TRT Podcast#10: How to support reading at home
How do you help your child grow as a reader when school is cancelled?
Can you really do this when you don’t have a degree in education?
Absolutely! And I’ll show you how in just four simple steps.
You’ve got this.
Full episode transcript
You are listening to Episode 10: How To Support Reading At Home. This episode is brought to you by The Measured Mom Plus, my affordable online membership for teaching learners in pre-K through grade three. To check it out, please visit themeasuredmomplus.com. S
o I'm recording this episode in April of 2020, when millions of parents all around the world find our children at home with us all day instead of at school. Schools are canceled due to the coronavirus, and while we're not homeschooling in the traditional sense, we find ourselves in a very unique situation. We're not 100% responsible for our children's education because many of their teachers are teaching remotely to some extent, but it's up to us as the parents to make sure that this work gets done. I know that many of you listening to this podcast are not trained teachers, which is why I've received many emails from parents asking, "How can I support my child's reading at home?"
Teaching reading is a huge topic, which I'm sure you know. This would explain why I have dozens and dozens of posts about how to teach reading on my blog, themeasuredmom.com, as well as hundreds if not thousands of free printables for supporting readers. I even have a whole eight week course about teaching reading; it's called Teaching Every Reader. So the point of this episode is not to try to cover all of those things. It's not going to be to break down how to teach reading step-by-step. Instead, I'm going to keep this really simple and doable. I'll be sharing four steps to supporting your child's reading at home.
Step number one, make sure your child reads every day.
This is extremely obvious, and yet it's easily overlooked. If your child has to practice a musical instrument, you know how easy it is to skip something that's supposed to be happening every day. I can certainly speak from experience here. My husband teaches our kids piano lessons. I'm also a pianist so I can help them during the week and check up with them. Sometimes at the end of the week he'll say, "So are we ready for piano lessons?" And I'll think, "Well, I had good intentions this week of making sure that all of them practiced every day, but now that I think about it, I don't think they did."
Same story here. We have good intentions, but if we don't have a consistent routine for making sure it happens, it may not. Now, my oldest two kids breathe reading, so I never have to tell them to read ever, probably in their whole lives. They just choose to read. But for my next two kids, who are two boys in second and fourth grade, reading is not the thing they go to automatically. So if they have some extra time and it's at least 40 degrees outside, they will go outside and play football or basketball or soccer in our yard or driveway. It's up to me to make sure they read every day.
And when that is not included on a list of things from the teacher, I have to make sure it happens. When my fourth grader was in about second or third grade, I really had to tackle this. He could read fine orally, but his comprehension was very poor. So every day after school when he wanted to go outside and play, I had him sit and read to me for 20 minutes. We had simple chapter books that we worked with and we stopped after every few pages to talk about them. It took some time, but now he's a wonderful reader and picks up books on his own. If you find it's hard to keep track to make sure your child is actually reading every day, I recommend some kind of visual system. You could try a family calendar and a set of stickers; have your child put a little sticker in the corner of each date after he or she has read. Then maybe after they've reached a certain streak, maybe 10 days in a row of reading for 20 minutes, you give them some kind of reward.
Now, I totally understand that in this unique situation we're in, getting your child to read every day is only part of the challenge. You also have to find something for your child to read. This is not as easy as it normally would be. Typically, I would tell you to find books at your child's library and I would give you suggestions depending on your child's reading level. Well, most of our libraries are closed indefinitely, and this makes it hard. You probably don't want to invest in a whole lot of books brought to you by a delivery person. You want to find something online. So in addition to working from the books that you have in your house, there are some different online resources that you can use to get reading material for your child. And by far my top recommendation is readinga-z.com.
Now, I personally have a paid membership to this even though during a regular school year my kids are not homeschooled; they go to school. I still have it because as a mom who's excited about supplementing what my kids learn at school, I like to print books from there to use with my kindergartner and sometimes even my older kids. A year's subscription costs currently about $110, but I'm pretty sure that while the schools are closed, Reading A-Z has an extended free trial. So while you're on that free trial, you can download any of the books from the website that you want. They have phonetic books to build phonics skills, and they have leveled readers. Most likely what you're going to be using a lot of is the leveled readers, and you can ask your child's teacher what level your child is at. So I'm talking about the guided reading levels that go from A to Z.
A very, very, very beginning reader is going to be at level A or B. Someone who's starting to read books like Frog and Toad, if you're familiar with that one, they would be at about level J. And then if they're reading books like the Magic Tree House Books, that's level M. So you want to talk to your child's teacher through email and find out what level approximately your child is reading and then print some books from readinga-z.com. If you don't have a printer or you don't to print things because you're running out of ink, no problem. The books usually come in a projectable form so that in a classroom a teacher could just project it page by page on a screen. You can use that at home. Just open up the book and have your child use an arrow to move to the next page, and they can read it on the screen. So I highly, highly, highly recommend readinga-z.com for reading material.
