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Reading together at home: Tips for parents of primary school-aged children

Reading books with your child is an incredibly powerful way of supporting your child’s learning, even when your child can read independently.

Shared reading supports: 

  • Reading achievement  
  • Comprehension of and critical thinking about texts  
  • Vocabulary development, especially when you read them books that they can’t yet read themselves, which will contain more complex language and ideas.  
  • Relationships and interaction with your child by encouraging both physical closeness and emotional connectedness as you experience the ideas and emotions of the story together. 

Tips for shared reading  

  • Encourage children to read for enjoyment, make reading fun and follow children’s interests. Children who are allowed to choose books and take the lead in reading demonstrate higher levels of interest in reading, and are more likely to initiate reading and to attend to the information and skills being demonstrated.  
  • Provide a range of appropriate choices, including books that are not too complex but extend your child in some way. Read a variety of books including information books, rhyming texts, nursery rhymes and poetry. Don’t be limited to printed books, but try e-books and  telling or making up stories (fairy stories can be the easiest for you or your child to retell, or you might tell them stories about themselves and their siblings; using puppets and props can be fun!).  
  • Ensure an active role for your child. For example, invite your child to actively puzzle over the events of the story or the feelings and motivations of the characters, or take turns reading different parts of the book, for example. 

Supporting learning while reading together 

There are two main ways to support children’s learning from reading together (both of which can be used together). The first is pausing during the story to engage in discussion about what you’re reading, and the second is pointing to the features of print while you are reading. 

Discuss the story 

Use questioning and thoughtful responses to children’s interests when reading stories to stimulate dialogue and discussion that promotes learning.  

  • Before reading, discuss the title of the book and the cover illustration. Ask ‘what do you think the character is doing?’ or ‘what do you think this story might be about?’ 
  • Ask open-ended questions (what, where, when, who?). Affirm children’s responses, and repeat and expand on what your child says, or try to follow children’s answers with another question, such as ‘Would you take that man’s money, if you were in that situation?’ 
  • Help children understand and interpret text by drawing on real-life experiences: ‘Do you remember the time we got lost in the train station? We had to ask for help too’. Talking about experiences outside of the here and now is an important foundation for literacy skills.   
  • Focus on new vocabulary by pointing out new words, explaining their meaning or looking them up in a dictionary, providing other examples of how to use the word, and finding ways to practise them outside of the story. You might play a game where you score points any time you use that new word during the day, for example. 

Pointing to print  

Learning about the way features of print are used to convey meaning is important for beginning readers, and more experienced readers benefit when you point out and explain more sophisticated features such as punctuation devices. 

  • With younger readers, point to the text of the title as you read it. Name the author and explain words like ‘illustrated by’. Comment about words, for example, comment on words that rhyme, or about words that start or end with the same sound, such as ‘Hank’s Pranks’.  
  • With older children, talk about more complex punctuation devices, such as ellipsis (…) to indicate a pause, an unfinished thought or to lead to a new idea, or typological features such as bold or italic text. Explain how it helps you read the story. For example, ‘I’m going to use a loud voice here, because it’s written in capital letters’. 

Tips for listening to your child read 

There are many ways in which you can support learning while listening to your child read, and you will want to choose the appropriate strategies to match your child’s proficiency and to suit the text. Some ideas are: 

  • Ensure you have a quiet space and focused attention to listen to your child read. Show your  enjoyment at spending this time together. Preview the book together, for example, by predicting what it is about, as this can help with comprehension. Point out any new words in the title that might be new to the child.  
  • Support your child to try a range of strategies for working out an unfamiliar word. Ask ‘how can you work it out?’ The aim is for your child to be confident in using a range of strategies to work out a word (as no one strategy will work every time). Strategies include: 
    • Looking at the pictures and the first letter sound.  
    • Sounding out the word, either with individual sounds or by ‘chunking’, or breaking the word into manageable chunks rather than each individual letter (for example, ‘sh-out-ed’).  
    • Recognising a word they do know within the unfamiliar word, such as ‘pick’ in ‘pickaxe’.  
    • Going back to the start of the sentence and re-reading it, missing out the unknown word and reading on until the end of the sentence, which might help them make a more informed guess at the word.  
    • For words they have already encountered in the book, encouraging them to go back to the relevant page and see if they can find it to refer to. 
    • Sometimes you might supply a word or let children skip a word (particularly if it is not easily decoded using these strategies) to help keep the reading momentum. If your child does skip a word and doesn’t work it out after further reading, then drop it into the conversation.  
  • Help your child to read for meaning, and to expect their reading to make sense. For example, encourage them to stop and reread if what they are saying doesn’t make (you might say ‘hmm, that doesn’t make sense, do you want to take another look?’) 

Dr Vicki Hargraves

Vicki runs our ECE webinar series and also is responsible for the creation of many of our ECE research reviews. Vicki is a teacher, mother, writer, and researcher living in Marlborough. She recently completed her PhD using philosophy to explore creative approaches to understanding early childhood education. She is inspired by the wealth of educational research that is available and is passionate about making this available and useful for teachers.

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