Tips for Parents: Easy Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Read

August 21, 2007
Austin, Texas

Laura Shankland
Communications Associate
Phone: 512-391-6556

If a child can’t read well by the end of third grade, she likely won’t become a strong reader. Parents as well as teachers can play a big role in helping children develop strong reading skills.

There are lots of easy ways that parents can help their children build reading skills. According to the National Institute for Literacy, every minute you spend reading and talking with your child pays off. Just by talking to your child about whatever activity you are doing can help build literacy skills. For example, while walking through the neighborhood with your child, ask her questions about what you see along the way. Help her hear the sounds in words when you talk. For example, you can point out words that begin with the same sound, like bicycle and ballet. Or talk about rhyming words, like kitten and mitten or fun and sun. Help her learn that each word has its own sounds.

Stacey Joyner, a reading specialist and program associate with SEDL’s Texas Comprehensive Center says, “By helping your child learn to hear the different sounds in words, you are supporting one of the five critical skills that children need in order to learn to read well. That skill is called phonemic awareness. By hearing and saying rhymes, singing songs, clapping syllables, children focus on the sounds in the words.”

Parents can also help children learn the ABCs and the sounds each letter makes. The knowledge of how letters represent sounds is called phonics, and is also a critical skill that children need in order to read well.

Children can make the leap from talking to reading after they learn that written letters stand for the sounds they hear in words. You can begin by just helping your child learn the alphabet by saying or singing the alphabet, reading alphabet books, and pointing out letters in the alphabet in names and words. You can also play games with your child to help them make the connection between words and sounds. While in the grocery store, have your child look for words that begin with certain sounds. Point out words to your child on billboards, cereal boxes, birthday cards, and signs. Say the words out loud and help your child sound out the words.

A third important skill parents can help children with is building their vocabulary–-simply the knowledge of new words. Joyner says, “Learning new words begins early. A child learns most new words by hearing them in context and developing an understanding of what they mean. Meaningful conversations with your child about what she likes, what happened at school and about friends, stories or interests helps to develop language and conceptual knowledge. Children with larger vocabularies have an easier time learning to read because the words make sense.

As children learn to read, parents can help just by listening to their child read regularly. The ability to identify words and comprehend quickly and accurately is the fourth critical skill —fluency. By listening to your child read their favorite books over and over again, you can help her become more fluent. You can take turns reading with your child. “But make it fun,” says Joyner. “You don’t want your child to get discouraged or think that reading is just hard work.”

The fifth critical skill is comprehension, or understanding what is read. When reading a story to your child, help her understand by asking questions and talking about the story as you go along. The questions can be as simple as “What do you think is going to happen next?” or “What would you do in that situation?” Talking to your child about what they have read is a good way to improve critical thinking skills and understanding.

“Just spending a little time every day talking and reading with your child can make all the difference in her attitude about reading and how well her reading skills develop,” says Joyner. “It’s quality time with a dividend—not only do you get to spend time with your child but she becomes a better reader.


About SEDL

The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) is a nonprofit corporation based in Austin, Texas. SEDL is dedicated to solving significant education problems and improving teaching and learning through research, research-based resources, and professional development. For more information about SEDL, visit