You Can't Replace Your Child's Reading Teacher, But You Can Help Fill the Gaps

If you’re an early childhood educator hunkered down at home with young children, this article is probably not for you. You understand the importance of phonological awareness and how to teach decoding skills. This column is geared toward those parents out there who need a quick tutorial on teaching reading 101. 

Learning to read isn’t a natural process, and parents can do much in the way of nurturing emergent reading skills, especially in the absence of a trained reading teacher. The most important thing to remember is to set aside time each day to read. Create a comfortable, designated spot, free from other distractions and keep learning fun while focusing on strategies your child’s teacher would use in the classroom.

Keep Reading Playful and Fun

If it’s fun, then they’re likely to keep on playing. Teachers know one of the best ways to nurture the love for reading is to create many reading opportunities that are, well, fun! 

If you’re like me, you enjoy watching your favorite movies more than once. The same principle applies to a good book. Sitting down with your child’s favorite book or poem can look and sound different every time. For example, play an “echo reading” game. While seated with your child, open the book and point to the words as you read aloud. Then, ask your child to be your echo and point to each word while reading. In this way, you model automaticity, accuracy and prosody. Don’t be afraid to “chunk” a sentence on a page into normal, shorter phrases for your child to echo. 

The meaning of a sentence is carried by phrases rather than by individual words. “Choral reading” is also a shared reading technique in which you and your child read simultaneously. Point to the words so your emergent reader can track print. 

Radio reading” is especially great for those little aspiring performers. Take turns pretending you’re a radio announcer and “broadcast” the print on the page. Informational texts are best suited for radio reading performances, and children are curious, so stories about space, for instance, are just what these sponges need to soak up. Let’s not forget the boost this gives to their vocabulary development! Finally, the goal of reading is comprehension not speed. Remember to pause during reading and ask questions. “That’s silly! Why do you think she wore pajamas to school?”

Focus on Building Background Knowledge

If your child isn’t quite ready for say, radio reading, then don’t panic and whip out those flashcards. Reading is a multifaceted process, and the most important skill to nurture is phonological awareness. Simply put—play with sounds. Help your child develop an understanding of the sounds that letters make.

Rhyming is the easiest game to play and no text is needed. “What rhymes with rain: plane, crane, pain, pan? What word do we get by adding /t/ to the word rain?” All children enter school with a virtual vocabulary backpack. Even while at home, expose your child to a language-rich environment and fill up that backpack with vocabulary. Read a wide variety of topics and mediums—language lives everywhere. Don’t stress over sounding out words—instead, focus on the joy of building knowledge and manipulating sounds. 

While nothing can replace your child’s reading teacher, you can continue to implement some best practices and minimize gaps in learning during this challenging time.

Lynne S. Kulich, Ph.D.
Lynne S. Kulich, Ph.D., is a senior account executive for Early Learning Solutions at NWEA, the not-for-profit provider of assessment solutions.

Join the Movement