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Learning to read: how to support your child

Learning to read: how to support your child

How many of us adults read for pleasure?  I love to read, but do sometimes struggle to find the time to do so.  

Reading is more than being able to say the words from the page out loud; it’s about understanding what we read, predicting what could happen next, understanding a character’s motivations for doing what they’re doing… it’s an escape, an adventure, an education.  Getting to the stage where reading to someone else is exciting can be a bit of a chore, so I have compiled a few ideas for helping children who are just beginning their reading journeys or are finding it a little challenging.  

Quality time

Let’s not make reading a rush for our children.  Set aside around ten minutes of your focused time each day and make the most of it.  Furthermore, showing your children that reading can be a choice and enjoyable is essential.  There’s a tendency to hurry a child when they are taking a while to read a word or sentence.  Sometimes, the child could be looking at the illustrations (that’s what they’re there for, after all!) or they might be struggling with a word.  Encouragement is key!  

When you have more than one child, finding quality time can be another challenge.  Showing your child that their reading is important to you as well as to them is imperative.  Do you remember the time you were having a conversation with someone at work when their attention was dragged away from you by a passing ice cream van?  Or the time you were trying to get your child to tidy their room, but they were engrossed in a YouTube video of someone opening a Kinder egg?  If you are unable to give that attention to your child while they are reading (the skill you keep telling them is vital), it’s hurtful, but also contradictory.  Put your mobile phone away – Facebook won’t miss you for ten minutes!

Read and expose them to a variety of texts

Reading books from school can sometimes be dull and repetitive (they have their place and a purpose to serve, so I’m not knocking them).  Why restrict your child to solely reading a book that has most likely been plucked quickly off a shelf from the colour your child is reading through at the moment?  How about looking at a newspaper together and finding an appropriate story?  Read most of the text to your child, but stop occasionally and ask them to ‘help you out’ by reading a word (maybe this could be one that they have as a spelling to learn or it could be one containing a sound they are focusing on at school).  Just because your child can only read CVC (consonant – vowel – consonant) words, does not mean they ought to be exposed only to books containing those!

Offer praise

The early stages of learning to read can be incredibly frustrating as it’s almost impossible to remember a time when we couldn’t work out that sounding out c-a-t made the word ‘cat’.  When your child repeats ‘c-a-t’ more times in the space of thirty seconds than you thought humanly possible, yet determines the word spelt is ‘hippopotamus’, it can be difficult to remain positive.  Praise doesn’t have to come in the form of ‘well done’ and ‘you’re a great reader’, but can also demonstrate understanding that the process isn’t easy with phrases such as ‘wow – that was a tricky word, wasn’t it?’ and ‘you tried really hard with your blending then’.  

Your child doesn’t just have to read to you

Children can really play up their parents something chronic at times.  Why not mix it up and allow your child to read with a different family member or friend?  Perhaps an older sibling could sit with your child and read.  I’m not advocating never hearing your child read, but sometimes we can all become somewhat complacent.  Why not make a change and see what happens?

In fact, your child doesn’t just have to read to humans

Take a seat in the background and tell your child that the teddies need a bedtime story.  I’ve found this to be highly successful and often stories are read with far greater expression and silly voices!

Why restrict reading to the indoors?

Heading to the forest?  Grab a book and take it with you.  Playing in the garden?  Build a den and sit huddled up together, sharing a text.  Reading is not just an indoor activity; what’s stopping you from taking a book anywhere?  (Swimming might be an exception!)

Try some reading games

I’ve shared just a few games that I have used successfully throughout my teaching career.  Have a go at some of these games whilst/after reading:

  • Fastest finger first

It can be frustrating when your child is reading a repetitive book, but attempts to sound out the same word over and over again even if it’s less than a minute after last reading it.  ‘Fastest finger first’ can help with that as it helps with sight recognition.  Read a few pages (or even all) of a reading book, then return to a page where there’s a word with which your child struggled.  Prepare your fingers (think ‘90s Shooting Stars-style) and then ask your child to find a certain word quicker than you.  It’s amazing what a bit of competition can do!

  • Rhyming words

After reading a book, return to one of the pages and ask your child to find a word rhyming with e.g. ‘foal’.  This could be one, which looks similar e.g. goal; alternatively, it could be one with the same sounds, but made up of different letters e.g. hole.

  • Post it note sentences

Whilst reading with your child, take note of sentences, which they struggle with in particular and write each word from the sentences on separate post it notes.  Can your child reassemble the sentence? 

  • I spy

Not the traditional ‘I spy’ game, but a sounds-focused one.  If you find out that this week, your child is learning the long ‘oo’ (zoo) sound at school, why not make it a challenge for them to find as many ‘oo’ words in their reading book as they can?  I appreciate this isn’t as easy as it seems because there might not be any in the book they have – always read in advance.  Maybe choose a sound (phoneme) each and keep a tally of who finds the most.  Alternatively, have a number of post it notes with the sounds written on e.g. ai, oo, oa.  Whenever your child ‘spies’ a word containing one of the sounds, they ought to write the word on the post it note or tell you about it for you to (this might prevent the flow of reading being interrupted, although there is nothing to stop this game being played afterwards).

  • Noughts and crosses/Connect 4

In a similar way to the sounds game above, you and your child ought to pick a sound each.  Whenever a sound is spotted, that person can have a go on the noughts and crosses grid or put a counter in the connect four grid. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  If you have any questions or ideas you’d like to share, please email me:

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