Reading comprehension is a vital part of any curriculum that purports to teach children how to read. Beyond the sounds of words are meanings, and the ability to draw these out of text is a skill every child profits from learning.
Consider the child’s future in school, for instance. The majority of schools still depend largely on written texts for their instruction. Students get textbooks, read notes on a board and pore over digital slideshows in order to absorb the meaning contained within them. The child who does this better naturally fares better in his studies and this can be instrumental in his later success in life.
But the importance of reading comprehension actually goes beyond his performance in school. Reading comprehension affects many other aspects of everyday life, whether you know it or not. Take a look at the following situations, for example:
- You go to the grocery store with an errand to buy a chocolate bar. You spot row upon row of chocolate bars but want to find out which ones have peanuts because you are allergic to them. The ones with peanuts have a warning on the label.
- You purchase a new gadget. It comes with a short pamphlet describing how long to charge it for the first use.
- You are shopping online for a new watch. You want to find out which of the advertised watches has all of the features you want, like alarms and backlights.
All of these situations are relatively commonplace and all of them require reading comprehension skills. Being able to “get” what you are reading is clearly something that can benefit you, and ensuring that your child gets a start on that early on in life will do him a world of good later.
How Do You Foster Reading Comprehension in the Youngest Learners?
There are many ways to stretch your child’s comprehension muscles regularly. Try the following tips, for instance, which can also represent bonding moments or shared activities with your child:
Recognize the importance of relevance.
Relevance is something that can make even the dullest lesson suddenly seem more interesting. Ensuring that your child can relate to something in what he is reading is a good way to help him comprehend it more fully.
Establishing a connection between the written word and life is usually easier when what you have to start with already contains something that the child can relate to. If you have a family dog, for example, you can try to get a book for your child that has a dog in it as the main character. If your pet is a cat instead, get one about a cat.
Of course, you do not necessarily need to have a dog just to get your child a book about them. If he likes dogs, that is already a point to which he can relate — and the requirement for relevance has been satisfied, albeit in a different way from before. This is why storybooks are great aids in practicing reading comprehension. In fact, even teachers who emphasize teaching word sounds over meaning first use them often, as in the Children Learning Reading program.
Engage him by asking questions about what he read.
Children like to be engaged and listened to, which is why asking them questions is a good thing. It can also be a good thing to do for stimulating reading comprehension. After you read a particularly interesting passage in a book, for example, you can ask your child what happened in it. If you read a mysterious passage instead, you can ask your child what it might mean.
A technique that also works well very often is to ask the child what he thinks might have happened after the book’s story. That is, you can ask your child to continue the story where the book left off. Start with his favorite book, because he will be more likely to have an idea for that one. If he has trouble expressing himself, give him more avenues for it: bring out crayons, paper, and other media so he can show you via illustration as well.
You can also ask how the book made him feel if he seems to have an emotional response to it. The two of you can get into a dialogue about what you just read, which is as good a way of promoting reading comprehension as any.
This is actually related to the earlier advice on what to do after reading mysterious passages. When you run into sentences that give the child clues to something just being hinted at, you can ask them a question related to it. If they say they are not sure, ask them to guess! At the very least, they can learn how to pick up context clues from the activity.
For example, if you read something where the text states “He cried”, your question to your child could be as simple as why “he” is crying. The answer could be something like “because he is sad” or “because so-and-so happened”. Another example would be if the text describes a character as feeling weak or dizzy. Ask the child why she might be feeling that way. A possible answer would be that she is sick, of course.
Flesh out sentences or paragraphs beyond the page.
We already suggested it earlier, but you should do it for a lot more situations than the one above. Invite your child to describe what happened in a book or what something in a book might look like by giving him art materials. Go with coloring pencils and markers and paint. If you have a particularly hands-on child, try clay molding or even Lego.
When old enough, use outlines or do notes.
Once your child reaches a certain age, you can further deepen his reading comprehension by asking him to keep his own notes about texts. Ask him to do outlines or summaries of what he reads. You can even ask him for certain parts of most books, like the problem/conflict stage or the climax/solution stage.