Primary is the first phase of formal education and runs from the age of around 3 until 11. It’s one of the most important phases of developing reading skills and comprehension when your child can foster a true love for learning.
At school, the focus will be on listening to stories, songs, and simple rhymes and retelling them in their own words, being exposed to as many age-suitable language resources as possible.
Your child will also learn to read using an approach known as ‘phonics’. This breaks down the sounds in words, instead of recognising words by sight and is an approach designed to promote greater literacy.
By the age of 5 or 6, they will be given plenty of opportunities to develop their reading skills and discuss what they are reading. This stage of discussion is when reading comprehension really takes off and the child starts to build solid foundations that will pay off throughout the rest of their educational career.
This emphasis will increase throughout the rest of the primary years, as children are encouraged to express their thoughts more fluently, discuss language choices, make predictions, discuss themes and give recommendations.
Supporting reading comprehension at home during the primary years
Throughout these foundation years, parents and caregivers can take many steps to support the child’s reading comprehension for future success. This includes the following:
1. Read aloud together -
From a very young age, parents and caregivers should be sharing books and reading aloud with their children as much as possible. This will help to foster a true love of reading as they discover the beauty of the written word.
Choose books that will spark their imagination and enrich their worldview, even if you believe that the text isn’t ‘educational’ enough.
Many parents find that children lose interest in bedtime stories or reading aloud once they reach a certain point in their primary school journey. Don’t give up. Continue to find books that they will love and will challenge them.
2. Provide a language-rich environment
Make sure you provide your child with an environment that is as language rich as possible. Create a home library including picture books, chapter books and even magazines and newspapers to ensure that your child has easy access to written texts whenever they want.
If you’re on a limited budget, look for free local resources instead. Ask family and friends for second-hand books, look for local book exchanges, and remember to use your local public library. Make sure you always keep it fresh, switching the reading materials available for fresh, exciting items to keep sparking their curiosity.
Even at this early age, you can start discussing what you’re reading and make simple predictions regarding what might happen next. This will help get your child engaged and spark their imagination. Ask questions such as “What do you think will happen next?”, “What do you think about this character?” or “Would you do the same?” to fire up their cognitive skills.
4. Set challenges
Reading for a purpose develops a different set of critical reading skills than simply reading for pleasure. As your child grows and their reading skills improve, encourage them to start thinking more deeply about a text and look for information. Again, you can ask them questions or even create fun treasure hunt games based on the book you’re reading together.
5. Use technology
There are many technological tools you can use to accelerate your child’s language skills at this early age. This includes simple things such as listening to audiobooks whilst reading a physical text, using multimedia apps, or using the powerful Forbrain headset to support language comprehension.
Middle and Secondary School
Middle school runs between the ages of around 10-13 and works as a ‘bridge’ between primary and high school in the US, or is incorporated into the early secondary years in many parts of Europe.
At this stage, the focus is on activating critical thinking skills, encouraging your child to express their thoughts, and continuing to build strong reading skills. They’ll also be encouraged to activate their prior knowledge, make predictions, clarify and question what they’re reading and summarise a text.
Often, children lose momentum when it comes to reading, especially boys. As their interests grow and puberty strikes, their focus shifts elsewhere, and their interest in social media grows, books are often tossed aside.
It’s at this point when adults must push harder- expose children to a wider range of reading materials that meet their interests and encourage them to explore their love of the written word if the child is to continue to grow their skills.
Supporting reading comprehension at home during middle school
1. Focus on finding reading materials that spark interest
As mentioned above, it’s vital at this age to keep your child interested in reading. You can do this by finding books on topics that address their personal tastes and interests, whether this is fiction or non-fiction books. Encourage them to visit the library, gift books for special occasions, and get them to explore their interests.
Many parents make the mistake of dismissing certain topics because they don’t feel like they provide enough language stimulation or educational benefit. Don’t do this! Whatever they read will continue to boost their reading and comprehension skills!
2. Stay engaged
Often students of this age will shut down and stop talking about what they are learning at school. But if you can get them talking, you can find opportunities to support what they are reading and learning about.
Instead of asking general questions such as “How was school?”, be more precise. Say “Which book are you reading at school right now?”, “Did you enjoy your English class?” or “What was your favorite part of your day?” These will encourage them to open up and share. If they still don’t engage, don’t push it. They will come to you in their own time. The fact that you are expressing an interest will make a big difference.
3. Value their opinion
Whether you’re reading a book, watching a movie or simply sitting around the dinner table, encourage your child to share their opinion.
Although this may not appear to be directly related to reading comprehension, it can significantly improve those essential critical thinking skills. Then they will naturally apply these skills to the classroom environment and promote greater engagement with the texts they are exposed to.
When kids get to high school (around 14-18 years old), they’ll be faced with greater academic challenges that require them to read in-depth, develop their thoughts and express them in a cohesive way.
However, the complexity of these texts can often leave them feeling overwhelmed. Even if they complete the required reading, they may not retain what they have covered and need to waste precious time reviewing the content.
If your children haven’t already developed strong reading and comprehension skills, they will clearly struggle enormously. Here’s what parents and guardians can do to help support and develop reading comprehension skills at this level.
Supporting reading comprehension in high school
1. Make a reading corner
Having a comfortable space that promotes reading is key to improving focus and concentration when reading and allowing your child to comprehend what they are reading.
Make sure there’s comfortable lighting, a comfortable chair and the room is quiet enough. They should also mute or turn off their phone and have everything they need to hand.
2. Promote effective reading skills
You can support reading comprehension by teaching your children how to read and study effectively. Here are some good strategies to share:
- Preview the text - They could check the material before they start reading and consider what they already know, then scan the headings, subheadings and any charts or illustrations.
- Break up the reading - Encourage your child to break up their reading into smaller chunks to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed.
- Check for understanding. As they read, they should check with themselves that they’ve understood the text. If not, they will need to go back and review.
- Take notes. Studies have shown that our reading comprehension improves when we take notes about what we’re reading. They can also use a highlighter, if allowed or add their comments to the margins of the books.
- Look up words they don’t know. If your child encounters a word that they don’t know, they should look it up in a print or online dictionary and make a note of the meaning.
- Make connections. As they read, they should look for links and connections between the text itself and their existing knowledge, thoughts, opinions and experiences.
- Once they’ve read a paragraph or section, they should write a sentence or two to summarise the main points and add their own thoughts.
- To take their reading comprehension to the next level, encourage them to talk about what they’ve read with you, their teacher or a classmate.
3. Use Forbrain
One tool that can support you here is Forbrain, a learning device for improving voice quality, stuttering, reading ability, and more. Check out Forbrain to see how we can help you gain confidence in speaking and socializing.
Learn how you can use Forbrain here.