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Helping Children Learn to Read

Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: May 2001
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There are a variety of good reading programs available, yet many children progress more slowly or with more difficulty than expected. Here are a few hints that may help.

  1. Read aloud to your children regularly. Include stories that use rhyme for the young or those struggling. This maintains their interest in reading, contributes to their language development, and builds their comprehension skills.

  2. Label items all over the house. Children are usually able to memorize these sight words quickly, giving them a sense of success.

  3. Children should be able to discriminate between sounds before learning letter sounds. Give them opportunities to identify a variety of every day sounds by listening only: a ringing telephone, clapping hands, a vacuum cleaner, a lawn mower, running water, etc. Then work on more subtle sounds: whether or not words rhyme, begin with the same sound, or have the same sound in the middle.

  4. Choose a phonic-based reading program that will appeal to your child. Young children especially prefer colorful programs with music and games. If the pace is too fast, simply add practice from other reading resources, choosing items at the appropriate level.

  5. Provide plenty of opportunity for children to go from reading lists of words to reading simple stories. These stories should use the words they are learning phonetically along with a few necessary sight words (the, is, a). Library books usually have too many difficult words for beginners to use for this type of practice. Many programs include these books, but not all. They are available as separate purchases from several companies.

  6. As children move forward, use the reading books from earlier lessons for extra practice. Reading words that they now know well helps them develop fluency and expression.

  7. Provide a variety of types of practice, saturating the students in reading-related experiences. Look for opportunities to involve all the senses as much as possible—seeing, hearing, doing. Choose materials such as software, videos, games, and audio-tapes, not just workbook pages.

  8. While a lesson may be as short as 20 minutes due to the limited attention span of young children, there should be several reading-related lessons or practice periods throughout the day. Aim for two to two and one-half hours daily.

  9. The student should read aloud as part of daily practice throughout the phonics program. This is necessary to develop fluency and expression, as well as to be certain that children are not skipping difficult words and guessing at meanings instead of actually comprehending what has been read.

  10. Learning to read well takes time. In the public school system students begin with readiness skills in kindergarten and spend first through third grade covering phonics. If progress is steady but slow, be patient.

  11. For older students struggling with reading, first increase the total amount of time spent with various reading activities each day and use a multi-sensory approach. If this doesn't help, arrange for hearing and eye exams. If those areas are okay, have his eyes examined by someone trained in vision therapy. This has to do with the muscles and the ability of a child to focus and follow the written word. If this area is weak, he will be given exercises to train those muscles. If there are still problems, have the child tested by a child psychologist for learning disabilities. The younger the child when problems are identified, the less frustration the child will encounter. If there are learning disabilities in the family, you may want to have the child tested even before they begin learning to read.

  12. For older children still reading below grade level, use resources in other subject areas that do not require the student to read. This will allow him to work at his intellectual, not reading, level. Use videos, books on tape, or read to him. Then, for his reading practice, choose books appropriate for his age, but at his reading level. These are available from High Noon Books, www.HighNoonBooks.com or phone 1-800-422-7249 for a catalog.

All children can succeed. Hopefully, the hints listed here will not only help remove a few obstacles, but also make learning to read more enjoyable.

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