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How to Improve Children's Reading Skills and Speed

As a parent, you may have observed that your elementary school-aged child struggles with reading, making the learning journey seem like an up-hill battle. While every child is unique and progresses at their own pace, understanding the importance of reading quickly as a skill that can be practiced is key. In this blog post, we’ll explore why improving reading speed is crucial not only to your child’s success as a reader but to their success in school and beyond as well as how to improve children's reading skills. We will also provide some suggestions for ways that you, as a parent, can help your child develop their reading fluency.

The Value of Reading Quickly for Struggling Readers

1. Boosts Confidence

Struggling readers often feel discouraged because they perceive reading as an arduous task. By teaching them how to read more quickly, you can boost their confidence. When they are able to read more quickly, they will be less likely to get frustrated. This will, hopefully, motivate them to read more often. You also want to make sure that your child is reading books on their “just right” level that are not too difficult nor too easy while also taking into account their interests. This will also help your child feel motivated to want to pick up a book. Make sure you check out our blog post on how to choose “just right” books for your child.

2. Enhances Comprehension

Contrary to what you might think, reading quickly does not mean sacrificing comprehension. In fact, when a reader is able to decode words accurately and smoothly and, in turn, is able to read at a natural pace, comprehension increases. This is because the brain has enough capacity to focus on decoding the words and comprehending them instead of struggling to decode the words making it very difficult to also comprehend. By teaching your child to read fluently, they’ll be better able to understand and retain the material.

3. Academic Success

Reading is essential for success in any subject area. When your child can read more quickly, they will be more equipped to excel in all subject areas. This translates into better grades and more enjoyment in the learning process.

Misconceptions About Children's Reading Skills

Before we explore how to improve children's reading skills and speed, let’s address some common misconceptions.

  1. Speed Reading is Skimming: Speed reading is not about skimming through the text. Instead it looks like reading every word efficiently, but with improved techniques.

  2. It’s a Natural Talent: While some kids may pick up on reading faster and therefore have better reading fluency, most develop this skill through practice and guidance. Reading fluency often needs to be explicitly taught and practiced.

  3. Reduced Comprehension: Reading quickly does not mean trading comprehension for speed. When a reader has the necessary skills to decode (sound out) words with automaticity, their comprehension should increase as well. Some young readers also read very quickly but this does not necessarily mean that they have strong comprehension skills. If your child is a fast reader, is is essential to make sure that they understand what they read not just that they are able to read the words.

How to Improve Children's Reading Skills

Now let’s discuss practical ways you can help your child develop the skill of reading quickly.

1. Reading Together

Read with your child and to your child! One of the best ways to help your child learn to read with proper fluency is to model what it sounds like to read with expression, accuracy, smoothness and appropriate pacing. Take turns reading sentences, paragraphs or pages.

2. Use a Pointer

Show your child how to use a pointer or their finger to track the words. Contrary to what many of us were taught, it is better to have your child track the words from above instead of below because when the line ends their eyes will be able to naturally flow to the next line without pausing if their finger isn’t blocking the next line of text. Tracking words can also help maintain focus and a steady reading pace.

3. Listen to Audiobooks

Listening to audiobooks is one of the best ways to model fluent reading and aid with comprehension especially for those who are slower readers. Nowadays there are many more options out there for audiobooks that have more natural voices. We suggest checking out VoxBooks at your local library which are the world’s first audio books that live inside print books. In short, they are print books that have a reader inside of them allowing the reader to listen to the story read in a natural voice.

4. Explicitly Teach Punctuation Marks

Developing readers need to be explicitly taught what to do when they come to various kinds of punctuation marks. They need to know and understand that when they come to a period they need to stop. They also need to know that they should pause at a comma. It is also important to teach developing readers how long they should stop or pause for. Our rule of thumb is “pause for one knock” and “stop for two knocks”. A child can actually perform this motion and feel how long one second and two seconds lasts. Having a child read and knock at each of the commas or periods is a good way to encourage them to recognize the punctuation and read accordingly until they are used to doing this on their own.

5. Consider Professional Help

If your reader continues to struggle with their reading fluency and you want more information on how to improve children's reading skills, consider reaching out to a professional for help. At Smart Start Tutors, we are trained in how to help struggling readers and developing readers enhance their literacy skills so that they can become confident and skilled readers. Sometimes it just takes some practice and explicit instruction to begin to see progress.

Final Tips to to Improve Your Child's Reading Skills

For parents of struggling readers, the journey to reading success may seem challenging, but it’s not insurmountable. Understanding the importance of teaching your child to read more quickly can be a game-changer. Be patient, supportive and remember that reading quickly is a skill that must be practiced. By giving your child the tools they need to be a fluent reader, you are helping to shape them into confident and successful readers and lifelong learners.

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