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Reading Focus

Julie Haden —  : Oct 28, 2014 — Leave a comment

Often times my parents will tell me that their children are having a hard time focusing when reading – especially the parents of kids just beginning to read independently. Here are a few techniques to try with your child to help increase their reading focus, fluency and comprehension.2014 10 28 focus

First, when your child is reading aloud, track each word for her with your finger as she reads. If she misreads a word or makes a mistake, keep your finger on that word so she is aware of her mistake until you teach her the correct word or help her focus on the skipped words.

Another way to increase focus while your child is reading aloud is to ask questions periodically about the context of the text or story to insure she understands what she is reading. Help bring her focus to the main idea and specific details about the story.

Finally, bring your child’s attention to words that she misreads aloud. As you track the words while she reads, highlight words that she misreads. So you can review these words with her, copy a chapter at a time as she progresses in the book or text. Then after each chapter, review missed words with your child. This technique also teaches your child to be aware of how many words she skips, since skipping too many words might affect her comprehension of what she reads.

By practicing these three techniques, you are teaching your child how to have greater focus as she begins to read independently.

What helps your child learn to have focus while reading?

Want a fast, fun way to expand your preschooler’s vocabulary and understanding? I found one while working with a student who is an English Language Learner. English Language Learners often have limited exposure to English vocabulary at home. Vocabulary is important to building reading skills and listening comprehension as well as increasing conversational speech.

zoo toobMy new student and I started playing what I call “prop” stories. Prop stories start with small three-dimensional toy figures, or pictures on felt or magnets, that depict animals, people or other realistic or fanciful objects. A blank background can work or you can use a specific background like a zoo theme for example. The key is to focus on your child’s specific interests.

To introduce these prop stories, I model the story first using specific sentences, which I ask my student to repeat. For example in my zoo prop story I might say, “A mother takes her son to the zoo. They see the penguins swimming in the water. They see the elephants swinging their trunks.”

As your child gets more comfortable with vocabulary and sentence structuring, he can begin to create his own stories without your prompting and labeling of words.

zoo feltProp stories are great for children as young as 18 months – 2 years and for older children too. You can find materials for your child’s prop story around your home or can purchase magnetic and felt story sets at teacher school supply stores.

Prop stories are fun. Your child will see them as play and will be motivated by the imaginative interactions with you. As your child plays with you, she expands her vocabulary and language skills as you label the words and create a better grasp on sentence structuring. Your child’s creativity grows too as your child creates and tells stories.

How do you help build your child’s vocabulary through play?

2014 09 29 Bella and DragonYour child will benefit from tutoring whether she needs some enrichment in reading or is struggling. Regardless of the reason to start with a tutor, remember: “It’s never too late!”

Some of my parents who call me about tutoring feel guilty for either not catching the learning challenge or waiting too long to begin tutoring. I tell them not to feel guilty. Until your child is in school and her teacher lets you know, your child’s underlying academic difficulties may be hard to see. Knowing when your child might benefit from tutoring is even less evident. Sometimes as a parent, you might not know until your child’s teacher recommends tutoring.

Your enthusiasm is critical when your child needs tutoring. Focus on your child’s strengths and challenges, both in a positive way. Remember that overcoming challenges and learning new strategies takes time. Continue to have high expectations, but give your child time to learn new skills. Your child’s tutor can give you a gauge of your child’s pace after a few sessions and suggest strategies that you can use to encourage your child.

For example, I often tell my parents to track words for their child as she reads aloud to help with missed words and help increase fluency. Additionally, I find that some of my students who have dyslexia and struggle with reading will also have very strong listening comprehension skills. Therefore, I often suggest to my parents that they balance challenging their child to read books with playing to their child’s strength by providing audio books.

If your child is dyslexic, make your focus her strengths, not her label. I see this happen with parents sometimes – forgetting that their child is so much more than the label would suggest. In many ways, parents are better off just eliminating the label when they talk to their child about having dyslexia. Otherwise, their child may start to think, “I’m the child with dyslexia. That’s why I can’t spell.”  Instead, focus on strategies that help your child be successful.

For example, your child’s tutor might find that she is having difficulties with her reading comprehension in her science text. A tutor might recommend that you help in between sessions by using the strategy of reading the questions at the end of your child’s science chapters before she starts reading the text for specific information. This allows your child to think about the information that she should look for as she reads.

