It’s a special time for you and your child when your child first reads a book from cover to cover. If your child is near this milestone, I want to offer a few ways of helping your child to not only reach it, but to also read at a higher level. The goal while reading, from my perspective, is not simply to decode and comprehend. The goal is primarily to enjoy reading, to be capable of reading at fast speeds, and to be able to comprehend, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate what is being read in addition to being able to sound out novel words.
By asking the right types of questions, these higher-level thinking skills can be nurtured early in life. With children who are reading books from cover to cover, parents can ask their young children questions about the books they have read to help build these higher-level skills. (I recommend that you also engage your child in writing and speaking in a similar way.)
Go to Libraries and Select Fiction and Nonfiction Books to Help Your Child Develop a Love of Learning
I want to reiterate the importance of going to the library – sometimes with your child and sometimes without your child based on your schedule. Check out hundreds of books a month. I am not exaggerating—try it and see if any changes happen in your home and with your child.
Many libraries limit the number of books that patrons may check out. It may be necessary to go to two or three libraries in order to check out hundreds of books. Try having different bookcases designated for different libraries. As a full-time student who was working full-time, it had to have been a priority or I would not have done it so consistently for years.
As I sometimes mention in my talks, do the best you can. In no way am I trying to make any parent feel guilty. I believe more distractions occur now than 20 years ago. I think it is more difficult to turn off or to ignore electronic distractions that happen while you are reading with your child. Having hundreds of library books in your home will make it much easier for your child to develop a love of stories. Reading with your child using the tips provided in the milestones can help your child’s reading skills. Reading with your child should improve your child’s vocabulary skills in part because there are more infrequently used words in books than in spoken language. Asking questions while reading with your child could help your child’s thinking skills. And reading with your child should help in acquiring knowledge on many topics.
While it might sound like work, you may find that your home transforms into more of a fun learning and play center simply by having a hundred or more new books in your home each month. We were more likely to have the television off, to read and do activities related to the books for hours because of all of the interesting books that we found at libraries. Many parents write to us about how much they enjoy this bonding time with their children when reading and discussing books on numerous topics.
Help Your Child Learn to Read Books from Cover to Cover
- Use books that your child has already memorized to teach reading.
- Ask your child to point to each word as he says them.
- Ask your child to find specific words on a page.
- Write down words from the book on paper or elsewhere.
Write down several of the most frequently used words from the book and see if your child can find them on word cards, on a whiteboard, or some other out-of-context location. If your child gets these correct, then write down more words and play a similar word game to see if she can read the words. If your child needs help learning more of the words in the book, then add the words from the book onto word cards and help your child learn to read the words. Once you are convinced that your child has not only memorized the story, but also the written words in the story, then it is safe to say that your child is reading the book.
- Find some books that are below your child’s current level of reading
Reading a simple baby book from cover to cover that your child has not seen much is a great accomplishment. You could review some of the words that are in the book prior to your child reading it. Baby books are great for many babies, toddlers, and preschoolers because they usually don’t have too many words on the same page. Some young children—even when they can phonetically read every single word individually—don’t like too many words on one page. (I explain this in more detail in the “Reading Two- And Three-Word Phrases” and “Reading Sentences” Milestones.)
You can help your child gradually transition from reading books with a small number of words to books with more words.
You may be able to teach your child to read these books silently by describing “silent reading” and modeling how to do it. I remember using words such as “look at the words without saying them” with my very young daughters to describe the meaning of silent reading.
- Find books that match your child’s current level of reading
- Introduce or review the most frequently used words in the book prior to reading it.
- Point to individual words in the book, or write the words down elsewhere. You may want to have a blank piece of paper to cover up the pictures and some of the other text while reading books to help isolate the text. Ask your child to find words in the book and review any of the words that you believe your child may have trouble reading.
- Read these books with your child and help as much as needed.
- Some pages may have too many words or too many unfamiliar words – help your child when needed. Remember, one of the keys is that your child enjoys reading the books. Move at a fast pace and use the books to learn new words.
- Find books that are just higher than your child’s current reading level
Reading books with your child that are just higher than your child’s current reading level has many advantages, including learning new vocabulary, building thinking skills, and nurturing a love of stories. If there are difficult sections of the book, your child’s task could be to point to the words while you read to him. This would keep your child engaged with the print, which is critical for learning to read. Get in the habit of letting your child read the last word of each sentence in these situations. Gradually, transition from you reading most of the book to your child reading most of it.
- Take turns reading sentences or pages and help your child as much as needed.
- Point to words from left to right as they are spoken when there are not too many words per page.
- Cover up a line or two with a sheet of paper, so your child only sees some of the words.
