In my experience parents often seem to associate reading comprehension tasks as an issue for older school going kids.  Not so, we can hone our readers’ comprehension skills from day one, even before our children can stand!  Yup, reading is for our babies too!!

Firstly let me discuss a few common misconceptions about good reading skills. 

A reader of mere words…

Oftentimes when a child is an ‘advanced’ reader, they are a reader of mere words…  By that I mean, the child has mastered the reading system, phonics and memory words and can easily read off all the words on a page.  Sometimes they can read chapter books at the age of 4 or 5 and start reading ‘big, fat’ books by 7 or 8.  Parents are thrilled and think they have a ‘genius’ on their hands.  NOT necessarily so.  One of the biggest problems with this sort of reader is that yes, they can read the words, but unfortunately they understand little if any of what they are reading.  This is not reading. 

The bigger the book, the better ie, the more advanced it is..

Sometimes books are judged by size and actually size really doesn’t matter!  Neither is it important how many pictures are littered throughout the text.  Books that are short and sweet can be thematically complex and books that are long and winding can be very basic in terms of content. 

Good Readers will automatically be good spellers.

Simply not true.  Reading and spelling are very different processes.  One can read a word 500 times and not remember how it is spelled.  To learn to spell, a child needs to write it using a combination of phonics skills, spelling rules and visual memory, for example writing a word in a context based sentence.  Of course, reading is a super way of making the school spelling programme meaningful if words are taken out of the readers and texts and integrated within a given literacy unit. 

Reading to children at home should stop once they are readers themselves

No!  Please continue to share books with your child as long as you can.  It is a highly enjoyable, fun experience for both parent and child.  More importantly children will develop their vocabularies this way alongside a love of reading.  It has the added benefit of being a great bonding, family exercise too. 

Failure to learn to read is a sign of low intelligence or learning problems

Funnily enough it is often very bright children who struggle to read!!  Why?  A child with a great visual memory may struggle because they skip the essential phonics skills to learn to decode words.  And sadly at both ends of the intelligence spectrum children who fail to learn to read believe themselves stupid.  There is a very good lesson here for teachers and parents, investigate and intervene early when a problem is suspected.  It is very hard to re-motivate a student who believes themselves to be stupid. 

Back to Reading Comprehension

To be a competent reader, a child needs to develop all the reading skills listed below and no doubt many of you have seen these topics on various handouts from your children’s primary/elementary schools. My biggest issue with many schools is that they ‘talk the talk but forget to walk the talk’… I’ll just list out the skills here in no particular order of importance:-

1.Look for Connections  (Connect what is being read to something the child already knows)

2.Skimming  (Quickly scan the text to get an idea of its meaning)

3.Inferring (Make a guess at what the writer/author means, perhaps, maybe etc….)

4.Summarising  (Draw up the main points/gist of the text)

5.Comparing   (What is the same, what is different, ie, characters, things that happen etc..)

6.Synthesising (Looking at the text, making connections, and understanding, what I have learned..)

7.Checking Comprehension (Stop and ask a question, what is the author saying..)

8.Deciding Importance (Look more closely to find out what is important and what is not..)

9.Scanning (Quickly looking for important information such as dates, places etc…)

10.Predicting (What will happen next..)

11.Questioning (Always think of who, what? why? where? when? How?)

12.Images (When you read what do you ‘see’, ‘smell’, ‘hear’, etc…)

So what can we do at home to help our kids develop into competent readers???  Here are some suggestions.

Babies to 3 years old

Babies love to be read to.  Picture books particularly those with mirrors are great.  You don’t even need that many of them.  Make up the story yourself, use your voice, hands etc to create great visual effects…  One of my fondest memories is of reading a picture book to my son Jake at 6 months old.  I vividly remember his big eyes and hysterical laughter at my interpretation of the story.  Actually I can still hear the laughter!!

As your baby turns into a toddler and gets more verbal you have more choices in materials and actions and can even throw in colouring and craft to supplement your story telling.  Just make it fun and don’t expect your child to actually start reading themselves or colouring neatly!!

Some youngsters will be able to learn the abc and their 123s etc, but not every child will be ready for this until school.  Don’t push, make the parent/child reading time fun.  You shall reap the rewards later. 

Pre-school and early primary/elementary school

This is when formal schooling kicks in for most children.  Talk to your child’s teacher and find out what reading programme they are using.  When you understand what your child is doing at school, you can supplement this at home.  But keep reading fun.  Now you can start on the list mentioned earlier.  But keep it light!!!  Ask questions, check your child understands the material and ask them for their opinions and reactions to what they are reading.   Whatever you do, please don’t force them to read in a structured way for hours on end.  Remember, reading should also give your child a lot of pleasure and can possibly be a way for them to relax and unwind.  Don’t turn it into torture…

Upper primary/elementary school

Generally speaking children are independent readers at this point in their school lives.  However many still enjoy being read too.  This is a great chance for you to take more complicated stories to them and make the reading a family activity.  Recently my daughter asked me to get the same book they are reading as a group in class at school from the library and read it with her at home.  It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to spend time with her while boosting her comprehension, reading, vocab and in this particular instance historical knowledge.  She enjoys it, so do I, a win/win for all!

Reading is vital, having Great Reading is very possible and can be a family affair. Make reading a part of your family time. 





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