Helping Your Kindergartner Learn to Read

Parents can do a lot to support their kindergarten aged children who are in the process of learning how to read. Children come to reading at different ages and different speeds. Don’t feel disappointed, concerned, or frustrated if your kindergarten age child is not already reading novels.

You are welcome to feel proud if your child is already reading proficiently, definitely. But don’t worry if they aren’t.

If your child is in school, it is the primary responsibility of the teachers in the school to help teach your child learn to read. But that doesn’t mean that parents should sit on the sidelines and not participate. There is a lot of good to be gained from being an active participant in your child’s learning to read journey.

So what can a parent do to help?

Experts agree across-the-board that the most important thing a parent of a kindergarten age child who is in the learning to read process is to sit down with your child and read aloud to them.

I know this is what is recommended for parents to do with younger children, starting from infancy all the way through kindergarten. And this recommendation doesn’t change.

If you are already reading to your child, there are other things you can do as well. These activities don’t have to involve sitting down with a book and having a child sound out words. During the learning to read process, a child is learning tons about language. So you can make working with language fun.

Engage your child in playing with language, even spontaneously. Tell knock-knock jokes or riddles or laugh about tongue twisters. Sing silly songs and play rhyming games. Play I spy with my little eye. When shopping for groceries, let the child hold the list and show you the letters that are on it, or even point out the various food items such as fruits and vegetables that they recognize.

Everywhere you are, point out the words to your child, even if they can’t read them. Seeing all of the information that is out there, and what a child could know about if they just knew how to read may inspire them to work a little bit harder at learning the various letters and sounds that they make to have the key to all of this knowledge that adults possess.

Another thing you can do with your child who is just learning how to read and cannot write yet is help them make the connection between the spoken word and written word. You can ask the child to say words and then watch you write them down, on paper, in the dirt, or even in the sand. If she has made a drawing, ask her to give it a title and then write the title down on the drawing for her. When you are reading aloud, put a finger under the word and show her which word you are saying as you are reading.

Another fun thing to do is to help your child write a story. Ask her to think up a wild tale and then have her dictate a story to you. Let her imagination run wild, and then have her tell you the story and you can write it down. Though once the story is written, you can put the story into a book and she can draw the pictures for it. Another fun thing to do with technology is to have her dictate her story to your cell phone or other device and you will end up with a typed version of the story pretty easily.

Ask your child a lot of questions about the books that you are reading to encourage comprehension and understanding. This will help them engage more actively in the material rather than sitting by idly as you read to them.

Another thing that you might not think of is to spend a lot of time with a child going through their art or other paperwork that they bring home from school. Not to critique it, but instead to show her how much you value her hard work at school. Look at the drawings or scribbling with her, and ask her to explain them or tell you about them. Show her that you think her work is great, and she will associate positive reinforcement along with her work. Even if the work is misspelled, or completely illegible.

If you feel the need to gather resources or purchase items to help you work on reading in the home, here are some things that you could consider getting to assist you. You could obtain magnetic letters, blocks with letters on them or letter flashcards. Simple games are a great way to encourage reading and the skills that lead to writing, such as Bingo, lottery games, or even games like Candyland or Sorry. These games involve numbers and cards, and the child can learn to recognize the numbers and also to do the counting around the board.

Workbooks can be a great way for the child to practice the skills involved with writing, but they don’t always have to be books that involve writing letters or numbers. Any sort of work that involves a child holding a pen or pencil and using it contributes to learning to write.

Books with mazes are actually a really great way to encourage the hand-eye coordination that leads to writing. The child learns to look at the page and follow the maze either with a finger or a pencil, and you will see you over time that their control improves and they are able to hold the pencil and draw in the maze rather than crossing all of the lines.

You can also purchase computer software for teaching the alphabet letter sounds and others but generally those aren’t my preference, because they involve a screen and they can also introduce more stimulation than you are really looking for in the learning to read process. Books that focus on the alphabet or really great, and I recommend them. Floor mats with letters on them can be really fun because the children can jump from letter to letter and number to number. 

