Reading comprehension can be a lot like riding a bike. Right now, both of my kids are learning how to ride their bikes, and the similarities are clear. As an adult, it is easy to forget the massive amounts of courage, coordination and determination a bicycle demands of its rider. They’re at that stage right now where they’re pretty good about pushing the pedals, and they almost have steering down, but they both do this strange thing where they only look at the ground directly in front of the handlebars. They miss some important stuff that way. Bumps in the road and sudden turns have to take a back seat right now because they are still getting the raw mechanics down. This is a lot like the difference between reading words and comprehending them. When you are teaching kids of any age how to read, you are playing the long game. There are listening skills, attention spans, letter recognition, sequencing and sight words to conquer before you get to the comprehension stage. Still, it is never too early to begin teaching the fundamentals of reading comprehension. Here are a few basic strategies to get you started.
Read to Children Frequently
Whether you are working as a teacher, home-schooler, or just an involved parent, one of the most valuable first steps you can take towards teaching reading comprehension is reading out loud to your kids. Even babies can benefit from this simple bonding activity. They love the sound of your voice, the colorful pictures, and facing away from you while looking at the book actually builds baby’s confidence. For older kids, the stories an get more complex, and a bit longer. Involve your kids in book selection. Get a library card, and make weekly visits a special treat. Encourage them to find books they are interested in (and watch how those interests change), and read with them as frequently as you can. Most experts recommend 20 minutes a day of reading – although it is important to not that it does not have to happen all at once. Kids attention spans need time to grow too, so it’s okay and even encouraged to take frequent breaks. Reading time is fun time, not a chore.
Sometimes, we read through an entire book with the kids, without stopping to find out whether they understand it. Taking a moment to check and make sure kids are following along with you is not only beneficial for their comprehension of that specific story, it also gets them thinking a little more critically about every story they hear. When they begin to get the idea that their feedback and opinions matter, they will start giving them more freely. We are all guilty of rushing through those bedtime stories. With laundry piling up, and the one show you watch all week coming up, it can be difficult to slow down sometimes. However, taking these little moments, and making a meaningful connection with your little audience can go a long way in teaching your kids valuable lessons.
Get Caught Reading
I know, I know, who has the time to sit and read for themselves, right? Still if you can make it a point to model reading as an acceptable, quiet activity yourself, kids will pick up on that pretty quickly. If they ask you what you are reading, let them know (as much of the subject matter as you are comfortable sharing, anyway). Tell them how much you are enjoying the stories, and how happy you are to have a little time to read. This reinforces the idea that reading is not necessarily work, but rather something fun. Books are something you “get to” read, and not something you “have to” read.
Look for Signs of Trouble, and Keep Notes
When reading to your kids, do you notice them having a little trouble with the process? Certain aspects of reading might be a sticking point for kids, and catching them early is the key to working through them. Some things to look for might be squinting, trouble hearing, difficulty staying focused, or over-activity. As parents, we can sometimes over analyze things, and see problems where there actually are none. Remember that each child develops at their own pace, and has their own personality. Just because you feel like they ought to be able to sit still for longer, or that they should know the whole alphabet by now doesn’t mean they will meet those expectations. That is why it is important to keep notes. You may notice that a few of the behaviors you through might be problematic actually resolve themselves as you work with your child. If they do not go away on their own, or if you sense that your child is truly struggling, don’t worry. The first step is to get your pediatrician involved, and proceed together as a team from there.
If There is Trouble, Don’t Fret – Reach Out for Help
Kids can and do grow out of many “phases” which may look like potential learning disabilities. However, if your doctor has come to the conclusion that there may be an issue, try not to fret too much. Teaching a child with a learning disability is something that requires a little guidance, but it is also something thousands of families do every day. Also, I know that the main emphasis of this article has been that it’s never too early to begin reading comprehension lessons, but it is also never too late. If you feel like your child may have fallen behind in his or her reading skills, there is always time to work on it. Remember you are playing the long game here, so don’t lose heart thinking that things are too far gone. Chances are, they’re not. Utilize school and community resources whenever you can. You don’t have to go it alone. There are many skills you can help teach at home. Let Dr. Kimberly Palmiotto, Educational Psychologist show you a few strategies in her “Parenting” class.