Parents are their children’s first teachers. Through speaking, listening, and reading to their children, parents help them move along the path to literacy.
How Parents Can Help Their Children Learn to Read
Speaking and Listening
Babies are born with their brains “hardwired” to learn language. Listening and speaking develop naturally, but reading and writing must be learned. Parents can help their children develop language skills by talking with them about everyday events, such as a trip to the grocery store. Tell your child stories and share books. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to use big words. That is how children learn new ideas and new vocabulary words.
Sounds in Words
Words are made up of individual sounds. Every would-be reader must be able to hear these sounds, pronounce each one individually, then put them back together again. (For example, /h/ /a/ /t/ are the sounds in hat.) Parents can help their children tune into individual sounds by asking them what sound they hear at the beginning, end, or middle of a word.
Sounding Out Words
Students begin to read written words when they can match letters (written symbols) to the sounds they make. Parents can help their children by pointing out patterns in words (such as rhyming words, cat, fat, hat, sat). When they try to read a new word, encourage them to “sound it out” instead of looking at the picture for help.
Knowledge of the World
By having different kinds of experiences, children gain facts, information, and skills that help them understand the world around them. This, in turn, helps them make sense of what they are reading. Parents can help their children learn about the world by engaging them in everyday experiences—like cooking dinner—and taking them places where they will see, hear, taste, touch, smell, and think about new things. Have fun together at a festival, parade, picnic, farmer’s market, concert, museum, zoo, ball game, or the beach. Sign up for a library card. Experience the world by sharing all kinds of books with your child.
What Words Mean
In order for a child to understand what s/he is reading, s/he must understand what the words mean. Children who have a large vocabulary—recognizing words and knowing their meaning/s—will become better readers and writers. Parents can help their children learn new vocabulary by pointing out interesting and unfamiliar words, helping them understand their meaning/s, and encouraging them to use them. Ask your child to write the word and draw a picture of it. Hang up each word on the refrigerator or wall, clip them to ribbon, or collect words in a jar. Each day ask your child to use one of the new words in a sentence. Or have them make up a story using several of the words.
The ability to make meaning—that is, understand what is being read—is the goal of reading. Parents can help their children by checking their understanding of the text they are reading. Parents can ask questions about information in the story—“Who?,” What?,” “Where?,” and “When?,”—as well as questions that children need to think about—“How?,” “Why?”. Or have your child tell you the story in his or her own words.
10 Things You Can Do to Raise a Reader
“Once you’ve seen science-based reading instruction delivered well, you’ll want it for your kids.*”
Resources for Parents
Colorín Colorado is a bi-lingual site that provides information, activities, and advice for teachers of English language learners (ELLs) and their families.
Connecticut Commission on Children (now the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors) has promoted public policies in the best interests of Connecticut’s children since 1985, when it was created through bipartisan action of the state legislature. Its long record of success includes work in early childhood education and reading. The Commission’s Parent Leadership Training Institute trains, inspires, and empowers parents to become effective advocates for children.
Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center is a statewide nonprofit organization that offers information and support to families of children with any disability or chronic illness, age birth through 26. The Center is committed to the idea that parents can be the most effective advocates for their children, given the confidence that knowledge and understanding of special education law and its procedures can bring.
CT Parent Information Resource Center (PIRC) “is guided by the belief that families from ALL races and ALL cultures have strengths and can play a critical role in their children’s educational success. CT PIRC has been recognized as a statewide leader in leveraging parent engagement efforts, providing resources and services to anyone who has a stake and/or a role in children’s educational success.”
National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) connects parents and others with essential resources, provides educators with evidence-based tools, and engages advocates in public policy initiatives.
Reading Rockets.org is a national educational service of WETA, Washington, D.C.’s flagship public television and radio station. The goal of the project is to provide information on how young kids learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help. Parents can sign up for their newsletter, read blogs, tips, and more.
Read to Grow promotes language skills and literacy for children, beginning at birth, and supports parents as their babies’ first teachers. In partnership with community organizations, has created new Book Places in Connecticut. Families can visit these sites, close to their homes, and choose free books for their children.
Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities®, co-founded by Margie Gillis, is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the parents of children with learning disabilities (LD) and attention-deficit disorder (ADHD). Parents can sign up for their newsletter, read blogs, tips, and more.
Understood aims “to help the millions of parents whose children, ages 3–20, are struggling with learning and attention issues,” including daily access to free expert advice, resources, tips, and a secure parent community.
Some children experience difficulty learning how to read.
Known as “SEEDS” kids, this group is comprised of:
- Struggling readers and learners from all socioeconomic groups,
- Economically disadvantaged children,
- English language learners, and students with
- Dyslexia, and
- Specific Learning Disabilities.
In order to keep these—and all children—from falling into the achievement gap, parents need to
- understand their child’s individual strengths and weaknesses.
- insist upon early identification of problems—catching children before they fail.
- determine whether their child’s school offers evidence-based literacy instruction—which leads to higher achievement for children of all abilities.
- require that their child receive proven interventions.
- partner with teachers to support and monitor their child’s progress.
- request technological supports.
Help for Students Who Struggle
If you are a parent—or teacher—of a struggling reader, go to SLD/Dyslexia to learn more about identifying, instructing, and empowering these students.
*Tyre, P. (2011). The good school. How smart parents get their kids the education they deserve. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, p.113.