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School Age Readers

From kindergarten through third grade, your child's ability to read will grow by leaps and bounds. Although teachers provide lots of help, you can continue to play a role in your child's reading life.

A child first learning to read gets more information from listening to books than from reading them independently. This is especially true of vocabulary - your child will learn more about what words mean by hearing books read aloud and discussing words with you than from reading on his or her own.

And even as your child's reading skills improve, reading aloud together can foster a sense of closeness and help improve vocabulary and reading skills. When you encourage your child to talk about characters or share reactions to books, you are reinforcing the connection between books and your child's own life. You also show that you take your child's reading seriously and care about what he or she reads. Positive, loving attention from you helps your child feel safe, accomplished, and loved.
Your Growing Reader
Let's look at how reading usually progresses from kindergarten to third grade.

Kindergarten. Most kindergarteners are on the cusp of becoming readers. They "read" stories by looking at pictures and relying on memory. By the end of the school year they will probably know most letters and their sounds and start to read and write simple words. They might be able to read simple text as well.

First grade. In this year, most kids learn to recognize printed words. Your child will sound out words, recognize some by sight, and know what they mean. Most first-graders can read simple books independently by the end of the school year.

Second and third grade. By this point, your child should be reading independently, using books to explore new words, learning about the world around him or her, reading aloud more expressively, and enjoying specific authors and types of books. Children who are not making good reading progress may have a reading disability, such as dyslexia. If this is the case, talk to your child's teacher, school counselor, and pediatrician to find out ways to address the situation.
What to Read
As your child becomes a more confident reader, continue to introduce a wide range of books. When it comes to reading aloud, look for two types of books - those that could be read alone and those that are above your child's current reading level. With this mix, your child can re-read some of these books independently, while you'll have to do the reading (or at least help) with the challenging ones that allow your child to enjoy a more sophisticated story and learn new words.

Let your child's interests lead the way when you are choosing books. Sports? Music? Dinosaurs? Look for books on topics you know are of interest and ones that relate to these things. For example, if you know your child is interested in whales, look for books that talk about famous explorers or historical fiction set on whaling boats. As your child gets older, you will find that he or she enjoys increasingly complex books that can each about the world and introduce social and ethical issues.

Talk about the books your child is reading independently and for school and about favorite topics and authors. If the author writes a series of books, encourage your child to read them all. Some kids enjoy keeping a checklist of favorite authors' books.

Other types of books your child may like include:

  • biographies of famous people
  • books about kids dealing with challenges
  • books containing plot twists or language play
  • mysteries
  • science fiction and fantasy

Another way to grab your child's interest is to pick books that have a personal connection. Introduce your childhood favorites and talk about why you love them. Your child may also like to read junior versions of the same magazines you read.
When and How to Read
The school-age child's schedule can be a busy one. You may be having dinner on the go as you scoot from football practice to music lessons. But if you can find 30 minutes a day to read with your child, you will help ensure future reading success.

Use the same strategies you did when your child was younger - talk about what you read before, during, and after, asking open-ended questions that encourage your child's involvement. Read expressively and with enjoyment.

But at this age, be sure to let your child read a book to you. Or you might choose to take turns reading.

If your child is reading and can't sound out a word, encourage him or her to skip it and read the rest of the sentence before deciding what word would make sense. As your child becomes a strong independent reader, you might allow some mistakes while reading, then ask questions to reveal them ("Do you think that word makes sense in this sentence?"). If your child seems discouraged or tired while reading, offer to take over.

If you are reading a longer chapter book over time, here are some tips for maintaining your child's interest:

  • Save questions for the end so your child can simply enjoy the story, but before you begin the next chapter, talk a little bit about what happened in the previous one.
  • Re-read lines your child found funny.
  • Let your child read too (if he or she wants to).
  • If a block of text is too challenging for your child, don't be afraid to summarize or skip over it.
  • Ask your child's opinion about a character's actions or decisions. What would he or she do in the same situation?
  • Offer your own honest opinions about what you've read, and ask for the same from your child.

Making Time to Read
Reading aloud isn't the only way to encourage your child to read. Provide other chances during day-to-day life, like cooking together and having your child read you the recipe. Or when you play a new game, ask your child to read the directions aloud.

Buy a dictionary for kids so that your child can look up definitions of new words. When your child has questions about a famous person or how something works, help him or her look up the answers in an encyclopedia or online.

Your child should have a library card and lots of opportunities to use it. Let him or her make the selections and ask the librarian for help finding books.

As your child gets older and spends less time every day with you, reading together can be a way for you to connect on a daily basis. Talking about books gives you a window into your child's imagination and offers opportunities for you to find out what your child thinks about the world.


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