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Strong Readers Start at Home – Reading Strategies for Parents

by Mary Morehead, B.A, B.Ed.

Many reading strategies that teachers use come from the work of Dr. Marie Clay.  Dr. Clay developed the Reading Recovery program that targets six-year olds who are at-risk readers and writers.  I trained as a Reading Recovery teacher and worked closely with children in this highly successful program.  “Of the 150 reading-intervention programs that the What Works Clearinghouse looked at, [Reading Recovery] was the only one determined to have strong evidence that it worked.” (source: recent Education Week article).

I was often asked by parents what they could do at home to help their children.  Helping your child become a strong reader and writer starts at home.  The first step is to provide your child with a print-rich environment so that they come to school with a prior knowledge of books and written language.  Building your child’s oral language is equally important: talk to your child about things you see around you using rich vocabulary.  Reading daily to your child, both fiction and nonfiction genres, is an effective tool for children to gain both word knowledge and “book” structures.  Children are not born knowing that English language books are read from left to right, top to bottom, they are taught.

In reading, three cueing systems are used: meaning (what the story is about), structure (grammar), and visual cues.  In Reading Recovery, visual cues encompass both sound to letter and letter to sound association.  Good readers use all three cues in orchestration.  Asking your child to “sound it out” is not always a useful strategy especially when you come to words like “the”. 

Below are some useful strategies to use when your child comes to an new word – these strategies are a better alternative to just giving your child the answer. 

  1. Have your child look at the picture for clues.
  2. Suggest your child think about the story for context.
  3. Have your child try a word.
  4. Have your child re-read the sentence.
  5. Point with your finger to the tricky parts.
  6. Tell your child to get his/her mouth ready for the word.  The child then re-reads the sentence saying the first 1 or 2 sounds out loud of the tricky word.
  7. Suggest your child go back and try again.
  8. Have your child answer these questions:
    – Does your word make sense? (meaning cue – think about what is happening in the story).
    – Does your word sound right? (structure/grammar cue – is it the way we talk?)
    – Does your word look right? (visual cues—are the expected letters and sounds there?)

Print out this summary and keep it by your side during your nightly reading sessions with your child.  Strong readers start at home.

Additional resources:

More Education Resources for parents are available here.


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