A really good method is for one person to point to the words, while the other person reads them. Try taking turns doing this. In other words, your child can point to words while you are reading them, then you can point to words when your child is reading, then switch roles. Your child should focus on the words while you read them in order to learn new words. The average 4- or 5-year-old generally only focuses on words for 5 seconds per book for a two-minute book when the parent is reading to a child1, so this is not the typical way that reading is done. It is, however, a fantastic way of teaching reading once your child has a base of being able to read a hundred words or more.
- Find books that are significantly higher than your child’s current reading level
Find the right balance between ‘challenging’ and ‘too difficult’ when it comes to using these books to help teach reading skills. Some books should be read for the love or joy of stories without teaching reading because the books are too difficult. These books can be used to help your child’s vocabulary and to encourage higher-level thinking skills. By checking out hundreds of books from the library every month, there will be many books that keep your child’s interest. If you come across a book that isn’t interesting or well written, quickly move on to the next book. You want this to be a very enjoyable experience, so interact in a joyous, but also curious, manner. Read these books with your child and ask many questions. Based on your child’s answers, probe deeper and ask additional questions.
- Model these behaviors:
- Read fluently – use inflection properly for questions and statements, pause at periods, etc.
- Use character voices and be animated when appropriate.
- Talk about the main ideas in the book or the moral of the story.
- Pay attention to punctuation and occasionally point it out to your child if needed.
- Read books silently. This will be important for the next milestone – “Fast Reading.”
- Read in another language. This can help with learning advanced phonics skills as well as learning many other thinking and language skills.
- Summarize stories.
- Evaluate what you liked and what you didn’t like about the books.
- Compare and contrast books.
- Talk about the main ideas in the book or the moral of the story.
- Ask Questions:
- Ask questions to see if your child understands what was read. If your child doesn’t understand the meanings of many of the words in a book, you can either describe them while you read or you could look up the some of the meanings before or after reading the book. Later, you may want to reread that book if your child enjoyed it.
- Gradually make your questions more and more challenging. Wait for your child to answer. If your toddler can’t verbalize much, then ask “yes” or “no” questions or multiple-choice types of questions.
- Ask your child to guess (or predict) what might happen next, how the book is similar or different from other books that you have read together, how she would like stories to end before you are finished reading the story, to summarize the book, and to describe what he liked or disliked about the book.
- Make your own books:
Make a list of words that your child can read. It could be many of the 166 key words that are on the Your Baby Can Learn Teaching Cards plus some other words. Write a story using words primarily from this list. You can write a story by yourself to model how to do it or you can write a story together with your child. You may want to write the stories on a whiteboard, on paper, using a laptop, or with something else. Once you are happy with your story, you can quickly turn it into a book either using folded paper, a photo album, or construction paper, etc. I remember making many simple books by using inexpensive photo albums I found at a discount store. I printed the words for the book with a printer since my handwriting is not neat. I added photos or drawings to the book. You can print short phrases to go above or below the photos or you could put words on one page and the photo on the next. You could also make the book a lift-the-flap book by putting a flap over each image, similar to the YBCL books. You or your child could even draw pictures for your books. You may not want to write too many words on the same page for your child to read if you want your child to read the book independently right away.
You could make several books about your child. For example, “Joshua Plays!” could show photos of your child playing with blocks, toy cars, words, a favorite toy, words and the objects they represent, etc. Near each photo, you could write a very short phrase such as: “Joshua is playing!” “Joshua is playing with blocks.” “Now, Joshua is playing with a toy car.” You could also write stories about a typical day: “Joshua is sleeping.” “Joshua wakes up.” “Joshua is eating breakfast.” “Joshua is reading words.” and so on. It is helpful to early readers to see many of the same words repeatedly.
- Encourage your child to write books:
Not only can encouraging your child to write books motivate her to read, but you can begin nurturing your child’s writing abilities. Your child may say the story aloud while you write down the words as she says them. You can reread it together and allow your child to revise it before making it more permanent. Keep the books and record your child’s age each time she writes a new book.
A 2014 study found that 66% of 4th graders are not reading at grade level in the US.2 The studies are consistent that learning to read earlier has long-term advantages3,4,5,6 compared to learning to read at later ages. Know that by starting early, you have already taken a really important step to help your child read at more advanced levels.
1 Evans, M. A. & Saint-Aubin, J. (2005). What Children Are Looking at During Shared Storybook Reading Evidence From Eye Movement Monitoring. Psychological Science, 16(11), 913-920.
2 Early Reading Proficiency in the United States. (2014). The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
3 Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., et al. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1428–1446.
4 Durkin, D. (1966). The Achievement of Pre-School Readers: Two Longitudinal Studies. Reading Research Quarterly, 1(4), 5-36.
5 Hanson, R. A., and D. Farrell. 1995. The long-term effects on high school seniors of learning to read in kindergarten. Reading Research Quarterly 30(4), 908–933.
6 Sénéchal, M., & LeFevre, J. A. (2003). Parental Involvement in the Development of Children’s Reading Skill: A Five-Year Longitudinal Study. Child Development, 73(2), 445–460.