So your first grader hates to read.
In my years as a teacher and private tutor, I have seen two types of first graders: those who are highly-motivated to read and those who have little to no interest in reading. This isn’t based on any scientific evidence, just my observations, but here’s what I think.
Birth to age 2, children are exposed to literacy in a variety of ways. They may have blocks that have letters, hear nighttime stories read by parents, and watch early developmental shows on TV.
At around age 3, children are introduced to phonemic awareness and phonics. Briefly, phonemic awareness is the understanding that words are made of sounds and phonics is the understanding that those sounds have visual representations. Children that age are often taught to identify letters and some letter-sounds by hearing things like “B makes the sound /b/. B is for bike!” They may be interested in spelling their names, learning the initial sounds in other familiar words, and identifying letters in their favorite stories.
Around age 4, children actively engage in conversations, answer more detail-oriented questions, and ask more complex questions. This is the time most children learn to write their names and simple words (e.g. mom, dad, a sibling’s name, cat, dog). After hearing a story a few times, children are able to pick up key words to assist in reading the story, and they can gain information from illustrations to predict what the text says.
At age 5, kids should identify all letters, most letter-sounds, and some sight words (e.g. the, and, is, was, am). They are ready to read simple books with a clear illustration and one line of text per page, like “The dog is yellow.” These books are filled with high-frequency sight words and often contain repetitive clauses like “I see a ____”. Kids can quickly learn the repetitive clause and confidently feel like independent readers.
By age 6, children are in first grade and ready to read books that actually contain real stories and entertaining plots. Fairytales, spooky stories, and stories containing their favorite characters are exciting! Being able to read them with minimal assistance is even more exciting, right?
All of this sounds absolutely great for most children… but definitely not all. Lots of things can occur between birth and 1st grade that can make literacy a challenge.
From the moment we step foot in school… learning only gets harder.
For the child who is six still learning to identify letters and produce basic letter-sounds, school is really tough! And when this child can only identify a few words, he’s stuck at those “I see a ____” books when his peers can read Pinkalicious and Pete the Cat and Tony Baloney. He also hears his more fluent peers reading aloud and may feel discouraged by his inability to read as well. What would ever be this child’s motivation when he already feels behind his peers in first grade? Reading appears to be stressful, tedious, and undesirable. The child often loses interest in reading and falls behind. But parents, don’t lose hope; broaden your definition of literacy.
Literacy surrounds us constantly, but if your child feels he can only read basic, boring, plotless stories, he will not learn to love to read. Here are suggestions for expanding our definition of literacy to engage children who are struggling and foster a genuine interesting in learning to read:
- Comic books and graphic novels
- Recipes – get your kids in the kitchen to help you prepare recipes they select
- Trading cards – baseball, football, Pokemon
- Magnetic letters – your child can make up his own nonsense words and try to sound them out
- Magazines – Highlights, Sports Illustrated for Kids, Kiwi
- High-interest informational text – books on bugs, cars, outer space, sharks
- Websites – allow your child to search the web to learn about topics that interest him
- Games – educational apps, crossword puzzles, bingo games
- Enjoy the pictures in picture books – your child can make up his own stories rather than reading the text
- Read while driving – read road signs, store signs, and billboard advertisements together as you drive
Allow your child to make choices about the types of literacy he prefers. Create a no-pressure environment. If the child wants to read to you, great! If the child wants you to read to him, great! If he only wants to read magazines and play educational apps, that’s okay, too. This can lead to more engaged (and more confident) readers because they feel more comfortable with the idea of independently accessing interesting literature-rich materials. In time, those skills should transfer over to academic progress at school.