How do I teach my child to read? This is a question lots of new moms ask. I think that many think there is a secret formula. Special materials. A formal program. You do not have to have teaching experience. None of these things are needed and you really don’t need to start with a “lesson”. You start doing what it is you are trying to teach. You need to start with reading. When I was a child my Granny sat with me and read. When I asked her to read again, she read again. She loved to read and spend time with me. I loved her, and in the time we spent together, I learned to love the story. Although many of us read to escape and we do so in solitude, blocking out the rest of the world. Reading can also be something that you can do together, with a child, a spouse, a friend. My husband and I are currently reading through the Old Testament together. If we get busy, I miss it. I also remember a time when we traveled a long distance and read a Gothic Renaissance novel to me as I drove. I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed someone reading to me as an adult. My children love to read with both of us and though my youngest two can read on their own now, they still very much enjoy being read aloud to.
So, start with reading books to your child, often. During reading you can point out characteristics of print, tracking from left to right, and from top to bottom. Point out periods, commas, exclamation points, and question marks. Talk about why theses marks are there and how your voice changes when you see them. Ask your child to notice how you take a break to breath, shorter for commas, and longer for end marks. Notice aloud, the high frequency words you see repeated in text. “This word is ‘me’. Can you help me find out how many we can find on this page?”
Explain a couple of new vocabulary words. Sometimes a detailed explanation is needed, but many times all that is needed is a synonym for the new word. This allows for the flow of the story to continue with minimal interruption. At the beginning stages of reading aloud you will notice that your child may not want to discuss a lot with you. Children to know what happens next, and what happens on the next page. They are learning to love the story. They are learning to visualize.
Retell difficult parts in simpler words. Make comparisons that help with the understanding of the text. “Have you ever felt that way? I felt that way when…” A similar situation is given in order to make a connection or to relate to the text, something the character does, says, sees, or feels. The connections can be made with other books you have read together, tv shows, Bible stories, news stories, stories you have heard in others lives, or your child’s own experiences. These are stories we remember when reading another similar situation. Connections help a reader understand new information with greater ease. Connections are the reason that we can cry about something that has happened in a movie, even thought we have never been in that exact situation. We relate to it because of another similar situations. The similarity does not have to be huge. A small likeness can help you compare to events. There is no need to make a list of questions before you read every book to your child. Use the connections that you make while reading. Share them or turn them into a question to get your child thinking. Start small start with one at the end of the telling. “When the character said that, it reminded me of Dad and how he always says…”, or “Does that remind you of someone who always says….?”
Ask open ended questions. “What do you think the character was feeling when that happened?” or, “What do you think the character will do now?” or, “What do you think…?” Scaffold this (start small). Hold of on asking your child to retell the events for you. They are still learning to love the story. Before long your child will be more and more curious about reading the words for his/herself. You child will be pointing out words before you ask. You child might start asking questions for you answer. You have shared your connection sin the past and now your child is seeking your help when a connection is hard to make or may just need confirmation they are on the right track. Often your child will simply mimic the questions and behaviors you have had when reading together. When your child is interested you can read along side her pointing out phonics rules little by little. ” the “ow” says /ow/ in this word. When your child shows interested in trying to read on his/her own, allow it, but be there for support. Your child will not have full mastery and will need you there to help decode some word still. “What’s this word, Mommy?” It’s okay to give the word to your child. At this point find some simple readers that your child can spend small amounts of time on reading aloud to you or silently. (I’ll be posting some this week in the public domain.) Don’t stop your read alouds with your child. You are still needed. You will continue to model inflection and speech patterns when you are reading aloud. You will still be entertaining and spending the close time your child loves.
Once your child is reading on their own. Continue the discussion. After your child reads, ask, “What happened in the chapter today.” Continue to ask your child to make connections with the book. Laugh over the characters. Empathize with them. Judge them. Befriend them. My children really like this time to discuss what they have read. It is a time to get their opinions out without risk of failure (It is not a multiple choice quiz). Their connections belong to them, and their judgement belong to them. The discussion will help you see whether they are understanding the text. If your child has little to say, consider that it is not the right book, whether it is because it is too difficult or not of interest. It does little good to have a child read something they are not interested in, and if it is too hard, it will lead to frustration. You can still continue your read alouds. You could also take turns reading or sit beside each other and enjoy seperate books, but continue reading.
You can do this. You are all your child needs. Just read.