Learning to read is a complex task, and takes lots of time and practice. Here are some ideas for reading at home with your child to make it a productive and rewarding activity.
Make reading sessions short
It’s ideal to give undivided attention when reading at home with your child. Short, regular sessions of about 10-20 minutes are better than having a long session once a week.
Try a variety of books
There are many different types of books. Some are fiction, or made up stories, such as fairy tales and other imaginative stories. Others are information books, on topics such as dinosaurs, the weather and fire engines.
Start by asking your child to look at the cover of the book. For an information book, ask “What do you already know about this topic?” For a fiction book, ask “What do you think this book is going to be about? Why?”
Don’t immediately correct them
When listening to your child read at home, allow them to try to work out unknown words, and don’t immediately correct them if they don’t know them. You could help by covering the ending of a long word, to see if they can read the main part of the word first, and then add the ending. Or, ask if it looks similar to a word they already know. You can also ask if they can see a small word in the big word, and then add the other parts. Many words can be sounded out, but many more cannot. If it is still unknown, tell them the word, ask them to repeat it, and read on.
Support their vocabulary
A good vocabulary (knowing the meanings of words) is essential to comprehension (understanding what is being read). Stop and discuss the meanings of any unknown words, and then read on.
We have some great tips for building vocabulary in this article: Ways to build your child’s vocabulary
To help your child with reading and comprehension, ask some questions once they’ve finished reading the book. Some types of questions you can ask are:
1. Factual, where the information is clearly stated in the book. “What was the colour of Sally’s car?” “How many glaciers are in New Zealand?”
2. Inferential, where the information is not clearly stated in the book, but is implied. This is like ‘reading between the lines’. Children can also make comments by referring to their own life experiences. “How do you think Michael felt after the game?” “What would happen if there were no fire engines or fire fighters?” “What would have happened, if…?”
3. Alternate ending. “What could be another ending for this story, if you wanted something different to happen?” “If you had the job of writing another four pages at the end of this book, what would you write?”
4. Relate to real life experiences. For fiction books, ask, “Has anything like this ever happened to you?” Such as becoming lost, getting a new pet, having a fight with a friend, moving to a new house. For information books, ask “What have you learned about this topic by reading this book?” Such as more information about dinosaurs, the weather, fire engines.
5. General questions Did you enjoy reading this book? What were the funny parts? Surprising parts? Which characters did you like? Which characters did you dislike? What do you think of the illustrations? Would you like to read other books by the same author? Would you like to learn more about glaciers?
6. Retelling “If you were telling someone who had never read this book all about it, what would you say?”
Read and re-read
It is important that children read their books several times. Research tells us that repeated reading of familiar books helps with fluency (speed of reading). Words that are unknown during the first reading are easier to read the second time, and by the third and following times, children are mostly able to read them easily. Reading fluently, at a steady pace, helps children understand what they are reading, and of course, this also builds confidence.
Encourage them to use their imagination
After reading, some children may like to write about what they have read, and this could be encouraged as a fun activity. Some children may like to act out parts of a story with the help of family members or friends. Children are very imaginative and creative.
As well as children gaining a huge educational benefit from shared reading with an adult at home, they will always remember the fun and emotional closeness that this brings to the relationship.