By now your child should be decoding words quickly and easily, and moving on to more advanced comprehension skills.
Connect with the Teacher
"By the first conference, the teacher is likely to have noticed whether your child has any difficulty ascertaining the main idea of informational text and fiction and making inferences about what's being read," says Ronald Vanchieri, a reading specialist at Greenvale Elementary School in Eastchester, New York.
"Don't be afraid to make suggestions on how to help a struggling or advanced reader," stresses Nancy Zimmerman, president of the American Association of School Librarians. For example, your below-level reader can build confidence by reading easy books aloud to kindergartners. If you have a gifted reader, ask if she could research special projects in the school library and then report back to the class.
Questions to ask:
- Is my child able to read and comprehend class material?
- Are there any activities that frustrate my child?
- What can we do to help, at home and in school?
- Is there a reading specialist who can work with my child on comprehension?
What to do if there's a problem:
- Get help immediately: Request a meeting with the teacher, reading specialist, and school’s child-study team to determine the underlying cause of the problem and find out what remedial instruction is available from the school. Sometimes a child simply needs a few months of extra help with comprehension from the school reading specialist, who works with children in small groups, Vanchieri notes. But if your child reads slowly and choppily and frequently stumbles over words, he probably has not yet mastered word-decoding skills. He will need intensive instruction in letter sounds before he’s able to read fluently and understand what he’s reading. According to research from the National Institutes of Health, 75 percent of children who do not receive help for reading problems until after the age of 9 are likely to have some difficulty reading for the rest of their lives.
- Hire a reading tutor: If your child is not making substantial progress after a few months of school remediation, a tutor can help, advises Susan L. Hall, coauthor of Parenting a Struggling Reader. And consider having your child tested for a learning disability through the school’s committee for special education.
Get Involved in School
Participate in book fairs and read-aloud celebrations. "We have a Parents as Reading Partners Program (PARP), where parents and children are challenged to read at least fifteen minutes a day together," says Elizabeth Sampson, a mom of two from Oriskany, New York. One day a week is designated as "read a T-shirt" or "read a button" day, where kids wear shirts or pins with printed slogans. And on one Saturday each year, parents and children bring blankets, pillows, and a favorite book to the annual read-in at the school gymnasium.
Forming or having your child join a school book club is another way to foster comprehension while making reading a social event. Beth Squier, a mom of a fifth grader from Stamford, Connecticut, heads her school's Parent-Child Book Club. "With help from the teachers, we select a book for each grade," she says. Then the parents and kids read the books, and come together to the school in the evening to discuss them.
- Tune in to tastes: Choose books about subjects that excite your child. If your son has a favorite author or character, start collecting the series. "The more interesting the book is, the less of a chore reading will be," says Vanchieri. Kids need exposure to a variety of literature, he adds, from novels to plays to short stories to non-fiction to comic books. Take your child to the library and bookstore frequently, and let him make his own selections. This is also the perfect age to treat your child to a magazine subscription. Again, let your child's passions be your guide. There's a magazine to suit every interest — from sports to history to video games.
- Keep it fun: "Your role is not to be the teacher, but to be a relaxed, fun reading partner," says Vanchieri. With the nationwide push toward greater educational standards and high-stakes testing, kids have many demands on them in school, he explains. "Home should be the place where kids can curl up with you and read for sheer pleasure -- both silently and aloud." Allow your child to read books from her past if she wants to. "Re-reading familiar favorites gives kids comfort and the confidence they need to master higher level reading," Vanchieri says. Don't quiz your child on comprehension, but do chat casually and ask questions like, "What did you think of that character?" or "What would you do in a situation like that?" Even when your child isn't reading aloud, you can still keep connected by asking "What happened in the story since the last time we read together?" or "What do you like best about that book?"
- Model research skills: Be available to answer your child's questions, too. If he comes across an unknown concept or word, show him how to look it up. Bring school projects to your library and encourage your child to ask the librarian for help. "This teaches kids to become independent learners," says Zimmerman. Also bookmark the library's Web site on your computer. "A lot of parents don't realize that public libraries offer card holders Internet access to expensive reference tools like encyclopedias," says Barbara Genco, President of the Association for Library Service for Children. It's also important to acquaint children with newspapers and weekly news magazines. Not only are these helpful for homework and school projects, but "children learn how pull the important ideas from the first paragraph of informational text," Genco explains. These skills will be in big demand later on in the middle school years, as children face an increasing number of research projects.
"I use the elementary school librarian as a resource for our family outings," says Andrea Atkins, a mother of two from Rye, New York. "When we took the kids to see Man of La Mancha recently, I stopped in and asked her for age-appropriate books on Cervantes and Don Quixote. For a trip to Salem, Massachusetts, she provided some interesting books on the witch trials."