Tips to Help Improve Your Child's Reading Skills


Is your child's reading struggles sapping his back-to-school enthusiasm? A Westchester-based children's literacy consultant shares three tips to improve his reading skills, including visualizing, questioning, and taking notes.

boy reading
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September brings the opportunity for new beginnings, seeing old and meeting new friends, and settling into a routine again, but many families find the back-to-school season to be filled with anxiety and even fear. While students should be having fun and enjoying the learning process, some secretly struggle with reading issues that derail their confidence, hinder their progress, and potentially make school a less than pleasurable experience. Parents, take heart: This doesn’t have to be a sufferable experience if you are armed with a few useful and simple approaches. Get ready, your strategy toolbox is about to be restocked!

Let me state up front that you don’t need to be a reading teacher with a degree in literacy in order to make a big impact on your child’s reading ability. The only things you need to have are a few minutes in the evenings or even just on weekends to chat about books and reading with your child, and the strategies outlined below. While there are dozens of helpful hints that parents can try with their child to improve reading ability, the following three are some of the best I know to make huge improvements in a short period of time.

1. Learn to visualize.

Reading is thinking. There is no simpler way to put it. When a child is reading a story, a poem, a letter, or a description, he should be thinking in his mind about what is going on. What also needs to happen along with this thinking is the creation of a mental picture or image of the scene, guided by the words on the page. If your child is not creating this picture in his head, then he is going to have a hard time understanding the story—because without visualizing, the reader cannot imagine what is happening.

How to improve visualization skills? If your child is in the primary grades, use picture books to read aloud. Model what you are seeing in your mind when a particularly vivid scene arises. If your child is older, an effective method is the shared reading experience—both of you read the same piece and talk about what you “picture in your brain” when you read it. Have your child explain what he sees. If it helps, draw a picture on paper to capture this image to further the connection between words and images. With practice, your child will gain confidence in his mental images and become independent with this skill.

2. Learn to ask questions.

Children often think that asking questions signifies that they don’t understand the story. However, the opposite is actually the case. Good readers ask lots of questions! The reading leads us to wonder and want to know more than what is on the page. So when readers ask questions, it means they are thinking deeply about the text, and this is good! Readers should ask about why the author chose to portray a character a certain way, or why a character made a particular choice. She can question whether or not she agrees with a decision that was made, as well as consider what will happen next in the story.

How to improve questioning skills? Parents should model curiosity. Ask questions aloud with your child, demonstrating how wondering is something to be proud of. The world is full of unknowns, and it is exciting to question and learn more. Ask your child, “What do you wonder?” after reading a story or having a discussion. By the way, the answers are not important; the questions are! Tell your child that when she questions, you know she is thinking hard about the story.

3. Learn to take notes.

Good readers write while reading. They mark the text with many thoughts, including what they are visualizing as well as what questions they have. Arm your child with colored pens and pencils, funky markers, and highlighters and allow him to use them to highlight the text and write his thoughts. The book is not yours? No problem! Use sticky notes or a journal to write your thoughts down instead.

How to improve writing in the text? Repetition! Remind your child often to write what he is thinking, and help him break the old mindset that writing in books is not acceptable. Give him the freedom to mark the text and the fun tools to do it. Find some stickers so your child can put a star or heart next to his favorite lines. Share one of your own marked-up books with him (get creative!).

And don’t think that if your child is reading on a tablet or other electronic device that note taking is out of the question: Kindle and Nook e-readers (as well as their respective apps available for iPad, for instance), iBooks, and other interfaces allow users to highlight text as well as type searchable notes (Adobe Reader and Notability apps even let students doodle and annotate in their own handwriting).

The most important thing to remember is that reading is thinking. If children are not actively thinking while reading, then they are not comprehending. Give your child the comprehension strategies she needs to read anything that comes her way. If you work on these together, you’ll both be off to a great start.

Megan Collins, Ed.D., is a Westchester-based children’s literacy consultant.

Also see:

How to Encourage Kids to Read for Fun