Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
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Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers

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Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
Parent Tips
Go to Parent Tips:   Pre-K   |   K   |   1st   |   2nd   |   3rd  
Roots of Reading Roots of Reading
Sounds and Symbols
Fluent Reading
Writing and Spelling
Reading for Meaning
Reading Rocks!
Empowering Parents
Becoming Bilingual
Reading and the Brain
A Chance to Read
Toddling Toward Reading

Parent Tips 5 - Reading for Meaning

Read about it, talk about it, and think about it! Find ways for your child to build understanding, the ultimate goal of learning how to read.

  • Make books special.
    Turn books and reading into something special by taking your kids to the library, helping them get their own library card, reading with them, and buying them books as gifts. Have a favorite place for books in your home, or even better, put books everywhere.

  • Get them to read another one.
    Find ways to encourage your child to keep picking up another book. You could, for example, introduce him or her to a book series like The Boxcar Children or Harry Potter or to a second book by a favorite author. Ask teachers, librarians, and others for recommendations that match your child's interests and reading level, or look for suggestions on You could even buy a subscription in your child's name to a magazine that comes regularly in the mail.

  • "Are we there yet?"
    Use the time spent in the car or bus for wordplay. You can talk about how jam means something you put on toast as well as cars stuck in traffic. How many other homonyms can your child think of? When kids are highly familiar with the meaning of a word, they have less difficulty reading it.

  • Crack open the dictionary.
    Let your child see you using a dictionary. Say something like, "Hmm, I'm not sure what that word means... I think I'll look it up."

  • First drafts are rough.
    Give your child encouragement when he or she is doing homework or a writing assignment. Remind your child that writing involves several steps like planning, composing an initial draft, revising, and final editing. No one does it perfectly the first time.

  • Different strokes for different folks.
    Read different types of books to expose your child to different types of writing. Stories, for example, are often organized around characters, a setting, and a plot, while nonfiction books are usually organized around main ideas followed by details. Some kids, especially boys, prefer nonfiction books.

  • Talk about what you see and do.
    Talking about everyday activities helps build your child's background knowledge, which is crucial to listening and reading comprehension. Keep up a running patter, for example, while cooking together; take your child someplace new and talk about what you see; or discuss the movie or television show you've just watched together.

  • Teach your child some "mind tricks."
    You can give your child tips for figuring out the meaning of what he or she reads. Show your child how to summarize a story in a few sentences, for example, or how to make predictions about what might happen next. Both strategies help a child comprehend and remember. After reading a story together, think out loud so your child can see how you summarize and predict. Say something like, "I bet D.W. would have eaten some more if she hadn't known that it was spinach."

As I grew up in Limerick, I used to hear my headmaster say 'Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure.' Well, there's no better way to stock your mind than reading. Researchers have figured out which teaching techniques actually work. When they're used, almost every child can achieve the ultimate goal of reading – grasping the meaning. – Frank McCourt, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angela's Ashes.

Young children learn the meaning of most words by listening to people talk. But as they grow older, what they read becomes an even more important source of new vocabulary. Many words, in fact, are rarely heard in everyday speech.

Why is having a large vocabulary important? Because knowing what individual words mean goes a long way toward helping a child understand what a sentence or paragraph means.

Talking and reading about stories and events helps kids to build their vocabulary and comprehension skills. But some kids have a difficult time understanding what they read because of what are actually poor word decoding skills. They simply do not see that the written word fot, for example, is a nonsense word while the word for is not.

Other kids have problems with comprehension in general, both listening and reading. These kids need a lot of practice summarizing key points, predicting what might happen next, and figuring out what an unfamiliar word might mean though context. Children can be taught how to monitor their own comprehension while reading to actively try to make sense of text.

The tips above offer some ways to keep reading fun and to build your child's vocabulary and understanding. If you suspect your child is having problems with reading, it's important to act. The good news is that 90 percent of struggling readers can overcome their reading difficulties if they receive comprehensive and intensive help before they reach the third grade. It just takes caring and involved parents and teachers. As Dr. Debra Jervay-Pendergrass of The STORIES Project notes, "Language is free. It's a gift that we can give our children anytime and anyplace. The only thing that it costs us is our time."

Would you like to read more tips? Click here to go to the first set of parent tips. The tips are only loosely grouped according to age level. Read them all, try them out, and see what works for your child.

Feel free to also take a look at a one-page handout that contains shortened versions of the above tips for parents of third graders. (You'll need the free Acrobat Reader available at to view and print the PDF file). You are welcome to print out, photocopy, and pass out this handout if you wish. Or click here to send a friend an e-mail version of any of the parent tips.

Reading and literacy are important issues for public television. More information about reading is available at the new PBS Parents website. Or check the main Reading Rockets website at

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