Children need ongoing reading practice in order to make progress. This is especially true for beginning and struggling readers who can be reluctant to read. So, how can parents lighten the load without compromising on reading outcomes?
It is much easier (and effective) to do a little bit often, rather than a long session once in a blue moon. Some children may balk at the sight of books and school readers, so try working with single word flashcards instead. Seize the opportunity to do a bit of “on the fly” reading and to include reading as part of active play.
Use flashcards containing your target words. Ask the school or your speech pathologist to give you some, otherwise, make your own. Use the cards in various games:
Hopscotch: trace a hopscotch frame on the footpath and place word flashcards in it. Your child can read the words as they land in the squares.
Bean bags: use 3 or 4 buckets or containers. Stick a flashcard on each container and ask your child to read the word on the container where the bean bag lands.
Tic-tac-toe: put words in a Tic-Tac-Toe grid and read words as you put noughts or crosses on the grid.
Send your child on a word search: this is good waiting room game! Doctor’s running late? Turn misery into a learning opportunity and see if your child can find a few word to decode. It can be on the cover of a magazine or on the many signs and posters that adorn the waiting room walls. You can do the same at the shops, and hopefully they’ll be so distracted, they won’t even think of asking for that extra packet of biscuits.
Pretend the room is a river guarded by a monster: Use the flashcards as stepping stones. The child can only cross the river if he/she stays on the stepping stones and reads the word before stepping on. Careful not to fall in the river!
Feed a word to a puppet: If you have a puppet with a mouth that opens, it’s even better. Spread a few words on the table and give the puppet to the child. In order for the puppet to be fed, the child requests a word by reading it. In the picture below, we are feeding words to a crocodile. Press the teeth and one of them will make the jaw snap! It's a bit like Russian roulette!
Finding words within a story: Do you read stories to your child? When reading a book, find a few words that are at your child’s reading level and ask them to decode them. Check this example from Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat:
And then he ran out
And, then, fast as a fox,
The Cat in the Hat
Came back in with a box.
This extract contains sight words and, then, he, as, a, the, in, with, out. It contains CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant) ran, fox, cat, hat, box. It contains one CVCC word (consonant-vowel-consonant-consonant) fast and one “ck” word back. Depending on what your focus is (CVC, CCVC, sight words), you can point to a few words and ask your child to decode them. Or you can ask them to find the words within the text. Before they know it, they will find themselves reading a whole sentence. Make sure you tell them that!
Share the load: your child is likely to come back from school with a reader in their backpack. If reading an entire book is too daunting, how about sharing the load? The parent can read every other page or line. When the parent reads, make sure the child follows the text with by pointing at the words.
Of course, your child will have to tackle full sentences and longer text at some point. Working with single words is not an end in itself. It is just something else to do, an alternative to reading text, when your child isn’t motivated and you want to make sure you get some reading practice. Make sure to include a few short sentences in your reading activities, as for some children, reading in context is easier that reading isolated words (this is particularly true of sight words). You could use two-sided flashcards with a single word on one side (e.g. have) and a simple sentence on the other side (e.g. I have a cat). Whatever you do, make sure you keep it bite size and motivating!
Looking for language tips, activities and ideas? This blog is for parents, speech pathologists, teachers, educators and anyone with an interest in speech and language.