Help your child with reading

Most children are reading well by the time they’re seven or eight, but now researchers are becoming concerned that not enough attention is paid to actually using those skills. Here’s what you can do to help.

By Heather Welford

“There is masses of research devoted to the initial teaching of reading,” education professor Ted Wragg told the Times Education Supplement. “But there is less that looks at the skills needed once the children are up and running.”

Professor Wragg and colleagues were asked by Encyclopaedia Britannica to find out how well children could actually use books, in particular, encyclopaedias, for research. They found that only one child in seven in the 7-9 age group could handle alphabetical order comfortably – finding the third letter of an entry was often a problem, so they could only get as far as C-A of CASTLES, getting lost at the C-A-S stage. Wragg’s team say the best encyclopaedias are the ones which use informative illustration, and which are written at a level children can understand. The reading age required of some children’s encyclopaedias were too high – as high as 14 in some cases.

For children in the seven-up age group,says Professor Wragg, encyclopaedias can be a useful tool. “A well-conceived encyclopaedia entry can open the door to understanding and lead them on to more detailed books.” However, the younger ages still need help and guidance in how to use them, to avoid frustration.

Here are some hints to help your child practise his reading skills so he can make good use of them:

  • make a game out of finding a word in the dictionary – see if your child can find a given word in 10/15/20 seconds
  • wordsearches – often in puzzle books, or make your own – are very good practise for ‘skim reading’
  • teach him how to use the library index, or ask the children’s librarian to teach you both, if you aren’t sure yourself. Most large libraries have a junior index that works the same way as the adult section
  • encourage him to take phone messages accurately
  • build up a good reference library for use at home
  • encourage use of the Internet (under supervision – the Net can lead you places you wouldn’t want a child to go). Your child’s school may be able to supply approved sites you can bookmark, or do a check yourself and have a set of bookmarks for your child.


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