The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance
Helping Your First Grader Learn to Read
Our youngest child yearned to read. As he often pointed out, both his big sisters could read, his mom and dad could read, why was he the only one in the family who couldn’t read? His jump from kindergarten baby to big first grader was a momentous occurrence for many reasons, but the most important reason for him was that he would finally become a reader.
You can help your first grader on his or her journey to becoming a lifelong reader by providing support for your child at home. Some suggestions:
• Have daily conversations with your first grader about anything and everything. Eat meals together whenever possible and turn off the television while you talk to each other. Learning to read will be much easier for your child if he or she is familiar with language and its use. The best way for your child to become familiar with language is by having ongoing conversations with family members.
• Read aloud to your child everyday whenever possible. Reading aloud is the best thing that you can do to help your child learn to read. Read fairy tales and nursery rhymes, poetry books and riddle books, books with information and books with wonderful stories. Kids in first grade still love picture books, but you can also start to read novels aloud to them by reading one chapter aloud every night before they go to bed. A great reference book which can help you find terrific read-aloud books is The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, which is available at your local library or bookstore. You may find further helpful information from Jim Trelease at his website: http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/.
• Phonics, a way of learning to read that involves learning the sounds of letters, letter groups, and syllables, is usually a part of every child’s learning to read process. Play letter and word games at home and on car rides that help your child learn the sounds that different letters make. For example: in the car or at home during casual conversation, tell your child the sound the letter “B” makes. Then ask your child if they can find five things inside or outside the car, or in the room, which begin with that sound. Playing casual sound and word games reinforces your children’s formal education and deepens their pleasure in learning.
• Make a personal “early reader” book with your child using family photographs and your child’s drawings to illustrate the words your child uses everyday. Use a blank bound notebook or sketchbook, or create your own book by stapling pieces of copier or construction paper together. Place a photo, or a self-portrait drawing of your child on the front cover of the book. Also, print your child’s name in clear block letters on the cover. Using one or two photographs or drawings on each page, fill the book with pictures of your child’s immediate and extended family, pictures of your home and the places your child loves, and items that your child values such as a favorite toy or book. On each page, again in simple block letters, print out the words that identify the people, places, or things in the pictures you have pasted to the pages. When completed, read this special book to your child out loud several times over the course of a few days. Let your child interrupt you and sound out and/or guess at the words when he or she feels comfortable to do so. Eventually your child will be proudly reading this very personal book by him or herself.
• Your child will probably be given reading assignments or work sheets from his or her teacher to do at home. In first grade, your child will need adult assistance with reading and spelling homework, for early reading and spelling homework often needs to be done aloud. Be sure and create a “homework” friendly environment for your child right from the start. In primary grades it is better that your child work on homework in a room where adult guidance is present, like the kitchen or dining room, rather than in a room with intruding electronic media or in a bedroom alone. If there is a TV in the room where your child does his or her homework, turn off the TV. Be patient with your child’s early efforts to read aloud and remember encouraging compliments will help your child far more than criticism.
• If your child seems to be having difficulty learning to read, or you are unsure of your role in your child’s learning process, do not hesitate to talk to your child’s teacher. Your child’s teacher will be very happy to address your concerns and answer any questions you may have.
• When your first grader is beginning to read, he or she will need the simplest of books so they do not become discouraged in their initial attempts to sound out words and read aloud. Candlewick Press has published a great line of books, their Brand New Readers series. These books not only contain the simplest of texts, but also have great tips to help you support your own brand new reader. And if your first grader has younger siblings, you can suggest that he or she read aloud simple baby board books to his or her younger siblings. Baby board books often contain simple texts and lively illustrations. Your first grader will feel very proud reading aloud to a younger brother or sister.
• If you are not already, become a regular visitor at your neighborhood public library. The children’s librarian will show you and your child the shelves where the Easy Reader and Stepping Stone books are shelved. These books are written for children who are making their first steps toward independent reading. They are illustrated, and are entertaining and often humorous. They will reinforce your child’s reading instruction at school and will also give your child the experience of reading for pleasure. Dean Schneider and Robin Smith, both children’s literature specialists and primary grade teachers, have written a terrific article titled “Reading and Writing: An Open Letter to Parents” on how you can support reading and writing in your home from preschool through high school. You can read it at: http://tinyurl.com/l4ebo7
• Many of your favorite Early Reader books are still available: Hop on Pop, The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Go Dog Go, Bennet Cerf’s Book of Riddles, The Little Bear, Amelia Bedelia, Frog and Toad Are Friends, and The Bike Lesson. Go to your local library or bookstore and get some of the books you loved to read when you were in first grade. Share them with your children. And be sure and share your own first grade memories about learning to read. Tell your child about your first grade teacher. Let them know that it took you a while before you could read independently and that you made reading and spelling mistakes, too.
Find more Early Reader book suggestions for your child on the ALA’s extensive bibliography “New bibliography of Great Early Elementary Reads.
© 2005 by Mary Brigid Barrett