We all learn in different ways and that’s the key message to tell your child. I often tell my daughter that although I’m a great speller, I have to work harder on math. This makes her realize that we all have skills to improve upon. As a tutor, I often say this to my students, “We all have strengths and weaknesses.”

So remember, be positive and embrace your child’s learning challenges just as you do her strengths. Tutoring is a great way to help your child feel more confident and catch up on her skills. Remind yourself that you are an amazing parent because you are helping your child tackle challenges and build on strengths. As a parent of an incredible 8-year-old daughter, I remind myself of this each day.

What are ways you help your child to overcome challenges?

  1.  Touch each word as you read to your child to emphasize that each is separate and unique. Emphasize that you are reading from left to right to teach directionality.
  2. Put objects that all begin with the same letter sound in a bag or box. Have your child pull them out. Say each object’s name emphasizing its beginning sound.  For example, cat begins with the |c| sound just like cow.  Then let them pull out more objects that make the same sound.
  3. Frequent the library. Help your child pick out books that they are interested in and age appropriate.  This shows them how much you value reading.  Let them see you reading your favorite books too.
  4. Play rhyming games.  This can be great fun on road trips or walking outings together.  For example, you might say, “I saw a cat on a mat with a _____. ” Let them fill in the blank.  There are no wrong answers in this game, except the sillier the better including nonsense words!
  5. When you teach letter names, use letters that are lowercase because this is what they will see in books.  Save capital letters until after they’ve mastered the lowercase.  You can find a set of lowercase letters at a teacher’s supply store.

Use these 5 ideas to start having fun cultivating an early reader!

What are some ideas you’ve used with your child to promote early reading?

Bella and Julie

First published October 3, 2013.

My daughter was sick for the past two days. As we were snuggled in bed, my eight-year old who has been reading independently since age two, asked, “Will you read to me, Mommy?”

Her request immediately brought back memories of her younger days sitting on my lap as I read favorite stories to her. In part through those experiences, we developed a close bond as I helped cultivate my early reader.

Here are a couple favorites that your infant, toddler or preschooler might enjoy hearing you read as you snuggle:

black on whiteFor your infant up to age 6 months. As an infant, my daughter loved to have me read and act out Peek-a Book by Janet Ahlberg. This story takes your infant from breakfast to bedtime with opportunities to play peek-a-boo in each of the book’s scenes. Another great book for this age is Black on White by Tana Hoban. Using this book, you can share familiar shapes with your baby, talk about each picture to expand vocabulary and have fun together.

For your infant at age 6 to 12 months. I Can by Helen Oxenbury focuses on body awareness. Have fun with your infant as you explore her world as the baby in the story jumps, stretches and dances throughout this book. Where’s Baby by Tom Paxton is a great book for your little animal lover. In this book, a kitten searches for its friend the baby. The fun rhyming text provides a playful twist on hide-and-seek as you enjoy the book’s beautiful artwork together.

(For more suggestions to cultivate your early reader as an infant, please see my First Year blog series that starts with Month 1: Your Child’s Journey to Early Reading)

699px-GoodnightmoonFor your toddler to age two. Ingrained in my memory is Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon. My husband and I must have read this all time favorite a 1000 times at our daughter’s request for a bedtime story. In this classic, mother bunny takes baby bunny through all the rituals of getting ready for bed. This incredible book will help encourage your child’s bedtime rituals. Next, The Itsy Bitsy spider by Lorianne Siomades beautifully illustrates this classic rhyme in a way that your active toddler can act out. Your child will practice motor control with her fingers as she follows the rhyme with you and sings the lyrics.

(For more toddler book recommendations, please see my article Top five board books! The most chewed list for your early readers!)

For your preschooler. The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff is a favorite from my childhood, and for my preschool students. In this classic story, a brave little elephant, Babar, escapes the capture of hunters who kill his mother. Alone, Babar heads to the city where a kind old lady educates him. Wiser, Babar returns to the great forest where he is crowned king of the elephants. Another favorite is The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Paul Galdone, Caldecott-honored artist. Paul Goldone’s illustrations make this book amazing. When I read this aloud, my preschoolers love this story because it invites the reader to use dramatic expression and tone-of-voice. My preschoolers beg me to read the story again and again.

