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Reading & Language

What Not to Say to Emerging Readers

Mother and daughter reading together

Through the whole, sometimes long and painful process, it‘s easy for parents to become impatient with emerging readers. We want our children to feel comfortable and successful when they read, and to love reading. So when kids struggle to sound out every word on a page, insist on reading books that aren’t the "right fit" or read a whole page fluently but are unable to recall what they’ve just read, it’s frustrating.

Don’t get discouraged! We’ve listed common mistakes that some parents make, along with better ways to support your early reader. Here’s hoping it leads to relaxing read-alouds and stronger readers:

  • Do not say, "Stop. Reread this line correctly." If the mistake didn’t interfere with the meaning of the text (for example, if it was "a" for "the"or "fine" for "fun"), let it go.
  • Do not interrupt your child reading. Ever. You want your child to be comfortable reading. If necessary, make the correction when you read it the next time.
  • Do not say, "C’mon, speed up. You have to read a little faster!" Or "Slow down, you’re zipping through this!" Instead, model appropriate pacing and fluency. Fluency or reading with appropriate speed, pacing and intonation is something that is best taught through parent or teacher modeling and tons of practice. Fluent reading sounds like conversation or natural speaking, and it’s something that has to be learned.

    To help your child gain fluency, grab a level-appropriate book to read over and over again. Begin by having your child read the entire book from cover to cover. On the second day, have your child read the entire book again. Then echo read—read a paragraph or a page, then have your child repeat what you’ve just read. You may also want your child to track what you’re reading with her finger. On the third day, read the book the first time, and then read together in unison—this helps your child to learn pacing. On the fourth day, read the book first and then have your child read it by herself. Day five is all about showing off your child’s skills! Have her read the book again by herself to practice. Then it’s time to videotape or Skype faraway friends and relatives.

  • Do not laugh. Think about something serious and ugly and breathe deeply until you regain composure. If you can laugh together, that’s okay—most likely if your kid reads aloud "butt," she’ll break out into hysterics and you will too. But if she’s working hard and trying her best while making a mistake that tickles your funny bone, then just move on.
  • Do not say, "You know this." Help break it down for her by asking her if she recognizes parts of the word. Most likely she will recognize the "b" or "at" part of "bat" or the "th" or "ick" part of "thick." If she can pick up either part, help her put the parts together: "You got it! That does say ‘ick.’ Now let’s put the first part, ‘th,’ together with ‘ick': th-ick. Thick!" Then put that word into the sentence and give her a high-five for getting through it.
  • Do not say, "You’re wrong. That says, (insert correct word)." Instead, say nothing. As hard as that may be, remain silent. Unless it’s a mistake that interferes with the meaning of the text, let it go. If every time your child gets stuck, she looks to you for the word, she’ll never get to practice decoding skills.

    If, however, she made a mistake that alters the meaning, at the end of the page, ask your child to reread the passage carefully. If she reads it incorrectly again, ask her to look at the pictures to help her decode the word or ask her if what she read makes sense. If she still misses the error, ask her to point out the tricky section. If she doesn’t know where it is, point it out.

    Once you resume reading, ask her on a page she reads correctly if she was correct. This isn’t to annoy your child; it’s to help her become a better self-monitor. As self-monitors, we’re constantly checking and rechecking to make sure that what we read made sense.

As parents, it’s important to make our children feel comfortable reading with us—and to want to read with us—at home. They need the practice, and they need to know that reading with Mom and Dad is safe, natural and enjoyable.

  • Pingback: What Not to Say . Education . PBS Parents | PBS

  • Dorothy Rand Doyle

    These suggestions are sure to help parents provide with the encouraging presence that can help rather than hinder the child learning to read!

  • Ellen

    Thanks for the advice! I’m pretty good, but have been breaking one or two of these rules.

  • Joyce

    Reading is FUN! That’s all you need to get through to your child. If they have a good time, they will excel. Don’t be judgmental, and LAUGH a lot! Who cares if they make some mistakes…..! Believe it or not, a learning curve is a spiral, and they will correct themselves, given a little time. No pressure!

  • Thea

    Excellent advice. Wish I’d read this sooner. I’d like to add 2 points that I learned.

    1. I started looking for easy to read books on topics my son was really interested in (Nature books and Donald Duck). I would leave them laying around the house so he’d see them and sometimes pick them up and glance through them and maybe even read in it a little by himself (when he could read a little). I also keep books next to his bed. He’s allowed to read a while past bedtime if he wants to and since it’s really cool to not go to sleep straight away, he’s taken quite a liking to doing this (I’m so pleased!!).

    2. At his school they do reading tests twice a year. He kept failing. I eventually talked to the teacher and asked what he needed to do in order to pass the test. Basically they have to read a page within a certain amount of time and with no more than x mistakes. So reading quickly and correctly are important. It helped for him to know what was expected of him. That way we could both work toward a very specific goal. Our tactic: To improve speed we read the same single page of text every day and timed each reading (wrote it down). He saw his time improve everyday. To improve on accurate reading we counted the mistakes made in that text and he saw that diminish everyday as well. I’ve always read a lot to my kids. To help him practice we’d snuggle on the coach and I started sharing his books: he’d read 1 page, then I’d read 1 page.

    I would have loved to NOT have had to push his reading as I did, but it was also very important to him to not fall behind the rest of the class. When he finally did retake the test he passed not 1 but 2 levels, moving from being behind to being ahead of ‘the norm’ and that so boosted his confidence that since then he’s been reading quite a bit on his own. I’ve since abandoned timing and counting and we only read for fun now, but I’m so very glad I did push through even though he hated it at the time. He’s so much happier now.

    That being said, I completely agree that a positive approach is SO important (and so challenging). And your own example: seeing parents read is also a great stimulance for kids to want to read more.

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  • Sherry Buckner

    As I was reading this out loud my children said they disagreed with about 90% of this, when we laugh at our mispronouncing words we laugh together, and they have fun, (their words if you didn’t that would make you a boring old fart that nobody wants to hang out with) They also commented that they would rather I tell them how to pronounce a word before they got up in front of the class and pronounced it wrong. (how are we supposed to learn if you dont teach us and I would rather you tell me as we go instead of letting me get in front of the class full of kids and say it wrong!) They also stated that corrected in the middle of the passage is better than getting to the end and going back. the last protest they had was if I read the same book for 5 days would be so bored and have begun to memorize the book not read it, more variety helped me learn to read faster and more fluently not reading the same thing..I would hate reading by the end of week one!

    • Angel Blessed

      Woo hoo! Love PBS. But, honestly…not even near the mark with some of the suggestions. Certainly, do not interrupt and be kind. But, better gently corrected than misinformed.

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