You can also use Epic, which is free for teachers, not for home, but it's free for teachers and my understanding is that the teacher just has to do some kind of technical thing to make sure that your child can access that account at home for free. The great thing about Epic is it has a variety of high quality children's literature to read. It also has Read To Me, which my kindergartner loves to use. She likes to listen to it read books to her, like audio books with the pictures, and it also has a lot of great educational videos that are safe for kids to watch without ads or anything like that. The tricky part about Epic though is that it can be hard to find books at your child's reading level. So my top recommendation is readinga-z.com. If you have a child who's more fluent as a reader and it's not such a big issue to find books at their level, then Epic is also a great choice.
I do want to also say that if your child is a very, very, very beginning reader, so just getting started, I have a lot of free sight word books and phonics books on my website that you can download for free. So I will provide links to those in the show notes, which you can financial at themeasuredmom.com/episode10. And one last thing about finding reading material, if you're a member of The Measured Mom Plus you have access to additional reading material for your kids. So each month I add new literacy resources that are not on the free site, including reading passages and partner plays. The partner plays are great because you can read a part, your child can read a part and then you can switch. And so they're fun for rereading and building fluency. So that was step number one to make sure your child reads every day.
Step number two is to listen to your child read and coach as needed. It's very easy when listening to a beginning reader or even to one who's more advanced to jump in and correct every word that's wrong. You don't want to do that. You want your kids to solve those words themselves. Just to be clear, if your child is reading at a reading level that's appropriate for him or her, they're not going to be stopping at words constantly. They should be able to read pretty fluently and only be getting tripped up once in a while. So if your child is reading to you and they're constantly getting tripped up by words, you need to back up and read a simpler book. With that said, when your child is stuck on a word, here are some things that you can say. "What sound does this letter make? Let me hear you make that sound. Okay. How about this letter? Now let's put the sounds together."
Something else you could try is often they have all the sounds correct except for the vowel. So you might say, "You almost have it. Make the vowel say its other sound or make the A say its other sound." Sometimes the trouble comes with longer words. So you can cover up the ending and ask, "What does this first chunk say? Now, what does this chunk say? Put those together to say the word." Sometimes when kids are very young readers, they need the pictures as clues to help them read. So you could say, "Look at the letters in this word and now look at the picture. Does the picture help you figure out the word?" Something else you could talk to them about is have them think about what's going on in the story and then say, "Look at the word. Look at the picture. Think about what's happening in this story. What could this word be?" If a word is really tough, so it might be beyond your child's phonetic ability, you know your child will not be able to sound it out currently, and that's fine.
You can tell them to skip the word until they get to the end of the sentence then come back and try again, and often thinking about what would make sense as well as using the phonic skills they do have, that can help them solve the tricky word. If your child reads a word incorrectly, try not to jump in right away. Wait until they get to the end of the sentence, because often your child will make the correction all on his or her own. So she'll read the sentence and she'll realize, oh, that didn't make sense, and she'll go back and fix it. So that's awesome, but if you notice your child is not doing that and is just moving right on, then you would want to stop them and ask them questions. Things like this. "Did that make sense? Did you read all the words in that sentence correctly? Look at the letters closely. Try this word again." Or, "That didn't sound right to me. Could you go back to the beginning of the sentence and try that sentence again?"
So there you have it. That was step number two, listen to your child read and coach as needed. Step number three is to ask the right questions. And in this step we're really focusing on comprehension because if your child is reading all the words correctly but doesn't understand what was read, the child is not really reading. Your child is just word calling. And so we want to make sure that your child understands what he or she is reading. This can get tricky if your child is reading chapter books that you've never read because you may not know what questions to ask. So I'm going to help you through that with this step. If you're listening to your child reading, you're sitting right next to him or her, then asking the right questions is easy. You're going to pause every so often to monitor comprehension and you're going to try to keep your questions as open ended as possible. This is really hard to do, but think conversation not quiz. So you're trying to get your child to talk with you about the book and not just answer question after question that you're firing at them.
So these questions should happen before the reading, during and after. So before reading you could ask things like, "What clues does this title give you about the book? Do you think this will be a fiction book or a nonfiction?" Or if your child doesn't know those words, "Do you think this book will be imaginary or real? What do you already know about this topic? What types of things do you think the author is going to teach us in this book?" And that would be for a nonfiction book. As they're reading, you can stop every couple of pages and ask questions like this. "Why do you think the character did that? What do you think is going to happen next? What do you think this word means? Have you ever felt like this character or has something like this ever happened to you?" And then when your child is done reading, you can ask summary type questions like, "Tell me about the beginning, middle, and end of this book." Or, "What was the problem in this story? How did the character solve it?"
