HOW YOU READ WITH YOUR CHILD IS SUPER IMPORTANT
There is no refuting the fact that regularly reading with your children benefits them in many, many ways. Cognitive functions improve, pre-reading and reading skills are bolstered, verbal communication is enhanced, and the parent-child bond is strengthened. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that parents should be "reading together as a daily fun family activity" from infancy.
It's wonderful to see the majority of families embracing this advice. As an elementary teacher, I was frequently asked by my students' parents for book recommendations and I was very happy to help them with their selections. Quite often, the follow-up question I received from parents was, "How do I help (my child) when we read together?" They were asking for specific ways to assist their child when he or she became "stuck" on a word or didn't quite understand the story line.
This is a very important question because the WAY you read with your child is just as important as IF you read with your child. Note that I say "read with" your child as opposed to "read to" your child. Meaningfully reading WITH your child means there is interaction during the activity such as Q&A, taking turns reading, making predictions, or discussing the implications of a story problem. Children's reading skills improve substantially when fun family reading is augmented by these types of interactions. I have compiled a list of some very simple reading interaction techniques that parents can use when reading with their children.
- The pause. It's so simple, but it's hard to do. When your child is reading and starts to struggle with a word, do not jump right in and read it for him. Also, do not immediately give instruction on how to "sound it out." Remain silent for a few moments. Listen to how he is making sense of the text. He may just figure it out for himself. If he continues to struggle, then assist by giving clues, rhyming words, or context. Or you can read the word and ask him to say it with you. Pauses work best when they are used intermittently, not continuously.
- Language elements. Prior to reading with your child, pre-read part of the story to identify language elements the author uses throughout. Is there a lot of character dialogue? Does the author use many adjectives or adverbs? Does the story focus on numbers, days of the week, or months of the year? Does the text include examples of compound words, contractions, or possessives? Pick one of these elements and call attention to it as you read with your child. Locating and identifying examples of language elements while reading is real-time instruction for verbal and written communication.
- Story elements. For the most part, every story has a main character, a setting, a problem, and a solution. Pick one of these story elements and talk about it as you read through the book with your child. Does the setting change throughout the storyline? How does the main character's personality progress from beginning to end? Discuss the solution and how the problem could have been solved another way. Frequently talking about the elements that make up a story while reading, provides children with a structure through which they can dissect a story and make meaning of it.
- Relatable problem. Many children's stories have problems to which our learners can easily relate. As you read with your child, take a little extra time and delve into the problem as it's happening in the story. Before learning how the main character solved the problem, ask your child what he or she would do.
- Emotion. Is the story particularly suspenseful, funny, dramatic, or just plain silly? As you read together, accentuate the emotional aspects the author used to craft his or her story. It will make the book all the more enjoyable.
- You go. I go. You and your child take turns reading as you share the story. You can alternate reading every other page or every other line. This type of interaction promotes the flow and rhythm of oral reading.
- Prediction. Make it a habit to pause, look at your child, and ask what will happen next before turning the page at an exciting part of the story. Prediction skills are essential to overall comprehension and regular practice is important.
- Fab Vocab. Words can be a lot of fun and it's amazing to watch young minds learn and process new vocabulary. Give your child a pack of small sticky tabs/flags. As you read together, encourage him to stick a flag next to words that are new to him. Discuss the meanings and look them up in a dictionary to get the full meaning. Don't let this disrupt the flow of the story though.
- Simple Q&A. Asking questions during a story can most definitely increase comprehension, however it's important to keep it simple. Stopping the flow of a story to ask a question after every page will diminish your child's enjoyment of the story and could be counterproductive to obtaining meaning from the text. While reading, be attuned to what peaks your child's attention and ask questions only at those times. Keep your discussion brief and delve right back into the story.