For most homeschoolers, we know that reading is crucial for a successful homeschool experience, but many children may be struggling readers. Reading is a process that begins with letters and sounds, which children learn to spell words and construct sentences. Then it expands to include paragraphs and chapters, which introduces children to all kinds of wonderful stories, facts, and ideas. Lastly, reading culminates in guiding children to explore world after world of information, knowledge, and adventure. If you’re wondering how to help your child to read, increase reading comprehension, and improve reading skills, you’ll often need to go back to the basics—regularly.
Some children grasp reading quickly and can read by the end of kindergarten. For other children, it may take longer for the concepts of reading to click and make sense to them. Most experts agree that children should be able to read by second grade. But this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Most parents agree that children will learn to read when they’re ready to read. If your child is a struggling reader, you’ll need to learn how to make reading fun while you keep reviewing the basics until they’re ready to read. The key for helping children to read is to keep it fun, motivating, and engaging. Check out these tools for making reading fun while also improving reading and comprehension skills.
How to Help a Child Struggling with Reading
Struggling readers are often held back because of four main issues. They don’t have the phonics foundations they need, they aren’t able to understand what they read, they aren’t able to process and think about what they read, or they aren’t interested in reading. To help a child struggling with reading, you’ll need to look for ways to build reading comprehension. Reading comprehension and reading comprehension strategies will primarily address the first three issues that struggling readers have. The last, not having an interest in reading, can be a different struggle, especially for parents who already enjoy reading or don’t understand how their children wouldn’t enjoy reading.
How to Improve Reading Comprehension
Reading comprehension—the skill of understanding what you read—depends on building vocabulary, helping kids know background information, and getting them to pay attention and think about what they’re reading. To help your child improve their reading comprehension, use reading strategies before, during, and after reading. Also important for reading comprehension will be helping your child have a strong phonics foundation and a big vocabulary.
How to Help an Early Reader Improve Reading Skills
For early readers, or children who have developed reading skills earlier in K5, you want to encourage their development without overwhelming them or making them progress faster than they’re ready to. If they become overwhelmed or progress too quickly, they may become a struggling reader later. In your homeschool, you can incorporate a reading and English curriculum that consistently reviews and builds on phonics skills while also encouraging advanced readers to work with reading selections that challenge them.
Tips for Helping Early Readers
- Ask your child questions about what you read together. This will first help you assess your child’s understanding of the reading material. It will also develop your child’s critical thinking skills as they take time to think through what they read or heard. Start with questions that address who, what, how, when, where, and why. Then ask them to predict what they think will happen next and what in the text brings them to that conclusion. By asking your child these types of questions, you are encouraging them to become active readers who can apply logical and analytical skills in reading.
- Play word games. Reading apps offer opportunities to practice and review phonics skills through word games. Rhyming games are a fun way to enhance kids’ ability to make connections between letters and sounds. You can play word games that break down words into their different parts and associated definitions. You can also incorporate word construction games like sight word bingo.
- Take turns reading out loud with your child. Praise them when they read correctly. Use encouraging correction when they mispronounce or skip some words.
- Read above-grade-level books aloud to your child. It will help them continue to build their vocabulary. It will also increase their understanding of language structure.
Curriculum for Early Readers
How to Help an Older Child Improve Reading Skills
For older children who are struggling readers, it’s important to review the foundations. BJU Press reading and English courses review and practice phonics skills regularly throughout elementary grades. It will also be important to recognize and acknowledge that your child may not be ready to read on grade level, and that’s ok. For older children, it’s more important to let them read, practice, and enjoy books that they’re ready to do than to push them to grapple with material that’s too advanced for them.
Tips for Older Readers
- Listen to an audiobook to boost their confidence as they hear a book being read aloud. Listening to a book while reading it can aid your child’s reading comprehension and ability to string sentences together more fluidly.
- Have your child write a summary of what they read. This will help you determine how much your child is comprehending as they read.
- Subscribe to a children’s magazine that appeals to your child’s interests, such as gardening, cooking, or animals.
- Start your own “book of the month” club with your older reader. Take turns choosing a book to read, then discuss it together once you’ve finished it.
- Encourage older readers to participate in reading programs through your local library. Some libraries offer programs throughout the year in addition to summer reading programs.
- Listen to music together. After listening to one of your child’s favorite songs, talk about the lyrics. Point out different ways the songwriter used words to effectively communicate the message of their song. Ask your child how well the writer used creative sentence structure in their lyrics. These discussions can build your child’s appreciation for using language in an artistic way.