To encourage your child’s comprehension and interest in reading and writing, here are some other specific things that you can do while reading to your child. Let your child take a look at the book before you read it, and let him turn the pages before you start saying the words.

When you get ready to start the book, talk about the title, and point out the specific words that make up the title. Explain what an author is and that an author is a person who wrote of the book. Over time, the child may begin to recognize their favorite authors. Tell them what an illustrator is, or a photographer, if that person is different than the author.

I think it’s a great idea to let your child pick out the book that they want to read. This will help generate enthusiasm for the session, and also help them develop an interest in specific types of books, such as long story books or story books that are full of pictures about fire trucks.

If you start a book and find that the child is not that interested in it or is very squirmy, or wants to skip to another book, don’t force her to sit through the book to the end. The whole point of the exercise is to have fun with reading, so if getting another book and starting it is what she wants to do, then that’s totally fine.

After you finish reading a book, discuss the events that happened in the book in order. See if she can remember what happened first and then second, or what happened after a specific event. This will give you an idea of how much she is actually engaged as you read and if she is paying attention. If you find that she cannot answer any of your questions about what happened in the book, she might be struggling with reading comprehension, or she might just be daydreaming. If she doesn’t follow along well, you may need to stop more often during the book and asked her questions to check on her engagement.

During or afterwards, ask your child a lot of questions about the book that start with who, what, where, when, and why. Remember, if she can’t remember, that’s no big deal. This is supposed to be fun, and see if reminding her of what happened in the story inspires her to be able to answer your questions about a specific event.

Another thing that can be fun and is to work on memorization of a short poem or passage in the story. It’s pretty hard to learn how to memorize things and it’s a good sign that your child is coming along in her reading and comprehension if she is able to remember a short poem and recite it back to you. Don’t be frustrated if she is unable to get it or is not that interested in doing it, but if she is, it can be fun and then also an opportunity for her to perform this poem and gain some other confidence speaking in front of other people.

If you read a particularly interesting book that involves lots of action, you and your kids can act out what happens in the book as you read it. If it’s a book that is familiar to you, then the child knows what is coming and can do the movements as you read it. I sat and read Alice and Wonderland to my kids last summer, and we did some acting during the scenes when Alice was eating the cupcake and growing larger and smaller as she tried to figure out how to get where she wanted to go in Wonderland.

Do you find yourself wondering what your kindergarten age child is actually doing in school to learn how to read? Here are some of the key components you will see in a kindergarten reading program.

Overall, the program is going to be helping your child to develop oral language, such as speaking and listening. This might not sound whole lot like reading, but the more words that a child knows, recognizes, and understands, the easier it will be for her to read the words when she sees them eventually on a paper.

Children will be asked to answer questions or talk about books or stories that they have heard, and sometimes even to retail or summarize a story or book that they have heard.

Naturally, there will be a lot of work to develop the child’s knowledge about what the alphabet looks like and is, in both upper and lowercase letters. If the child is ready to write, they will be giving plenty of opportunities to learn to write letters, either through handwriting practice or through tracing.

There will also be a ton of phonics work. And what is phonics? Practicing phonics is the learning and practicing the sounds that the letters make, separate and apart from what a letter looks like. Understanding what sound a letter makes is a key component of deciphering the code of how you put letters together to make a word.

In kindergarten, there will be lots of listening activities, which will give children an opportunity to pay attention to the sounds in words so that they can understand that sounds are different. As they move through the year, and gain more understanding of basic phonics, they will also be introduced to combination letter sounds such as CH, TH, and CK.

Finally, to support your kindergarten age child in her learning to read journey, talk to your child’s teacher regularly about her progress, and get recommendations from him/her to assist. The teacher will know exactly where your child is in her progress, and can suggest specifics for you to work on at home.

Before you take off, check out one of these other great posts from our wonderful Mom Advice Line community:

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