(For more preschooler book recommendations, please see my article Julie’s Recommends New Books for your Preschool Reader.)

These are a few of my favorite books that your infant, toddler or preschooler might enjoy hearing you read aloud.

What are some books your child enjoys hearing read aloud?

648792287310In this busy world, you and your children may have less time to read just for pleasure. Kids today have 8 hours less free time than they did 20 years ago. So I have a proposal to rediscover those 8 hours of lost unstructured fun time – time that inevitably leads to more happy and content children.

Here are a few great ways to find this free reading time:

  1. Schedule time in the day when you and your family read for pleasure. It might be after dinner or before bedtime during the school week or first thing in the morning on the weekends. During this time, make sure all family members participate.
  2. Have reading material on hand that is truly pleasurable for all members of your family. This means reading material that is fun and exciting for your child. It could be comics, books, magazines, newspapers or free e-books available from most public libraries.
  3. Read together with your child on the couch or in bed to make this bonding time, too. Talk to your child about what they are reading and share information about books that you are reading.

Quality time spent together with you – their parent – will make your children content and secure with their life. Reading together is the greatest gift you can offer your children – the gift of your time.

What are some ways you create reading time in your home?

For an article on the science of raising happy kids that are confident and content: The Science of Raising Happy Kids


Your home is your child’s learning environment. So what might the environment of your early reader look like?

Books will become a huge part of your child’s learning environment. As your child becomes an early reader, she will delight in a bedroom that holds many books in shelves, and a comfortable bed, table and chair for reading. A reading light over your child’s bed that is dim enough to sooth, but not too bright, will help support their likely wish to read before nodding off. As your child becomes a more proficient reader, she will likely to return to favorite books. She may be almost 8 years old and still look back at board books in between venturing into Harry Potter or an encyclopedia of North American frogs. Books become friends to your early reader who may want to keep many of her books – so consider more bookshelves. Of course, toys and clothing are in your early reader’s room too but hidden in bins to free her of distracting clutter.

Bella room

Distractions can influence your child becoming an early reader who is motivated to learn as much as possible. Screen time can become a major distraction. If you have TV, consider keeping it behind cabinet doors and on only in the evening after bedtime. Consider limiting your child’s time on the iPad, too. Interestingly enough, you may find your child will want to craft or pursue other creative outlets instead of iPad time. The key point is that your early reader’s environment is set up so that reading is what he wants to do, because other distractions like TV and the computer are a controlled privilege.

Clutter can be another distraction. Consider keeping your child’s toys in her room in containers. Fewer toys can foster creativity. Contrary to what some might think, more “stuff” does not necessarily lead to a happier, smarter child. Instead, more seems to lead to a child who is only satisfied with the latest toy.

Cultivating imagination and creativity can help cultivate your child’s interest in early reading. Creative play that encourages imagination can help motivate him to become an early reader. To foster your child’s imagination and creativity, focus on providing materials and places inside your home dedicated to your child learning. Elsewhere in your home where you and your child frequent, consider providing an easeBella sewingl and stocking a craft cabinet. Supply obvious things like glue, crayons, and paper to the less obvious like recycled clothes, tape, cardboard tubes and boxes. You will find your child may choose to create if they are not far from the action in your home with less screen time and clutter. Once your early reader is comfortable in their learning environment that you create, and wants to learn to do something, like sewing or building a model rocket, he will read about it first and then give it a go. Free of screen time distractions and clutter, he will find entertainment in what is available in the current environment rather than wanting new toys or more time on the computer.

If possible, a backyard or other outdoor space can benefit your early reader. It doesn’t have to be big – but it should be secure and private. Ideally, it is fenced in and private enough your child can easily explore and play without your constant attention. A sandbox is a favorite areMud Pies.indda where your imaginative one can make cakes for backyard fairies  or pursue a career as a famous scientist. A garden is another favorite for learning the names of various herbs and plants, which become material for creations or samples for the microscope. A birdfeeder too is an endless source of inspiration for research, drawing and storytelling. Again, only a few toys hidden in containers – mostly tools for creating, exploring and moving the body.