Curriculum for Older Readers
How to Get Your Kids Interested in Reading
To boost your struggling reader’s interest in reading, help them see reading the way you see reading. Read and write in front of your child. When your child sees you reading a book or writing a note to someone, they will often want to do it to because they want to be like you.
Have an ample supply of reading materials accessible to your child. Give them books they can take down and look at. Give them books that are colorful and on their level. Put them on bookshelves where they can reach them.
Find out their interests. Kids are more likely to read something that appeals to their curiosity about a certain topic. Gather as many reading materials as you can find that target their interests. These include books, magazines, graphic novels, and digital texts.
Talk, talk, talk to your child. Reading isn’t the only way children build their vocabulary and awareness of sentence structure. Verbal communication reinforces what they learn in reading, from phonemic awareness to comprehension. Talk to your child about something interesting or funny they saw on a walk or drive. Ask them about what they learned today. Talk to them about a topic that interests them.
7 Ways to Make Reading Fun
- Create a reading nook. Designing a cozy, comfy, kid-only space for reading will make it more appealing. Involve your child as you plan their book nook; they can choose any theme they like and help you set it up. It could be something as simple as making a fort by draping a blanket or sheet over a couple of chairs. Or your child may want to choose a fun theme such as a jungle, campsite, or pirate ship. A beach theme is easy to construct: lay down beach towels on the floor, prop a beach umbrella against the wall, hang up a poster of the ocean, and fill empty sand pails with books.
- Sing songs and nursery rhymes. The rhythm and rhyme of songs can help children distinguish syllables and sounds in words, which can help them to read. Clap your hands in rhythm as you sing or recite songs together. This will greatly aid in building phonemic awareness, which is crucial to reading.
- Make simple word cards. You can either cut your own cards out of construction paper or use 4×6 note cards. Write a word containing three sounds on each card (e.g. bat, sit, pot, cup). Have your child choose a card, then read the card together out loud while you hold up three fingers. Ask them to say the first sound they hear in the word, then the second and third sounds they hear. Lower a finger for each correct sound they identify. This is an easy and fun way to help your child sound out words and learn phonics.
- Surround your child with print-rich materials at home. The more printed words your child sees, the more it will encourage them to read. If possible, hang posters and charts on walls, and fill bookshelves with books and magazines. This will enable your child to link letters and sounds together. When you’re out and about, point out words on road signs, billboards, and store signs. Ask them questions such as, “What sound does that letter make?” “What other words start with that letter?” “Can you think of another word that rhymes with that word?”
- Play word games. Continuing from the previous idea, incorporate simple word games you can play at home or in the car. Ask questions like, “What word starts with the sound ______?” “What sound does the word _________ start with?” What sound does the word _______ end with?” and “What word rhymes with _______?”
- Use letter magnets to build word recognition and phonics skills. This is a great way to help your child learn vowel sounds, which can be complicated for some kids. Place all the letter magnets on your fridge and separate the vowels to one side. Say a word for your child to spell with the magnets, such as ‘bug.’ Point at each vowel magnet and say the vowel sound together. Then ask your child which one makes a sound similar to the middle sound of the word you picked.
- Read with your child every day and ask questions about the book or story. This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but reading aloud to your child is one of the best ways to help them learn to read. Not only will it expand their vocabulary, it will also grow reading comprehension and enable them to sound out words.
Why is reading to your child important?
Reading to your child at a young age is crucial, because you are establishing a solid foundation for future independent reading and writing. Reading aloud is one of the best ways for your child to develop an interest in reading. The more words they hear, the more their vocabulary will grow. The more books you read to them, the more their awareness of sentence structure will improve.
Is it helpful to read to children before they can understand words?
Absolutely, even while still in the womb, children begin to understand language as they hear the rhythm of their mother’s voice and speech. Reading aloud to young children helps develop their understanding of language. Babies learn to make sounds and imitate speech to get what they want. As they grow into toddlers, children begin learning simple words, which they then use to make complete sentences. Kids learn to talk and communicate even before they can read a single word. This happens naturally as children daily hear language and interact with other children and adults.
What to Look for in a Homeschool Reading Curriculum
Since reading is one of the most vital subjects your child will learn, a reading curriculum should be chosen carefully and thoughtfully. A solid reading curriculum (like the materials available from BJU Press) will include:
- Phonemic awareness and letter recognition
- Phonics skills
- Vocabulary building
- Reading comprehension
- Reading fluency
• • • • •Jennifer is a pastor’s wife and mom of two young girls and loves homeschooling them. During her own twelve years of being homeschooled, Jennifer developed a passion for reading and writing. She earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and relishes writing during her free time.