, keep in mind they should be able to read most of the words on the page without any help. This way, they are concentrating on meaning, rather than what the words are. Use the “Five Finger Rule”: If the child is unable to identify more than five words on a page, the book is too difficult to read independently.

7. Interest is key!

Let your child read what they are interested in! It doesn’t matter if they are reading magazine articles or award-winning books… It matters that they read. The more they read, the better readers they will become.

8. Write, draw, write.

Encourage your child to write as much as they are willing to. Reading and writing develop simultaneously.  Your child can write emails, texts, letters, grocery lists, thank you notes, or even keep a journal or diary… If your child cannot spell words, help them hear the sounds in the word and write down what they hear.

If they are too young to write, have them draw a picture of their favorite part of the book, and let them dictate a sentence or two to you.

9. “What does that mean?”

Children are curious about language and their world.

Explain new vocabulary and words they are unsure of. This will build their oral language and reading vocabulary. Make a list of new words that they learn, and talk about the words at different times.

10. Share the story.

Have your child tell another person—a sibling, a parent, a grandparent—about the story you just read.  Guide their summaries as needed by asking questions about specific parts. Soon their ability to retell stories will improve.

11. Mix it up!

Read a variety of genres with your child, including non-fiction. Children need exposure and familiarity with all genres: fiction and non-fiction, such as fairy tales, realistic fiction, poetry, fantasy; non-fiction, biographies, and informational text, to name a few.

12. Play games with words.

Try to come up with as many words that rhyme with a selected word as possible. Go around the dinner table and everyone can take a turn. Pick a sound/letter (e.g. ‘b’), and come up with as many words that start with that sound.

Clap out the beats or syllables in words. Start with family members’ names, and model how to clap out the syllables.

Ready, Set, Read! kicked off on July 1 with 22 students enrolled in sessions at LCC’s headquarters in Belvedere Square in north Baltimore.
LCC hopes to expand the program next year to serve more students. Read more about Ready, Set, Read! here.

Looking for more tips from our experts? Check out this article on six ways to help your child learn this summer—while having fun.

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