Regardless of where you live, your early reader is most likely to thrive in an uncluttered environment where easily accessible books are the main entertainment and screen time is limited and tied to privilege – where toys fulfill needs rather than to satisfy wants and are a special treat.

What is your early reader’s home environment? How do you cultivate early reading?

I was cleaning out my office the other day when I came across a booklet on brain research applied to early childhood learning. The work by Rod Ingraham, M.D., a specialist in pediatric medicine and behavioral medicine at the Mill Creek Center in Georgia, provides surprisingly practical recommendations.

  1. No TV before age two. American Academy of Pediatrics makes this recommendation because TV negatively impacts your child’s development, attention, intelligence, well being, and their success in school. Instead read to your infant every day and spend more time face-to-face.
  2. Read regularly to your child from early infancy. By age two, those who are read to have reproducible cognitive developmental differences from those who were not. They develop better language and thinking skills and are more likely to enjoy reading in school.
  3. Children who are read to regularly develop better attention systems and show improved school readiness skills. Reading aloud is a precursor of reading success and better vocabulary development in later school years.
  4. Keep TV out of your child’s room. Children with a TV in their room are less likely to read well, as are those who live in a house where the TV is always on. The average child has three hours of screen time each day (TV, computer gaming) – obviously this leads to less reading time.
  5. Make certain your child’s TV and gaming content is non-violent and age appropriate. Violent, age-inappropriate content can encourage a distorted sense of reality and tends to cultivate a sense that the “real” world is mainly about being entertained. Children with that view of reality are less motivated by any activity that is not considered fun or entertaining. Your child will develop best by experiencing the “real” world around them.
  6. Increased TV and gaming time negatively impacts the development of normal left brain attention systems which are crucial to focused mental effort and persistent thinking. More TV and gaming time equals more cases of ADD in our children today than ever before.

Limiting “screen time” and making sure that games have educational value and are grounded in a positive “real” world helps prepare your child for success.

Our series of apps, roadmap2reading will allow you to limit your child’s time playing our games – starting with a suggested 30 minute limit. While playing our games, your child gets to escape to “real places” like the beach while he learns how to read. Our games provide positive praise for measured progress, and bring to your notice his hard work and attention. Playing games on a computer is not bad, within limits, if their purpose is skillfully promoting learning and fun.

What learning games do your children enjoy that positively ground them in reality?


Click on the photograph to link to the Wall Street Journal’s recent summary of “screen time” recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.



Many people ask me, “Why is it important for a child to be reading at an early age?” I answer:

  1. Choice motivates early readers and reading opens the world of choices. Yes, reading to your child is a great way to start. the blue marble - Earth seen from Apollo 17Even before they can read independently, they can tell you what they want you to read to them. When they start to read independently, they can choose the words to ask about. As they become more proficient, they begin to decide what they want to learn. Their advantage is that they can learn about subjects you may have never thought to teach – motivating them to want to learn more by reading more.
  2. Early readers develop interests and expertise in subject areas because they can read advanced texts independently – unlike children who start reading in kindergarten. My daughter is a nonfiction buff – particularly in the area of animals. Because she started reading at two, she was able to read adult texts when she was four. She excels in the areas of science and social studies due to this backlog of information that she learned when she was much younger. In a nutshell, that expertise “effect” makes early readers very motivated to read and take in as much information as possible.
  3. Reading early is a great way for a child to build their vocabulary. Once in elementary school, early readers have a wider range of vocabulary and ideas which makes learning more complicated texts – like nonfiction – much easier for them because of their advanced vocabulary skills.
  4. Early readers are confident and successful. You may have noticed that school has gotten more academic in nature. No longer do we have half days or nap time in kindergarten. Our children are expected to be ready to go once they enter kindergarten. If they are not ready to read, they get left behind quickly. Children who come to kindergarten with a strong reading foundation or who are already reading independently can keep up with the quick pace of the curriculum. They tend to be confident and secure about their abilities in school. This leads to greater enjoyment and overall motivation within the classroom environment.

When I track the kids I have taught and my daughter’s progress, I see success continue throughout their school experiences. Children who are successful in school go on to take that success through their lives and help to make the world a better place.

I would love to hear your views of the advantages of being an early reader! How has early reading helped your child or a child you know?