Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Setting the Foundation for Reading

In grades k through three children learn to read. After that they read to learn.” I am not sure who originated this quote, but it explains most schools’ expectations of their students. A child who can’t read, or a child who is not reading at grade level finds school more and more difficult as they progress through the grades. Below is a quick look at how schools define reading, a brief overview of some problems that interfere with learning to read, and some suggestions of ways parents can help prepare a child to read.

Children are usually tested on their reading ability in two major areas. The first is how well a child decodes or translates letters into words. The second area is how well a child understands what she reads. The first is needed for most children to achieve the second. In other words, most children have to be able to read the words smoothly (fluidly) to achieve good comprehension. Being able to read the words, however, does not guarantee comprehension.

What can get in the way of a young child learning to read?  A child with dyslexia is probably going to have difficulty reading English. One reason is because English, unlike other languages, has  several ways to write specific sounds, and several ways to read the same letters. Example: She likes to read.  He read two books yesterday. Research has shown that “dyslexia in fact appears to have a common neurological cause across borders, but that complexities in certain languages can make the problem worse.”   

All poor readers, however, do not have dyslexia. There are many skills needed to read. Language is the most obvious one. If you do not have an age appropriate understanding of English it is difficult to learn to read it. Being unable to listen or follow directions also makes learning to read difficult. Trauma such as homelessness, divorce, violence or illness affects a child’s learning. Hearing or vision problems make the learning process difficult. Memory (working, short, and long term) influences learning. Some poor readers have language, visual, auditory, and spatial processing problems.

That does not mean that a parents cannot help set the stage for reading instruction. Some things a parent can do include:

  • Reading books, sometimes the same book again and again, to a child
  • Reading for your own information or pleasure. How often has your child seen you read an adult book? Does your child see you reading recipes, labels, magazines, or articles on the Internet?
  • Helping a child recognize, name, and place letters in the alphabet. Plastic magnetic letters are great for this activity.
  • Using sequential words and demonstrating what they mean to a child.  Examples: first, last, middle, top, bottom, next, under, over,  right, and left.
  • Having conversation with a child and talking about items while you use specific vocabulary. The more a child hears and see the names of animals, foods, vegetables, fruits, buildings, plants, etc., the better he will be prepared for school and reading. Don’t let electronic devices such as a GPS take the place of visual references.
  • Reading nursery rhymes, poems, and books that have rhyming words.
  • Directly telling or teaching a child about rhymes without making the child perform. One can point out the rhymes in “The Cat in the Hat” while reading the book.  Parents need to throw in a lot of information when talking with a child. Sometimes an adult should provide answers to questions to model what you want from your child.
  • Asking a child school type questions before she goes to school should make academics easier.  Pick up a book you have read before. Ask one or two questions. Who is this story about? What happened at the end? Where were they? If the child doesn’t know, give a hint or suggest an answer. Make this is a conversation, not a lesson.
  • Before going to school children should understand what is expected as an answer for  the following questions: who, what, when, and where.  Other than the little science lover or the born storyteller, many children need a bit more maturity to adequately answer a “why” question.

None of these activities will hurt a good reader. They all will help a poor reader. A child with dyslexia or other LDs (Learning Differences) usually will need structured (sometimes individualized) reading instruction and often needs a longer time frame than other students to master reading.

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