Reading is a basic skill which underlies so much of everything else we do in our lives. At school we teach the reading skills and mechanics but to embed this your child relies on you to support them and encourage their practice of this skill. Primarily, you are their role-model so seeing you reading and practising the skills (whether it is a novel or a newspaper or anything in between) is the most powerful encouragement and tool in this respect! The child will try to emulate the people they love and admire so use this to your advantage.
In these primary years, the best support you can give is in ensuring your child reads everyday with you in one form or another. However, after a certain point, parents often wonder how they can help to develop the reading skills of children who are already fluent readers. The best way is to continue to share books with your child, regularly listening to them read, sometimes reading to or with them, but also discussing books read in increasing depth. To become good readers children need to develop skills in seven key areas and it can be useful to think about these when reading with your child:
1. Decoding: This is the skill that parents are generally most familiar with, and deals with the varying strategies used by children to make sense of the words on the page. Even fluent readers can be stumped by an unfamiliar word, and it is useful at these times to discuss the range of strategies used to make a sensible guess.
2. Retrieval and recall: Early readers need to develop this skill, in order to locate important information and to retell stories and describe events. Ask them quick fire questions such as: who...? why...? when...? where...? and see how many the can find or even answer without looking back at the text! Support them in finding the answers and finding the extract that answers the question.
3. Inference: Reading between the lines. Encouraging children to summarise and make judgements based on clues in the text and their understanding of the context of the book will help them to develop this important skill.
4. Structure and organisation: As children read a wider range of text types, they need to be able to comment on the features of each and how they are organised. Discussing the presentation of the text (e.g. the use of subtitles to assist reading of a non-fiction text) and the author’s reason for organising the text in this way, will support children’s development in this area. Making links between the purpose of the text and its organisation is a useful place to start.
5. Language: Specifically, thinking about the language choices made by writers, their possible reasons for making those choices and the effect the choices have on the reader. Discussing alternative choices and their effects can be a good way to begin discussion about the author’s language and an opportunity to develop vocabulary generally.
6. Purpose and viewpoint: Who is the narrator of this story? What does the writer of this biography feel about his/her subject? Children need to understand that writers write for a purpose, and to be able to recognise that this will have an impact on the way a text is written. Newspapers and advertisements are perfect examples of this and can lead to lots of lively discussions.
7. Making links: As adults, we are constantly making links between ideas and experiences - usually the experiences a book links to are the reason we have chosen the book in the first place! Good readers connect the book they are reading with real life experiences; with other books read and stories heard; with films; and with the context in which they were written. For example: A child reading ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’, will need to place the story within the context that it was written to fully understand it you may have to explain or help them research that time period or situation - let the language chosen in the book support you with this. They might also link it with other stories read, such as ‘Friend or Foe’ or ‘Carrie’s War’.
Below are some sample questions linked to the above points, which we hope you will find useful - please feel free to develop your own. It is not necessary to ask every question each time your child reads, of course, but they may prove to be useful prompts to start a more focused discussion.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be you asking the questions. Why not turn the tables and let your child ask you about your reading material? The greatest encouragement for your child is to see you - their most influential role model - reading.