How parents can help children develop reading skills

Many children are leaving primary school every year in the UK with inadequate reading skills. The ability to read well is a fundamental life skill. To read well means not only to be able to recognise words on a page but also to be able to read independently and effectively for meaning.

One of the causes often put forward for children’s reading problems is dyslexia. The assumption here is that children with reading problems lack the ability to be able to develop proper reading skills due to neurological factors.

However, research has shown that whilst certain reading problems can be linked to neurological causes such as brain development, environmental factors are of comparable importance.

Experiences can offset disadvantages that children have as a result of physical limitations. Unfortunately many children are not exposed to the type of literacy experiences that they need in order to become competent readers. The significance of the home environment and family support in young people’s reading cannot be overlooked.

Changes in the lifestyles of parents, the demands that they face, their educational backgrounds and their experiences all impact on the linguistic environment that they provide for their children. To be able to read well children need to be immersed in a rich linguistic environment.

For parents this means that they are responsible for making sure their child witnesses them reading and is being read to regularly from a variety of sources, frequent talking and listening opportunities and language based games and activities.

Many modern parents might be surprised to find that they do not lead lifestyles that facilitate this sort of environment. They are busy, have recreational lives governed by television and may be confused by a barrage of conflicting information about child development.

However, when parents turn their backs on learning- based activities this leaves schools with a colossal job on their hands. Schools are fighting a losing battle when so many children enter their early school lives two or three years behind in their literacy development.

Parents may not understand or acknowledge that their child is this far behind because they appear to be bright. However, what they are often unaware of are the constantly increasing academic abilities expected of even very young children in schools and the criteria used to determine not only children’s literacy levels, but their overall academic ability and learning potential.

The children with the lowest literacy skills will fall behind significantly in other subjects as they progress through school. They will be categorised as slow learners and may even be diagnosed as having special educational needs (SEN) because they will find it difficult to complete even the most simple of tasks if they cannot read. Parents should be aware that so many school activities involve some sort of reading. This makes reading the most important academic skill that children can be equipped with.

In order to help children to get the most out of their educational opportunities at school, parents must prioritise literacy development. This means that regardless of backgrounds and lifestyles parents take the time to find out what their child needs in order to learn to read well and provide for these needs.

This does not have to be any more of an academic pursuit that providing for their healthy dietary needs. Most parents manage this despite being busy by finding ways to provide healthy food for their child that fits in with their lifestyle.

In a similar way parents can find ways to expose their child to rich linguistic experiences without having to drastically change their own routines. This includes spending five minutes a day reading a book with their child or visiting a bookshop for a few minutes every time they go shopping.

Let’s face it, a huge number of parents spend a great deal of their time in the local shopping centre on a regular basis looking at clothes, shoes, toys, CDs and household paraphernalia. Going into the bookshop for a few minutes is not a major, inconvenience and will help to encourage the development of healthier interests as well as language development in children.

In addition to this parents can vary the type of television shows that they expose their children to.  Try to include fewer cartoons and more documentaries based on linguistically enriching topics such as wildlife, arts and culture. This will help to develop a wider vocabulary and encourage curiosity, which leads to conversation.

 In addition to making their home life linguistically rich, parents should also familiarise themselves with the sorts of activities that their child does or will be doing in school and try to incorporate these into their home life. This will help them to make the transition between home and school and help them to find fun in learning.

Helping children to become competent readers does not have to be a boring chore or something that is left to school. A desire to help children read and simple lifestyle changes are all that is needed. Parents may find that in helping their child to become a reader they discover or rediscover pleasure in reading themselves.

Related Links

The importance of reading in prinary schools – Teaching Expertise

Poor reading skills have both physical, environmental causes – Science Daily

Young People’s Reading: The Importance of home environment and family support – National Literacy Trust

Features of a language rich environment – Environments

Curiosity: The fuel of development – Teachers