How to make your child be a good reader
Every five years, Grade 4 learners in South Africa take part in an international reading assessment called PIRLS (The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). Because this assessment takes place on a regular basis, we are able to track the progress our children are making when it comes to reading comprehension skills. The last published PIRLS results were from the 2016 assessment and found that 78% of our Grade 4 learners could not read with meaning in any language. That means that only 22% of South Africa’s ten-year-olds can understand what they have read.
If a child can’t understand what they are reading they can’t achieve academic success at school as reading is the channel to all learning. Every subject at school, even Mathematics, requires one to use knowledge of phonics to read words on a page, and vocabulary to add meaning to those words. Skilled readers use many strategies to comprehend what they are reading and in turn develop different reading skills. You as a parent can help your child develop and practise these strategies and skills.
Read to your child
It is important to read to them when they are babies and when they have started school. It doesn’t matter what you are reading to your child. It can be the same book, an article from the newspaper or a comic. Children need to learn the concept of print and that the words we speak and hear can be written. Children also need to see that reading is valuable in their home. Through reading to your child, you are supporting them in growing their ability and love of reading.
Read different types of stories
Read different types of stories to them so that they are exposed to different genres and can learn what types of stories they enjoy. Encourage the development of their imaginations and let them tell you stories – even if they are silly – so that they know their stories matter too.
Ask your child questions
Ask your child questions about what you have read or even what they are watching on television. Help them become a critical thinker and to think about what they have read. Ask questions like:
- Who was your favourite character?
- What was your favourite part of the story?
- What happened in the beginning?
- What happened at the end?
- Where did this story happen?
Skilled readers look for clues, make predictions and make inferences. Think of yourself when you watch a television programme. Your mind looks for clues as to what will happen next. As new information comes to light, you change these predictions and make new ones. You notice small changes in a character’s facial expression and their tone of voice, and you read between the lines to make judgements. This is called making inferences and this is what skilled readers do so that they can understand what an author is trying to convey in a story or text. You can help your child to practise making inferences by asking questions like:
- What do you think will happen next?
- Why do you think the character did that? What clues did you find in the story to help you find that answer?
- How did you get to that answer?
- Let’s read this page again and look for information that is hidden.
Skilled readers also decide what is and isn’t important as they read. This is necessary for when you read stories as well as information texts. On a page there will be a lot of information but only some of it is important to the plot or what you are learning about. Help your child develop this reading strategy by:
- supporting them in reading information texts like adverts, brochures and non-fiction books
- asking them what the most important thing was they read on a page
- reading out one fact and three examples and asking what the most important thing was that you said.
Help your child make connections as they read and to bring what they already know to any new text about a topic. Knowledge grows. You learn something about a topic and then as you read new books or articles you add to this knowledge. Sometimes as you read you realise that what you thought you knew was wrong and you change your mind. You can only do this if you are making connections. Model this reading strategy in the following ways:
- Let’s look at the title of this story. Have we read any other stories like this?
- This book is about insects. What do you already know about insects?
- This boy is sad in the story. When have you felt sad before?
You can also model reading strategies by pretending to not understand what you have read. Think out loud and ask questions or say things like:
- I don’t understand. Let me go back and read this paragraph again.
- I don’t know what this word means. Let me look at the words around it and maybe that will help.
- I still don’t understand. What word does this new word make me think of?
If your child is not taught reading strategies, they will never develop the skills they need to read with meaning. These critical skills must be modelled and taught so that the patterns of thinking needed to be a skilled reader are developed in their minds. By asking questions as you read with your child, or when they read to you, you are modelling these thought patterns.
There are many things you can do to help your child become a skilled reader. But the most important thing you can do is create an environment in the home that values reading. If possible, buy books for your children so that they own their own books and can value them. Show them that you read and that you enjoy reading. Don’t make any reading homework seem to be a chore that must be endured. Stop what you are doing and give attention to them reading and praise them – a lot! Even if their reading is not good, encourage them and tell them that they are doing well and let them read a section or page as many times as they need to until they can read it without mistakes. This will build their confidence and their enjoyment of reading.