So as you can see, there's a variety of things you can ask and it's not too hard to think of those questions if you're listening to your child read. The hard part comes when you have a reader who is reading independently and you don't have time or the interest in reading the whole book to make sure you know what questions to ask and if the child is even answering them correctly. So first I recommend scanning the book yourself. You can learn a lot just by paging through it, looking at chapter titles, and especially reading that summary on the back. So give yourself a general idea of what the book is about, and then notice your child's demeanor when you ask the questions. If your child is getting defensive or looks nervous or uncomfortable when you're asking questions about the book, that's a good sign that comprehension isn't all that great.
So if you find that it's becoming a battle to get anything out from your child, like you say, "Tell me about this book," and they say, "I can't remember," I've been in your shoes, I had a child who did that, and so if that happens, you are going to want to do some intervention. You'll want to sit and have your child actually read to you. And then after every few pages you stop, put a hand in it, close it and say, "Okay, let's talk about what we've read so far." I'm going to repeat something I mentioned earlier, and that is try not to make this a quiz. Think mini book club, just you and your kid, and not a test. This is really hard to do and I fail at this half the time, but it's just something to think about. You want this to be an enjoyable time and not a testing time, so try to ask open ended questions that could have different answers.
Try not to wait until your child is completely done with a chapter book before asking about it because if there were comprehension issues early on, it's going to be really hard to remedy those. It's best to have your child read a chapter and then talk to you about it. Then you can talk about the book as a whole when your child has finished. So some things you can ask after a chapter would be, "What's the most important thing that happened in this chapter?" Or, "If you had to tell me about this chapter in just a couple of sentences, what would you tell me? What problem is the main character having in this chapter?" Or if your child is reading nonfiction, you could say, "What do you think is the most important thing you learned in this chapter?" Or, "What's the most important thing the author wants you to know?"
If you have more than one child at home reading or you're also working from home while your child is doing "homeschool", then you are going to need to have your child be a little more independent. And so this is where sticky notes can become your new best friend. You could have a sticky note where you write a prompt on it and you put those at different pages in the story. You might have your child record answers on a piece of paper or you could have them talk to themselves out loud to answer the question and then answer those questions later with you when you have some time. So, for example, you might put a sticky note after three pages at the beginning of a book and it might say, "Stop and think about what the book is about so far." Or, "Stop and write one sentence about the book so far."
You might have a sticky note at the end of a chapter reminding your child to get a piece of paper and write, "This chapter was about ...." or, "I think _______ will happen next," or with nonfiction, " The most important thing I learned in this chapter was ..." You could even have a prompt that says, "A question I still have is ..." So these are things to help your child think more deeply about the text. It really helps to have them at stopping points so that they're not overwhelmed with understanding the whole book at once when they're finished. You want to make sure they're monitoring comprehension, so they're checking in with themselves to make sure they understand what they're reading as they go through the book. I have a blog post all about helping kids remember what they read. It shows you what to do when your child isn't remembering what they read and you'll find a link to that in the show notes.
We're on our last step, number four, supplement with additional activities. As you listen to your child read and ask questions about the reading, you'll likely discover what your child needs to work on. If your child struggles with sounding out words, then you need to practice phonics skills. I have dozens and dozens of free reading games on my website, which you can find on the free printables page of themeasuredmom.com/free. If you would like to focus on a very specific phonics skill such as short vowel words or words with silent e at the end, you can make a game where you just type in the words you want your child to practice. And just for you, I have a very special episode freebie for this episode. It includes samples of items that members of The Measured Mom Plus get to enjoy every month. A freebieI'm going to share with you for this episode is an editable reading game. So you can type in the words you want your child to practice, and you can change those words every time you play the game. Just type them in on the computer and print.
You'll find that in the episode show notes at themeasuredmom.com/episode10.
Something else I have for you in that episode freebie is something that will help your child with fluency. So if your child is reading very slow or they're getting tripped up over words, even though you know they know them, they just can't seem to read fluently or they're reading without any expression at all, a great thing you can do is Reader's Theater or partner play. That's why I like to add a new set of partner plays almost every month in The Measured Mom Plus, and I'm going to give one of those sets of partner plays to you as part of this episode freebie. The great thing about my partner plays is they come in three levels, so you can choose the level that fits best for your child.The earliest level is for about kindergarten or first grade and the highest level is about second or third grade. So go ahead and find a fun set of partner plays in the episode freebie. You can print that and enjoy reading that with your child.
As for comprehension, I also have two sample reading response pages. Again, these are from the membership, but I'm giving them to you for free to get a free sample; these are included in the show notes as well.
So there you go. We've got four steps for supporting reading at home. Make sure your child reads every day, listen to your child read and coach as needed, ask the right questions to support comprehension, and then finally, supplement with additional activities. I look forward to seeing you next week with more tips for supporting your child's learning. Thanks so much for listening, and I'll talk to you again soon.
- The Measured Mom Plus, my online membership for PreK-grade 3 educators.
Resources mentioned in this episode
- Reading a-z. com
- Free sight word books
- Free phonics books
- What to do when kids don’t remember what they read
Resources for members of The Measured Mom Plus
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