Helping Your Child Improve Reading Skills

Even on a "Busy Day" for "Busy People," reading is a wonderful way to expand children's worlds and to bond children and caregivers, and one that can start at birth. It also is a crucial way to help children gain the language and literacy skills needed for a good start in school.
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When my grandson Woody comes to visit, a favorite thing to do is curl up on the couch together with a good storybook. For instance, on his next visit, I look forward to introducing him to Busy Day, Busy People. Like most two-and-a-half year olds, Woody loves exploring his world, and learning about that world through books. I know that he will enjoy the pictures of the construction workers, digging dirt and pouring cement. And I know even more deeply what a joy it is to help him discover the world.

Even on a "Busy Day" for "Busy People," reading is a wonderful way to expand children's worlds and to bond children and caregivers, and one that can start at birth. It also is a crucial way to help children gain the language and literacy skills needed for a good start in school.

The effects of early reading ability are far-reaching. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Reading proficiency by third grade is the most significant predictor of high school graduation and career success, yet two-thirds of U.S. third-graders lack competent reading skills."

To help your child develop these important skills, make reading a daily activity, starting on day one.

Reading at Every Age

Here are a few strategies to engage your child and promote reading every day:

  • For infants, develop early language skills by repeating babies' babbles and coos and smiling back, showing that you hear their sounds. Also talk to babies with words, pausing to give them an opportunity to learn about the structure of conversations. Board books and cloth books are made to withstand babies' touching and chewing; let them explore.

  • For toddlers, it's okay if they request to read the same book over and over (we've all been there, over and over again). Repetition helps children become familiar with words and what they look like in print. Point to the pictures and text as you read, and encourage children to tell you about the pictures they see. Ask open-ended questions (who, what, where, when, and why) to give children an opportunity to talk about the book.
  • For preschoolers, read predictable books and pause in your reading so they can supply a familiar word or rhyme. Ask children about their favorite parts of the book or what they think will happen next in a story.
  • For kindergarteners and first graders, have children explain stories in their own words and make connections to their own lives. Read from magazines, fiction and nonfiction books, and even age-appropriate websites to help children develop an interest in the world and gain more background knowledge to support reading comprehension.
  • For second and third graders, listen to them read aloud and have them reread paragraphs or pages if they have trouble. Be patient as they are learning, and let them know you're proud of their effort. Help them use a dictionary or thesaurus to learn about new words they hear, and discuss with them what they read.
  • Reading frequently with children also is a good way to notice early whether they are having worrisome difficulties, so you can discuss concerns with their teachers and request additional help if needed.

    When Reading is a Struggle

    Learning to read is a process that, for many people, doesn't come easy.

    At the National Institutes of Health, we are supporting research to better understand the causes of reading problems and to intervene more quickly and effectively so problems don't compound. For example:

    • Researchers are peeking into the brain's inner-workings, examining brain waves and brain scans to find ways to predict which children may have trouble learning to read before they get to school. Once identified, the children may be fast-tracked to interventions designed to help them overcome their reading difficulties.
  • Building on the successful program Reach Out and Read, researchers created a new approach to promote early childhood learning at pediatric visits. Through the Video Interaction Project, parents learn ways to read to and play with their children to foster optimal cognitive, linguistic, and social development.
  • We also are supporting research to explore how reading disorders overlap with other disabilities, such as math or writing disabilities or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And, for non-native English speakers, we want to disentangle when learning delays are due to disabilities or simply to challenges of learning a second language.

    Ultimately, our hope is for all children to have the chance to achieve their full potential for healthy and productive lives. Early learning is a key part of that. And just like the construction crew in Woody's next book, reading builds a strong foundation.

    For more resources on reading and reading disorders, visit the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development website

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