Learning the alphabet is one thing, but making sense of the mind-boggling amount of combinations 26 letters can make is another entirely. Unfortunately, for some kids, reading doesn’t come so naturally.
Yolie Flores, the chief program officer of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, took the time to share a few tips for parents on how to help a child struggling with reading.
Start thinking about reading as early as possible
From the second babies begin listening to and interpreting language, they’re developing skills that will help them when it comes to reading.
“Reading begins at birth, so what we do is encourage parents to know that from the moment the baby is born, it’s time to start talking, singing and being interactive, because they’re beginning to develop oral language,” Flores says.
Just like a child needs to take their first steps before being able to sprint, these first experiences with language are key to reading. Flores says the youngest learners, from birth to 1 year old, are in love with sounds.
“It’s important to be expressive while you’re reading a book to a baby,” she says. “Allow the baby to touch and feel the pages. You might want to use picture books, point to the pictures and have fun.”
With every interaction at these beginning stages, Flores says parents are building and developing their baby’s brain, language skills and vocabulary.
Keep your kid engaged by making reading fun
Any challenge suddenly gets easier when it becomes fun. Flores says the real kicker to raising a strong reader is to genuinely peak a kid’s interest.
“Get more dramatic when you’re talking with children and helping them with their books,” she says. “You want their story to come to life and have them asking questions about the book. Have back and forth conversations when reading.”
Flores says this is especially helpful for kids ages 1 to 3, because toddlers are at a great stage to start exploring storylines and doing fun activities related to their favorite books.
Keeping kids interested by having fun with storytelling should continue to preschool, but critical questions should also be added to conversations about the text.
“Make sure you start asking more questions about the story,” Flores says. “Ask them, ‘Do you remember a time when something like this happened to you? What does this picture remind you of?’ Really make it so you’re starting to help the child think about their reading.”
Create boundaries and set expectations
For the most rascally kids who would rather play on mobile devices or run around the neighborhood than sit in silence with a book, Flores says boundaries and expectations are integral.
“Make sure your children know that during this period, this is what we do in our home. This is reading time,” she says. “You also have to be very consistent with that.”
Scheduling separate times for games and reading is most effective when done consistently. Flores says this ultimately sets restless kids up with a balanced and productive routine.
“You’ve got to get into really good habits in terms of how you structure the day for your child, and you’ve got to start early with that,” she says.
Establish a good relationship with your kid’s teacher
Teachers can be the best teammates a parent can have. After all, Flores says one of the most important things schools do is help children learn to read.
“Always start out with a good and positive relationship between the parent and the teacher,” she says. “They have to have communication, so the teacher knows what’s going on at home and if the child is struggling, what might be getting in the way.”
It’s important that parents and teachers communicate effectively, Flores says.
“The parent needs to be able to listen openly to the teacher about what he or she can do at home to support what they’re trying to do in the classroom with their child,” she says.
Check out online resources or apps
For parents looking for other tools to supplement their kid’s reading skills, Flores says there are plenty of free options complete with resources and activities available in both English and Spanish.
Her recommendations are as follows:
“There’s a lot of technology tools for parents,” Flores says. “They don’t need to go buy anything and they don’t need any extra or special gadgets. It goes along with their everyday activities and it really helps children develop their brains and learn to read.”
This post was originally published in 2017 and is updated regularly.