Model a Love For Reading
One of the first things you can do to cultivate a young reader is to have a home that encourages and demonstrates reading. Studies have found that homes which are filled with books, magazines, and other reading materials, coupled with adults who model the act of reading, lead to children who are more likely to embrace books. Children who see their adults and siblings engaging in literacy, internalize it as part of their world.
Read, Read, Read
According to research, the number one way to develop a reader is to have them read. We would never expect our child to learn how to play soccer or the piano without constant practice. Simply spending time reading each day can increase your child's vocabulary by leaps and bounds. If your child reads for 20 minutes a day at home, they will hear 1.8 million words a year.
At home, make daily reading a constant in your routine and don't be afraid to mix it up. Read to your child, read with your child, or be read to. Children will often gravitate towards their same favorite books, which is wonderful, but make sure to add in new books to the rotation sporadically. This allows them to practice their decoding and comprehension skills as they tackle new texts.
Broaden Your Definition of Reading
When you're taking part in reading with your child, it is important to know that reading is not isolated to decoding the words on the page. This is especially true for younger children who are learning how to read. Below are some wonderful ways your child can foster early literacy skills as well as a love for reading.
- Have your child make up their own story to accompany picture books
- Ask your child to retell a story they love
- Allow your child to read a bedtime favorite they have memorized
- Dedicate time to your child listening to others read aloud
- Listen to your child tell stories and praise their vivid imagination
- Point out signs and text in the world around you
Sight Words vs. Decodable Words
When a child is first learning to read, there will be two kinds of words they will encounter: decodable words and sight words. Decodable words are those which can be phonetically sounded out. They are those words that letter or letter combination rules can be easily applied. For example, your child can sound out C-A-T to read cat.
Sight words are those words which are not easily decodable. Unfortunately, the English language is hard and full of words with spelling patterns and pronunciations that do not make sense phonetically. When your child is first learning to read, there will be many words that are frequently in their text that they haven't learned the spelling patterns for, or might not follow a spelling pattern at all. Therefore, these sight words have to be memorized, so the child can identify them by "sight". Example sight words for young readers include: the, saw, into, little, friend, and please.
You will want to make sure your child is practicing reading both types of skills. Most schools will provide a list of your child's sight words and current spelling patterns. You can also access sight words and activities by grade level here.
Provide a Balanced Approach
The five pillars of successful reading are: phonics, phonemic awareness (letter sounds), vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. A balanced approach involves spending time reading, working on letter names and sounds, practicing decoding skills and sight words, as well as building reading and listening comprehension. Aside from reading to and with your child, you can create engaging activities which build foundational skills. For example:
- Draw letters and practice their sounds in paint, sand, or shaving cream
- Practice rhyming words through poems, songs, and books
- Go on a letter hunt where your child has to find the letter which matches the sound you are making
- Create a sight word scavenger hunt and have your child find the named word
- Sign up for interactive literacy sites such as Starfall and ABCMouse
Make Literacy Fun
Developing a love and passion for reading is crucial to building a life-long reader. It doesn't matter how wonderful a reader your child is if they hate the act of doing it and never want to read again. Remember when you were in school and you had to begrudgingly read a short snippet of a story in your textbook and then answer those pesky comprehension questions at the end? It felt like a chore.
We have to be especially mindful of this with children who are presenting with possible neurodivergences. Already, the act of learning letters, sounding out words, and comprehending stories might feel like a daunting task. Be very mindful to not make the reading experience a demand that feels punitive. Listen to your child and learn their boundaries. If you see the frustration building, allow yourself to move onto something different. Finding various ways for your child to read that best fit their personality and learning style will be key to your child building a positive relationship with reading.