It is important that parents understand how children develop reading skills, especially since the new Common Core Learning Standards expect all subject areas to include reading and writing. To help, Jamestown Public Schools' English Language Arts K-8 Coordinator Annette Miller answers a few questions about reading development.
Q: Why can it be difficult for children to learn to read?
A: Reading is complex. If there were a simple relationship between letters and sounds, it would make it easier for children. English is more complicated than many other languages and requires a higher learning curve. Reading can also be challenging for some children. It takes time and a lot of practice both in and out of the classroom to become a good reader.
Paula DeJoy read Silverlicious to her daughters, Isabella and Siena, during their daily at-home reading time.
Q: How do children learn to read?
A: Reading is like learning a code. Children need to learn how to match letters and sounds - teachers call this decoding. Good decoding skills are crucial. As children get better at recognizing letters and sounding out words, they gradually can read more smoothly and they can pick up the pace (teachers call this fluency). Once a child can decode and read fluently, then a child will better understand what they are reading (reading comprehension).
Q: Why are sounds important?
A: In our language the same letter can have different sounds. We have long and short vowels, for example. But even consonants can be different depending on what other letters are around them. First, we learn the different sounds made by different letters and then, we explore the blended sounds that letters make together, like ch, sh, and th.
Q: Why is blending sounds so difficult for children?
A: The English language has about 44 sounds that make up words. There are only 26 letters in the alphabet. Therefore, children have to learn to combine some letters to make speech sounds. For example, the vowel sound in "house" and "cow" can sound the same but are spelled differently.
Q: My child is reading but not actually understanding what he is reading. Why is that?
A: That could be for a couple of different reasons. If the child is working too hard on figuring out how to say the word or is taking too long to get through the sentence, he or she will have difficulty following the meaning of the words. If decoding and fluency are not an issue, then the child could be reading a book that is too difficult for them - the sentence structure and the vocabulary may be too challenging.
Q: How can I work on reading comprehension skills with my child?
A: The easiest way is to have a conversation as they read. Stop every once in a while and ask: "What just happened there?" You can do this when your child is reading to you and when you are reading to your child. You can also talk about words that children don't understand. When you finish a story, ask your child specific questions about what happened in the story and why it happened. Also, have your child read a lot about a particular topic that interests your child so that you are helping he or she build a deeper understanding.
Q: Should I give my young child challenging reading materials?
A: You don't want to give your child reading materials that are too challenging if they are reading alone. This will frustrate your child and may turn your child off to reading. However, children can often read books that are more difficult if they have an interest about a topic. If you are reading side-by-side with your child, you can read a book that is slightly more challenging but be careful not to frustrate your child by reading a book that's too difficult.
Q: Often reading is focused on younger children. When my child gets a bit older what are some good ways to help instill a love reading?
A: Reading develops throughout your child's life. There is a misconception that we only need to work on reading skills in elementary school. With older students, it is a lot about finding the hook. What interests them? Find out and provide opportunities to have the time to read just for pleasure. When you go to the library, have your child accompany you. Show your child that you enjoy reading and why. Practice really does make a huge difference between a good and great reader in both younger and older children.
Q: If you could give parents one piece of advice on developing good reading strategies with their children, what would that be?
A: Read, Read, Read! Make sure that your child is reading every single day - both with you and reading alone. If you have very young children who have not started school make a practice of reading to them. Model for them what they will learn to do when they go to school.