Help Children Read for Success

Children must learn to read before they can read to learn. Parents, families and friends can help them on their way to reading independently, says Cheryl Clark, a family life specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Reading is an important skill for children for many reasons, especially because up until the end of third grade, most children are learning to read, Clark said. However in fourth grade, they begin reading to learn. They begin using their skills to gain more information in subjects such as math and science and to solve problems. They are beginning to think critically about what they are learning, as well as act upon and share that knowledge in the world around them. 
“If children are reading below grade level, their textbooks and other materials will be hard for them to understand and cause frustration. We cannot depend on schools to take the full responsibility for children becoming good readers by themselves,” Clark said.
There are many things parents, grandparents, siblings or family friends can do tohelp children learn to read independently. Reading to babies helps them attend to language, learn new words and understand the structure of language. Reading stories to preschoolers helps them work on meaning and language development. Older preschoolers are moving to more complex stories with a plot. They are understanding more about themselves and others, and also are developing richer language and more sophisticated vocabulary. Children with a large working vocabulary will do better in school, Clark said.
“As children get older they need someone to read with them and become a reading partner. Reading then becomes a shared experience with both of you participating. It is easy to do and may be more enjoyable for everyone,” Clark said.
Clark offers some shared reading strategies, starting with ones for younger inexperienced readers to more independent readers.

  • Find books with many pictures. Ask the child open-ended questions about the pictures and have the child tell the story through the pictures.
  • Before reading a page, ask the child to find certain words and letters or the largest and smallest word.
  • In books that have repeating phrases, ask the child to fill in those phrases.
  • Read a passage in a book and then ask the child to read it.
  • With the child, read a passage out loud at the same time.
  • Take turns reading pages in the book.

“Finally, ask the child to read out loud to you,” Clark said. “Helping children become better readers can be as easy as talking to them and adding new words to their vocabulary. Help them write their own stories and illustrate them by drawing pictures. Have books available in your home. Encourage your children’s interest in reading. It will help them in school and promote a lifelong love of reading."

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