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Help Your Child Learn to Read

"Should I teach my child the alphabet before he starts school?"

"When my child doesn't know a word in her reading books, should I tell her what it is?"

"I tell my child to 'sound out' words he doesn't know. Is that all right?"

These are just a few of the questions parents ask teachers about their children's reading. The first 'R' is a subject parents are deeply concerned about. They know that reading is a basic tool their child will need for success throughout his or her entire school and college career. They know that a youngster with reading disabilities is seriously handicapped in keeping up in class work, textbook study, supplementary reading, and in following instructions accurately when taking tests.

One of the questions most frequently asked by parents is: "Should I help my child learn to read - and if so, how can I go about it?" Classroom teachers say that parents can do many things to help their child develop this important skill. Following are some specific ideas.

Ways to Help Preschoolers


If your child is curious and is making comments about letters, there is no reason why she should not become familiar with the alphabet before she starts school. Playing with alphabet blocks and singing "The Alphabet Song" are happy ways for your child to become acquainted with letters.

Make books a joyous and important part of your child's life. Read to him every day. Let him talk about the stories. Ask questions about the pictures. Ask him to point out pictured objects that are alike and different in shape and in color. This activity helps children to observe small differences in the shapes of letters and words, when learning to read.

Avoid baby talk. Speak to your child in grownup language now, so she will recognize words she sees and hears in the classroom. Also, baby words for objects may be laughed at by the other youngsters.

Provide a variety of experiences. Take your child to the zoo, the park, the airport. Teach the child the names of animals, flowers, etc. In order to understand the words encountered in reading, your child should have first-hand experience with the objects they stand for.

From time to time, give your child simple, consecutive instructions. For example: "Pick up the ball, then bounce it, then put it on the table." Make a game out of it, if you like. Such activities will help your child develop memory skills and follow directions accurately, both of which are essential in school.

Ways to Help In Grades 1, 2, 3


Have your child's eyes checked just prior to entrance into the first grade and periodically after that. Have his or her ears checked, too. Defects in hearing, as well as in vision, may hold back reading progress, particularly during the early stages of reading when new words are often introduced orally.

If he wants to read aloud to you from his school book, listen attentively. If he stumbles over a word from time to time, simply tell him what it is. However, if he misses many words in material with which he should be familiar, consult his teacher.

When she reads aloud to you, don't try to use teaching techniques, such as having her "sound out" words. Instead, enjoy the story together, laugh over it, discuss the plot, praise her for reading especially well, or for figuring out a word for herself.

Give children extra opportunities to read. Let them read the directions for that new game or for putting model airplanes together. Ask them to "help you" by reading the cookie recipe or traffic signs.

Introduce the pleasures of the public library. Let him browse. Get a library card for her. Let him choose books that he wants, rather than books you feel he should read. Buy books for children, too, as the basis for a home library of their own.

Let your child see you reading frequently, sharing choice passages with others, referring to books for answers.

Ways to Help in Grades 4, 5, 6


Provide your child with a reliable home dictionary and encyclopedia. Encourage children to look up subjects that puzzle or interest them. In school, reading lessons include library research.

If your child is not enthusiastic about reading, choose books on subjects sure to interest her or him: books on sports, books of riddles or magic tricks, books on hobbies. Be sure they are not too difficult for your child to read.

If she's a television rather than a reading fan, see which programs she prefers and provide suitable books on the same subjects. If westerns are her favorites, for example, she'll probably enjoy some of the fine children's books now available about the early west.

If a young person is an avid comic book reader (ages 9, 10, and 11 are likely to be), don't make a big issue out of it. Make sure your child is also provided with other more worthwhile books that offer lively adventure in an easy-to-read format. Most children outgrow the comic book phase, if other literature is available in their homes.

If Your Child Is Having Trouble with Reading


Don't become irritated and disgusted with her. Her difficulties probably stem from factors she cannot control. Your anxiety will make her so resentful and discouraged that her reading difficulties will increase.

Don't compare his reading with other, more successful young readers in his family or neighborhood. Such comparisons make a youngster feel inept and inferior, and may keep him from reading at all.

Don't air your child's reading difficulties in front of family or visitors. In fact, the less you discuss them - except in private, with the teacher - the better.

Don't try to solve your child's reading problems yourself. Have a conference with the teacher. If she or he thinks they are serious enough for remedial reading help, or for a consultation with the school psychologist, take expert advice. 

Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

© 1999- California Teachers Association