Raising a reader: The do's and don'ts

Your child will learn best when she is feeling support and encouragement, not when she is threatened or bribed.

Don't use flash cards to teach your child words. A word only has meaning in context. Your child's ability to identify a single word on a card does not mean that he will recognize that word and be able to read it in a sentence. The process of recognizing an isolated word is actually the opposite of learning to recognize it in context. Your child will begin to recognize an isolated word after he has seen and practiced it many, many times in a meaningful sentence. Don't force that process with flash cards.

Do label everyday items around the house with word cards. Type in big bold letters objects in your home and stick the label on the object. Label the door, television, window, microwave, clock, toaster, stairs, bookshelf, table, chair, etc. The word is now in context. You need not ever mention the label. Your child will say something to you and when he does you explain that the label is the written form of the word for that item. Your child will draw the connection later.

Do write down your children's words and read them back to them. Write down what your child tells you about an exciting part of her day or about a picture they drew or a bug they found. Don't edit their words. Write what they say exactly as they say it. Remember the process is more important than the product. You child is learning about the process of reading and writing. It gives children a concept of how words are used and where stories come from.

Writing down your child's words also gives value to what she says. For children to see their words in print and hear their own words read aloud is empowering and it helps to give them a strong sense of what they can do with their words.

Don't encourage your child to sound out unknown words. The meaning of a word in the context in which it is being used is far more important to the reading process than the specific sounds. The English language is far too difficult to accurately understand a word by sounding it out. To insist on making sure your child has pronounced the word correctly can make reading a tiresome, boring process. Sounding out words takes the fun and joy out of reading. Your children will learn how to pronounce words as you talk to them and use a richer fuller vocabulary with them on a daily basis. This will translate to their reading with they are having fun reading.

Instead of sounding out words encourage your child to guess at what the word might be. Teach your child how to recognize clues by looking at the pictures or thinking about the rest of the sentence or paragraph. Ask leading questions like, "What word might fit in that spot?" or "This word starts with a "k," what "k" word could you use here?"

Do allow finger pointing when your child is reading. Finger pointing is a common practice when someone is unfamiliar with what they are reading. Following along with your finger enables you to have a sense of control over the material. This is true for adults and children alike. Let your children gain confidence in their reading and if the finger pointing does not distract from the enjoyment then let it be. Your children will give up following the words with their fingers when their confidence level rises.

Do let your children see you reading. Let your children catch you reading a novel, the newspaper, and a magazine. Read some of it to them so they get an idea of what interests you. Don't expect your children to be actively involved in reading if they never have an opportunity to see you reading. When your children see you reading they see that reading is meaningful and that it has a purpose for adults. It communicates that reading is not just about a grade at school. It says that reading has purpose in your life too.

Reading is so important to your child's educational development that March has been deemed National Reading Month. During the month of March take new or improved steps to raising a confident reader. Begin by letting your children see you reading this article. Then broaden your children's reading horizons the rest of the year by using the ideas presented here. The result will be children that love to read.