Five Skills Children Need to be Readers by 3rd Grade (page 4)
What skills do children need to be fluent readers by third grade? The National Institute for Literacy says parents should focus on 5 key areas:
1. Spoken Words
Before your child ever sees a word on the page, he or she will hear thousands and thousands of words--spoken words. Every spoken word is a series of sounds.
Say the word "football." Now say it again, slowly. Take it apart. Stress each little sound, from the "f" sound at the beginning to the "l" sound at the end. "Football" has six sounds in it. A child who can tell these sounds apart is on the way to becoming a reader.
Children need to hear how sounds in words go together. "Hat," "bat," "fat," "cat," and "rat" are almost the same word--but most people don't wear cats on their heads on cold days. Only the beginning sounds in these words are different. But that one letter makes a huge difference. When you help a child hear and play with sounds in words, you're getting him ready to read, to see those differences between words when they're written down.
It's called phonemic awareness
Teachers call knowing how language sounds "phonemic awareness." You can start working on phonemic awareness when your child is a baby. Even saying silly words like "coochie coo" begins to make language sounds more familiar. Children should have a good sense of phonemic awareness by the time they start preschool.
How can a dad help?
Play games with words. If you see a boat, say to your child, "hey, look at that coat in the water!" She will know it's a boat, and probably tell you so! At dinner, ask your son to pass you his fish—he'll correct you right away that you meant his dish, not his fish.
Teachers call knowing how language sounds "phonemic awareness."
Play with sounds in all parts of words (beginning, middle, and end): like "job," "joy," and "jog," where the difference is at the end of the words. Rhyming is also important. Listen for rhyming words in songs, rap, and poems. Play a game: who can come up with three words that rhyme with "cool" the fastest?
2. Written Words
The leap from talking to reading happens when a child starts to see how written letters stand for the sounds of speech. It's like learning a code.
Take the word "rocket." The sounds you hear when you say "rocket" are represented by letters, or letter pairs: r, o, ck, e, and t. As young readers get better, they recognize words as soon as they see them. After all, you don't want to have to figure out the words "the," "and," and "from" every time you read them. Another great bonus of knowing the rules of how written letters sound? When a reader sees words he doesn't know, he can use his knowledge of letters and sounds to figure them out. Learning the rules of letter sounds takes lots and lots of practice. You would think it would be easy, since there are only 26 letters! But sometimes "e" makes an "eee" sound, sometimes it makes an "eh" sound, and sometimes no sound at all! And there are exceptions to the rules too. Who would figure that "igh" makes a sound like "eye," like in "high" and "sigh?" Young readers will spend a lot of time learning these rules and variations.
It's called phonics
Teachers call this knowledge of how letters represent sounds "phonics." Children can start learning about phonics when they are about four years old. That's when they start to pay more attention to letters and words in books. They will learn a lot about phonics up through first grade. In second grade, they should know most of the phonics rules.
How can a dad help?
Words are everywhere. Think of every word as a chance to help your child become a better reader. Look for words on signs, maps, billboards, cereal boxes, money, and birthday cards. Point out words to your child wherever you see them. Say them out loud. Take time to sound them out and show how the letters and combinations of letters make sounds. For example, standing at a street corner, watch for the sign to turn from "WALK" to "DON'T WALK," and see who can shout the word "DON'T" first!
Teachers call this knowledge of how letters represent sounds "phonics."
3. Word Power
If your child lives to the ripe old age of 100, she could learn more than 20 new words a day and never know them all. Of course, no human being knows every single word of English. But the more words a person knows, the better he can read and speak.
Learning new words starts early--the names of colors, animals, relatives, and things around the house. A child might pick up some words you use at work, just by hearing you talk. She will certainly learn a lot of new words from watching television, listening to music, and going to school. She will learn most words by hearing and saying them. Knowing lots of words comes in handy when a child starts to read. Children use the words they already know to make sense of words they see written down. Suppose your child sees the word "courage" in a book. As he sounds it out, it might dawn on him that the sounds are making a word he already knows. Knowing the word ahead of time helps him read it faster.
It's called vocabulary
Teachers call the knowledge of words, and what they mean, "vocabulary." You can start building a child's vocabulary from day one, when you say your daughter's name or point to a giraffe in a book (and say "giraffe" out loud). A child needs to know about 1,900 basic words to communicate. Most first graders know about 10,000 words.
How can a dad help?
Building vocabulary is like building a strong foundation, brick by brick. See a helicopter flying overhead? Having spaghetti squash for dinner for the first time? Going to Cincinnati to visit your brother? Point all of these new words out to your child. Try adding three new words every day (when you go for walks, read the newspaper together, or watch a movie). The world is full of new things to learn and explore. You, dad, are the best tour guide out there!
Teachers call the knowledge of words, and what they mean, "vocabulary."
How many words are there in the English language?
A thousand? A million? Somewhere in between--about 850,000 at last count, and growing every day.
4. Reading Smoothly & Easily
Remember when you first tried driving a stick shift? How the car stalled? The jerky motion you thought would tear the engine apart? That's what early reading is like. You might have heard your son or daughter trying to read a page, getting stuck on words. That's normal for young readers but, like driving, the goal is to move ahead smoothly and easily. Like learning how to drive or swing a bat, learning how to read takes practice. The more you read, the better you get at it. It's that simple. Along the way, young readers need coaches (like you) to get them through the rough spots, and to cheer them on when they get it right.
It's called fluency
Teachers call the ability to read accurately and quickly "fluency." Fluent readers recognize lots of words on sight, without having to sound them out. Eventually, they get so fluent they can look at groups of words and get their meaning right away. Fluent readers sound natural when they read out loud. And they can focus on the meaning of what they are reading, rather than trying to decode word by word.
How can a dad help?
This one's easy: the way to fluency is to listen to your child read the same pages repeatedly until your child smoothes out all the "bumps in the road." Reading those favorite books over and over again--as you've been doing all along--has been moving your child down the road. Sometimes, you can take turns reading sentences in a book.
Teachers call the ability to read accurately and quickly "fluency."
5. Knowing What It All Means
We read for a reason. To get swept away by a great story. Or find out what happened in last night's game. Or figure out how to put together a bicycle. (Good luck!) There is no point to reading if it doesn't help us understand something.
That's why we spend so much time helping kids learn how to read. Eventually, they will read for a purpose. If your daughter can read the words on a page, but doesn't understand what the words mean, she's not really reading. Reading uses a reader's own experience and knowledge of the world, and of words, to make sense of what she reads. Research over 30 years has found ways parents can help their children become better at understanding, remembering, and communicating what they read.
It's called comprehension
Teachers call the ability to understand what you read "comprehension." Does your child understand the details, the meaning, and the ideas behind what she is reading?
How can a dad help?
Ask questions. It's a great way to know whether your young reader really understands what he reads. And it stimulates his brain to think and ask questions himself. When you're reading a story with your child, stop and ask questions once in awhile: why did that character do that? What do you think would happen next? What would you do in that situation? Don't just ask questions about books--do it about everything you see and do with your child--from what's for dinner to what the coach should do on the next play.
Teachers call the ability to understand what you read "comprehension."
Reprinted with the permission of the National Institute for Literacy.
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