Helping a child with homework can sometimes be difficult for parents. Lessons change and classroom instruction also evolves as educators gain deeper insight to the efficacy of specific strategies. Some children struggle with the fundamentals of literacy; parents might struggle on how to help children boost their reading fluency and comprehension.
Even if children haven’t fallen too far behind grade-level expectations, providing reading instruction at home isn’t always easy. The good news is that there are so many ways to help struggling readers. Here are 20 tips on how to improve your child’s reading.
1. Identify a child’s struggles.
When parents want to help a child, they need to know how to help. Talk to the child’s teacher to better understand a child’s unique struggles. Some children might need help with letter sounds and identification. Children also could struggle with reading fluency or reading comprehension.
2. Ditch the clock.
Stop timing daily reading. While educators might specify that children need to read 15 to 30 minutes per night, some children read longer per day and then don’t read as much another day. Aim for balance, but setting the clock could distract a struggling reader or make them more anxious. Focus on quality reading minutes not clocked reading minutes.
3. Create a reading environment conducive to the child’s needs.
Does the child become easily distracted by noise? When helping a child with any subject or lesson, create a learning environment that is conducive to learning for that child’s needs. Ask a child where they wish to read; create a reading habitat with pillows or just sit together on the couch. If a child is distracted by siblings, go read somewhere quiet.
4. Create an interest/disinterest list.
Encourage children to create a list of their interests and disinterests. This can help parents find books that will hold the child’s attention. Children also can specify if they prefer longer or shorter books, chapters or no chapters, etc. The goal is to find the best books to help every reader feel comfortable and confident.
5. Stay on their level.
To encourage reading practice and to better help children who struggle with reading, parents should understand their reading level. Most schools send reading reports home that includes information on the child’s reading level (this could be a range). Use this information to ensure children are choosing books that aren’t too easy or too difficult.
6. Give children the choice.
While parents need to ensure that children are reading at their appropriate level, parents also shouldn’t force a child to read books selected by parents. Instead, let children choose the books they wish to read. This is why creating a reading interest list could be beneficial.
7. Read to children.
While reading to children might seem counterintuitive to helping them gain reading fluency and confidence, reading aloud to children can engage them in the story. Parents should ask questions about the story as they read to ensure the child is following the story and understands what is happening. For younger readers, ask questions focused on the w/h prompts: who, what, where, when, why and how.
8. Ask children to read with parents.
While parents can and should read to children, they also can alternate between reading the story and asking the child to read aloud. Consider this a group reading effort. Help children sound out words that may be difficult for them and provide guidance as needed.
9. Practice sight words.
Children in lower elementary grades will typically need to memorize and master a list of sight words. Practice these lists frequently. While flashcards are the easiest way to skill and drill these words, playing sight word games can be much more amusing for children. Mix play and learning by creating a match game using sight words or play Go Fish with sight word cards. For Go Fish, parents should make four cards for each word (play the game as normal). For a match game, just make two cards for each sight word; shuffle the deck, place them face down and take turns choosing matches (children should say the word when they flip the card).
10. Read poetry together.
Poets who write for children create poems that entertain children and can even be a bit silly. Poetry is fun for children to read as it often features rhyming and a joyful cadence. When children read poetry, they can practice fluency and work on phonics, too.
11. Be a reading example.
Children might not feel encouraged to read if they never see their parents read. Parents can schedule family reading time where everyone sits together quietly and reads a book. Families might even create their own book club; just make sure that book selections are at everyone’s reading level.
12. Teach text chunking.
Children who have difficulty with reading fluency and/or reading comprehension can benefit from chunking text. Parents can teach children to cover up a portion of the page and focus only on one paragraph or ‘chunk’ of the page. Make sure children understand this portion before encouraging them to move on.
13. Re-reading can help children with comprehension.
Sometimes the mind is filled with other thoughts and it can be difficult to focus while reading. It’s ok to go back and re-read a section or even a whole chapter. In fact, this technique can help children as they grow older; re-reading encourages mastery. Some readers might need to consistently go back and review.
14. Re-reading favorite stories can help with understanding, too.
Re-reading isn’t always just focused on reviewing a page or chapter that wasn’t understood. Some children—and adults—often find a favorite book and read it again and again. Reading a book several times can help children spot new ideas or even details that they might have missed. Plus, re-reading a favorite story can help children gain fluency and confidence. If a child is familiar with a story, encourage them to read it to parents.
15. Say yes to all reading materials.
Every type of printed medium can help a child to become a better reader. Newspapers, magazines, instruction manuals, comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels all encourage reading. If a child is reading a magazine, they are still reading. Don’t place a higher importance on one material over another; encourage children to read a variety of books and materials.
16. Let children read with their ears.
Children who struggle to sound out words and are behind in reading fluency might benefit from reading with their ears. Parents can utilize audiobooks to further their child’s reading enrichment. Children can follow along in the book while they also listen to the narration. Listening to a story can help children understand the emotions of characters and even learn new vocabulary.
17. Use worksheets to guide instruction.
There are several online sites that provide reading worksheets that parents can use at home to help their child with fluency and other skills. In addition, teachers might be able to provide additional enrichment worksheets that parents can use at home to help their child.
18. Make reading a habit.
Reading should be a regular habit for children. However, this doesn’t just mean that children should be formally reading a book, magazine or other materials. Parents should encourage reading in daily life; ask about a particular sign in a store, let children help with dinner by reading a recipe, or even give children the task of reading the grocery list at the store to help parents. Reading is a life skill that is needed everywhere.
19. Use visual prompts like a graphic organizer or a reading comprehension bookmark.
Visual prompts can help children remember what they need to think about as they read, or they can encourage children to further analyze what they read. Examples of visual prompts include a graphic organizer or a reading comprehension bookmark. Graphic organizers can be found online; these are worksheets that include blank spaces for children to write details about the book.
Graphic organizers can be focused on a different literary component—like theme, characters, plot, etc. A reading comprehension bookmark can include a list of prompts for children to think about while reading or they can include space for notes.
20. Use a reading app to help children with fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
Parents might want to provide their child with a more formalized approach to help boost their reading proficiency. A reading app like Readability can provide children with guidance to help them with fluency, comprehension and vocabulary.
Readability includes a built-in AI tutor that is designed with voice-recognition software; this allows it to understand each child’s voice. Children read books aloud in the program, and the tutor listens for any concerns. When a child struggles, the tutor recognizes that the child is having difficulty and provides help.
The tutor also asks children questions about the book to test their comprehension. If a child chooses the wrong answer, the tutor will show the section of the story that provides clues to the answer. The tutor also will read the text aloud, and the child can have a second chance to answer the question. This helps show children that sometimes it’s necessary to re-read or look back to gain understanding.
Not every program is ideal for every child, but parents can sign up for a free seven-day trial of Readability to better understand the program and let the child become familiar with the program. Sign up for a free trial today to help a struggling reader gain confidence and proficiency.