How to Support Your Beginning Reader

The following are suggestions for different ways that parents might support primary-grade (K-2) readers. These are enjoyable, successful approaches that teachers use here at school with our youngest students.

• Read aloud frequently from easy books that your child would like to read but can’t, yet. Sit side by side, so you can look at the pages together. Point to words occasionally, and underline them with your finger as you read. Pause and make room for the child’s predictions, questions, and comments about the story, illustrations, and the language.

• Anticipate that your child will want to hear the same books again and again, and take advantage of his or her love of particular stories by trying to read them as many times as you’re asked, even if you’re groaning with boredom. Often these are among the first stories children will read on their own.

• Read aloud but leave an occasional blank, with your voice, when you come to words or phrases you think your child can guess at. Discuss the reasons for his or her predictions; clues such as the beginning letter sounds, the size and shape of the word, illustrations, and common sense within the structure of the sentence or the meaning of the story.

• Read a bit aloud – a phrase or sentence – while underlining the words with your finger. Then ask your child to read it back to you, like an echo, and underine it with his or her finger. Say, “Touch the words with your eyes” or “Read it with your finger.”

• When a beginning reader is reciting a memorized book, ask him or her to “touch the words” as he or she says them, drawing your child’s attention to left-to-right structures, letters, words, and the spaces between words. Say, “Read it with your finger.” Ask questions: “Did it match? Did you have enough words? Did you run out?”

• Encourage a child who’s beginning to read to select and reread books that he or she finds easy. In a bookstore or library, look for books like those your child brings home from school, with a strong match between the words and the accompanying illustration, and with just one sentence or phrase per page.

• Take turns: You read a sentence aloud, then your child does.

• Beginning readers sometimes substitute a word that doesn’t make sense – or even sound like English. Try to bite your tongue and give them enough time to hear the miscue and correct it themselves. If they don’t hear it, wait until the end, then gently question, “Did that make sense to you?” or “You read _____,” repeating exactly what was read. “Does that sound right?” Then say, “Try it again, and think what might make sense.”

• When your child is reading aloud with you and comes to a word he or she doesn’t know, talk about its beginning sounds and its shape. Then tell your child, “Try it again, and think what might make sense.”

• When your child is reading aloud with you and comes to a word he or she doesn’t know, talk about its beginning sounds and its shape. Then tell your child, “Go back to the beginning of the sentence and get your mouth ready” to provide the word that begins with the letter[s] in question. Have him or her try the whole sentence again. It’s wonderful how often children are able to put together all the clues – sentence structure, meaning of the sentence, letters, sounds, and shape – and read the correct word the next time through.

• If your child can’t figure out a word or doesn’t have a guess, by all means, go ahead and tell him or her.

• Encourage and praise beginning reader’s self-corrections and informed guesses.

• When your child wants to read a book aloud to you or someone else in the family, recognize that no one reads anything perfectly the first time through. This is called “miscuing,” and although everybody does it, including parents and teachers, it can be particularly frustrating for beginning readers to make a lot of miscues. Encourage your child to practice alone first. Then, when he or she reads aloud the rehearsed materials, encourage phrasing and reading for meaning by saying, “Read it as if you’re talking.”

• Spend a short time hearing your child read aloud. Stop before he or she gets tired.

• Talk about books with your child just as you would chat with a friend: “What did you think of the book? How did it make you feel? What did you like? What didn’t you like? Who was your favorite character? What was your favorite part? How would you compare it to other books about ____________ or by _______?” Concentrate on your child’s feelings, preferences, and opinions about the books he or she reads and the stories you read aloud.

• Try not to display anxiety or frustration. Lots of practice and relaxed, happy experiences with books are two keys to children’s becoming fluent, joyful readers. From The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell, 2007.