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Reading: How to Help Your Child

Girl reading to her father
Parents can be a huge help when their child is learning to read and write. Children become best at what they do most. Reading and writing should not simply be another activity that is only done at school. Reading and writing should become daily activities around the house as well as at school. As a start, parents should find out what is being taught each week in school and try to reinforce those lessons at home. Skills that your child is learning, such as sound-letter associations, can be practiced quite effectively through simple games.


In kindergarten, work on building the following skills.

To develop sound awareness

  • Have your child recognize and give rhyming words. For example, “what rhymes with cat?”; “do cat and mat rhyme?”
  • Try naming pictures of objects and grouping those that rhyme together.
  • Work on isolating and identifying the first and last sounds in words, for example, I Spy: “I spy with my little eye something that starts with /B/.”

To teach sound blending skills

Use a few pictures as cues. Ask your child to listen to some sounds and put them together to tell you which picture you mean. Start by splitting the words into only two sound units. Say “c – at.” If your child can blend these to find the picture of the cat, then increase the number of sounds your child has to blend     “c-a-t.”

To develop the concepts of a word and a sound

  • Clap out the number of words in a sentence and clap out the number of sounds in a word. For a variation, tap blocks as you say each word or sound.

 To teach letter recognition and sound-letter associations

  • Teach one or two letters at a time. Practice until they are well learned before introducing more letters. The Jolly Phonics method teaches not only the letter name, but also the sound the letter makes and a unique movement to help the child remember the associations.
  • Play “Concentration,” “Go Fish,” or Letter Dominos using the letters you are practicing.
  • Try recognizing the letters you are working on when looking at signs, billboards, food packaging, labels, and store fronts out in the community.

Grade One

In Grade One, developing the following skills is important:

  • Help your child to focus on the position of sounds in words.
  • Draw a picture of a train (engine, passenger car, caboose). Put the letters representing each sound into the “train cars.” Say the sounds while pointing to the letters. Then blend the sounds together.
  • on a sheet of paper. Have your child point to the correct letter or letters every time you say a word beginning with the sound(s).
  • Read daily with your child, pointing to each word.
  • Read simple pattern and phonics books with your child.

Develop a personal Word Bank

  • Make cards with words that your child has started to learn. Have your child practice sounding out and reading the words. Shuffle the cards daily and see how many words your child can read in two minutes. Graph her progress over the week.
  • Introduce one or two sight words each week. Have your child trace the letters and make up sentences using those words. Put sight words on flash cards. Add to the Word Bank.
  • Make up simple pattern books using sight words and pictures. “I like _______.”; “______ is fun.”

Create a daily journal

Begin a daily journal about family events. Start with one sentence and gradually increase the number of sentences. Encourage your child to try to sound out words. Provide correct spellings for mis-spelled words. Teach the use of capitals and periods. Type edited work on a computer. Keep this work in a binder with pictures from the event.

Other useful tips

  • Develop a personal dictionary or buy a simple dictionary.
  • For children who are still reversing letters, tape an alphabet strip to their desks for easy reference that shows correct capital and lowercase letters. Since b/d reversals are the most common, color code the letters ( b in red, d in blue) to help the child remember which is which.
  • For children who forget the short vowel sounds, tape a sound strip to their desks. Use pictures as cues. For example, a picture of an ant could be placed above or below the letter a, to represent the short a sound.

Grades Two and Three

Repeated Reading technique

To develop reading fluency, try the Repeated Reading technique. Select a three or four paragraph, non-fiction passage which is slightly too hard for child. Read the passage to your child, while your child reads along. Then ask your child to read the passage while you listen. Go over the words she cannot read. Have her read the passage aloud daily. Keep track of the time she takes to read the passage, and her errors and then graph her progress .

Paired Reading  

Use Paired Reading if your child struggles with decoding. Read one sentence, then have your child read the next, or you read one paragraph, and your child reads the next.

Teach spelling rules

Practice spelling rules until application of the rule becomes automatic, as follows:

  • Review the rule.
  • Spell single words to dictation.
  • Make up sentences using words exemplifying the spelling rule. Mis-spell some of those key words and have your child find and fix the spelling errors.
  • Complete spelling dictations.

Promote good reading comprehension

  • Continue reading age-appropriate books to your child to develop vocabulary and awareness of different grammatical structures.
  • When reading familiar books, leave out a word occasionally and see if your child can supply the right word.
  • Ask questions about what has happened and what might happen next.
  • Ask your child to define new terms; if she cannot, provide a definition.

Have your child assessed by a psychologist as soon as you feel her reading or spelling skills are lagging behind academic expectations.

Virginia  Frisk, Ph.D., C. Psych