There are three types of skills children need to become strong reader. Most people think it is just about learning letters and sounds, but it’s more than that. Some reading skills have to develop over months and years, while others can be learned in a relatively short period of time with the right instruction.
Reading issues run in families: If you or your partner had trouble learning to read, there is a higher likelihood that you child will also have reading struggles. That’s not a problem — it just means that you need to be on top of things and make sure that if support is needed, he or she gets targeted instruction early, when intervention works best. You want your child to feel good about reading from the start.
Language development predicts reading success. The oral language of a 3-year old has been linked to a 10th grader’s reading comprehension scores. Children need to hear and use language to build the brain architecture they need in order to think critically and to read all the challenging texts they will encounter through the years.
Family environments make a difference. When families read and talk about books often, expose children to experiences that encourage complex ideas and conversations, set up routines or regular independent time with books/reading, and build children’s awareness and regulation skills every day, children are set up to become strong readers. Then they need the right instruction at school, too.
If an elementary-age child struggles to read, it is some kind of an instruction problem. The child needs the right type of instruction with the right amount of intensity in order to improve. First the child’s particular strengths and weaknesses need to be determined, and then a personalized plan should be set up, implemented with enough intensity to make a difference, and monitored to be sure skills are improving.
Parents cannot assume that the instruction children are getting in school is the kind of instruction they need: A recent study showed that only four out of 10 schools of education trained teachers on the science of reading instruction–the skills that research shows children need to become strong readers.
Children who read early do not necessarily read better in the years to come. Reading well takes lots of practice over time with lots of different types of text. Reading early is a good start, but it’s regular reading (and being read to) and talking about the ideas in books that make a difference over time.
If a young child doesn’t choose to read, it could be that he or she has trouble reading. Before assuming a child’s disinterest is just a lack of motivation, families need to make sure that the issue isn’t with foundational reading skills.
When children are learning to read, they need to practice a lot. This practice will help them become more automatic with word reading. While sounding out individual words is not the only skill needed, it is essential to read words accurately and quickly to become a strong reader. And then, hopefully the practice and reading energy continues!
Children should be read books with complex ideas in them, at home and at school, even when they can also read independently. The books children can read on their own are often not the kinds of books that will expose them to complex ideas and language. That’s where reading aloud comes in.
In the end, children who read well and often, and who are exposed to complex language and ideas, are set up to succeed as readers and students. It sounds easy enough, and it can be, but what happens both at home and at school is what makes the difference.