Kindergarten reading is less about actual reading than it is about looking and recognizing sight words. But by the time kids are 4 years old, they’re typically familiar and engaged with reading, particularly when reading is part of the family ritual that a child looks forward to. Many kids start their school years ready to crack kindergarten reading books because they’ve been read to for years. And that, it turns out, is actually the first step in helping a kindergartner read in the first place.
“Parents before school have a lot to do with how their interest develops. The experiences that children have before school goes a long way in developing a love for reading” says Dr. Angela Baum, president of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators and associate professor of early childhood education at the University of South Carolina. “When children see us reading for pleasure, they learn that reading is fun.
That’s a pretty straightforward and easy lesson to teach, but as a kindergarten-age child enters the world of reading by and to themselves, there are many, many things a parent can do to continue the lessons even outside the classroom. Luckily, many of them are fun, intuitive, silly, kindergarten reading games that create fantastic bonding opportunities.
“Play games with words. Sing lots of songs. Read lots of books,” says Baum. “When you’re in the car, find anything that starts with A or the “ah” sound. All of that plays not only into the skill of reading or the enjoyment of reading.”
It also helps for parents to engage with children in subjects they are truly interested in, which seems like a no brainer. But it’s also important for parents to support those interests, rather than put more value on certain books over others. At a kindergarten level, any opportunity to read is a learning experience.
“Good learning looks different for everybody. We don’t want to say, ‘Oh, you’re really interested in reading graphic novels, but that’s not high-quality literature,’” says Baum. “If that’s what the child loves, that’s good learning.”
Regardless of what they’re reading, Baum recommends that parents exercise what’s called scaffolding. The term applies to parents providing an appropriate amount of support, but still allowing a child to solve problems themselves. This requires lots of patience and discretion, but allowing the child to get through mental roadblocks is a huge part of learning, and watching their delight when they finally push through a big word — or even a small one they’re struggling with — is hugely rewarding.
“If a child is reading to you, they might get stuck on a word. Instead of jumping in and saying ‘here’s the word,” say ‘well, what’s the first letter sound like?’” says Baum. “Eventually…’ They’re going to be able to do that on their own. It’s important to pay attention to where your child is so you know what level of support they need. The way to do that is spending time reading with them and giving them a chance to do it.”
Allowing a kid to flaunt their skills is also key to their learning process. There’s a reason many children like to read aloud: They’re proud. But sounding things out is also extremely helpful to their cognitive development. One way to get them to that level, Baum says, is turning story time into a duet, with parent and child trading off from page to page, or the parent changing up the story to see if the child is following along. That keeps them focused and listening, while also giving them a chance to strut their stuff.
But helping a kid with kindergarten reading doesn’t mean that storytime is gone altogether.
“I want to emphasize, even with my 10-year-old, I still try to read to him. The benefit of that does not go away when kids get older,” says Baum. “Don’t replace the reading to with the reading with. Share the responsibility of reading: Take turns reading. It’s a fun experience for the parents and the kids.”