Reading is an essential foundational skill for all children. Teaching reading is more than teaching a specific set of reading strategies. Reading comprehension is a complex process that involves knowledge, experience, thinking and teaching.
As a parent or early childhood teacher I encourage you to look at the holistic child. Each individual child has their own skills, talents and attributes.
Over the course of my 35 years as an early childhood educator, I have formed the firm belief that a child’s self-esteem and confidence is critical and just as important as more specific ‘reading’ activities. When you work on a child’s confidence and self-esteem, the results will be evident in the child’s progress on their reading and comprehension.
Learning to read is a journey. It can be supported by a range of pre-reading and comprehension strategies implemented into everyday activities.
If children are to become thoughtful, insightful readers, they must merge their thinking with the text beyond a mere superficial understanding. Comprehension involves readers thinking about what they are learning, not just what they are reading. This might mean understanding a message beyond the literal meaning of a text; for example, in ‘The Rainbow Fish’ by Marcus Pfister, the underlying message is the importance of sharing and friendship.
Use pre-reading activities and strategies that focus on building a child’s confidence, exposure and understanding.
Through listening and providing encouragement, you build children’s confidence and interest in reading. Start with short picture books or books with a catchy repetitious phrase to give children a sense of achievement. For example, “Run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me. I’m the Gingerbread Man.” I would also encourage children to be allowed to choose books that interest them.
One more thing to note before I move onto the seven reading comprehension strategies that you can implement today: It is important that children see themselves as a reader – and have the knowledge that they can be a reader. Confidence is essential to achieve this.
7 Easy Reading Comprehension Strategies that you can do today
1. Play based activities
Play is a critical element of the early childhood education experience – and childhood more generally! When you are playing with your child or with your class, leverage these play-based activities to help enable comprehension of the spoken word as a precursor to comprehension of the written word. This is often overlooked, but oral comprehension should be used as a foundation for reading comprehension strategies. For example, you, as the parent or preschool teacher, can give instructions to encourage comprehension in the sand pit such as “let’s build a tall tower”. Many play opportunities can be used, such as “please throw the ball to me”.
2. Cooking together with a recipe
Take part in practical activities that require reading to complete. One of my favorites is following a recipe when cooking with my class. It’s also a great activity for parents to do at home. I like to use recipes that have pictures to show the children the end goal. Cooking with a recipe encourages reading comprehension, even at an early age, as it introduces children to the idea that we are creating food as a result of the words we are reading.
You can also use other reading comprehension strategies throughout the process, such as “Can you please get me 3 eggs?” Cooking is an enjoyable activity to do with the children as it’s always an added bonus that we get to eat the end result!
3. Singing songs while watching the words
I’ve never had a preschool class that didn’t love to sing! Luckily, this is a great tool for encouraging reading comprehension. Sing songs with the children whilst simultaneously displaying the lyrics. This helps the children build a connection between what they are singing and the words they are seeing. Reading comprehension is further encouraged when children undertake practical actions to go along with the song.
4. Picture books
A picture book without words can inspire children’s imaginations when they retell the story in their own words. Children can follow the story and understand the sequencing. Picture books also introduce fundamental reading behaviors, such as reading from left to right and developing a child’s dexterity to turn pages. I like to use both picture books and books with simple phrases initially, before gradually increasing the complexity of the story and the words throughout the year.
5. Point out signs and logos
Actively point out logos and signs to children that feature written words, for example, a ‘STOP’ sign. Point out signs when you go on excursions or to the grocery store. Read menus, food packets and the TV guide. Help children to recognize that the written word is all around them. You can introduce letter recognition too, such as pointing out a license plate that has the same letter as in a child’s name.
6. Putting actions to words (whether spoken, written or sung)
I find that demonstrating related actions can be extremely helpful to encourage children’s association with the words they are seeing.
Think of traditional songs like “I’m a little teapot” or “Row, row, row your boat”. The children love the actions and are working on their comprehension skills at the same time. Win! I would encourage you to do a similar activity with books you are reading as a class.
7. Play Reading Comprehension Games
Games are a fun way to support comprehension skills and are an effective strategy for reading comprehension.
Add games to your repertoire that promote not only comprehension but word structure, following directions, listening and extending vocabulary.
I have written an extensive eBook with 50 games for pre-schoolers, available free for you. Each game includes the developemental outcomes we are working towards and you will find many reading comprehension games.
Reading is a lifelong skill. In the preschool years, we need to start with the fundamentals of comprehension and pre-reading.
I hope this article has demonstrated that reading comprehension strategies don’t have to be fancy or expensive. The written word is all around us and we simply need to use this to help children become confident readers.
This is a topic I am particularly passionate about. I have actually written two books on the subject; one for parents (coming soon) and one for preschool teachers.