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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?

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?

My friend asked how to entertain her young children on a 6000-mile road trip. I responded, “Play audio books for your whole family. You can download them into your smart phone or tablet for your child to listen to with headphones.”

On road trips with my daughter, here are our top three audio books we have enjoyed as a family:

2014 07 09 Grimm AudioGrimm’s Fairy Tales are dark and entertaining. Each tale focuses on a moral that lends itself to further discussion and deeper learning. For example, was it fair that the king banished the maid for trying to steal the identity of the princess?

2014 07 09 Chronicles of NarniaThe Chronicles of Narnia collection by C.S. Lewis includes all of the stories about the mythical Narnia, including The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. Miles fly by as these classic adventures unfold. I am always sad when these stories are over – but then I remember that I can listen again to return to where I have been.

2014 07 09 Harry PotterThe Harry Potter books are entertaining and addictive. Time passes quickly while listening to this wonderful series and when book one is over, don’t be sad. You have six more.

What are some of your favorite audio books to listen to on long trips?

I was reading aloud with one of my students the other day and thought, “I need to write about this.” Even my elementary age students and daughter have books that they love to hear read aloud. Here are my top-five picks that your elementary-age child will love to hear:

2014 07 01 Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryFirst, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl is a favorite for its imaginative nature and elements of surprise. Dahl’s characters are funny and of course what child does not want to imagine sampling tasty treats in a chocolate factory. Even if your kiddos have seen the movie, all of you will enjoy the innuendos missing from the movie when you read aloud the book.

2014 07 01 Charlottes WebMy kids love hearing Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White for many reasons. First, it is about animals – a relationship between a pig and a spider. But what intrigues them most is the friendship between these two unlikely creatures and how their friendship helps them to both grow on the inside and outside.

2014 07 01 Grimms Fairy TalesThe stories in Grimm’s Fairy Tales have a bit of a dark side to them but that is what the kids enjoy most. For example, “the ash maiden” – essentially what the modern day Cinderella story is based on- has a darker ending than Disney portrays. For example in this story, the birds poke out the eyes of the stepsisters for their cruel and evil ways. A great set of tales that teach moral lessons.

For more about reading fairy tales aloud, read Einstein on Fairy Tales and Education by Maria Popova.

2014 07 01 The Giving TreeThe Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is short but great to read aloud. The book is poetic. So when you read it aloud, you and your child will feel the words. In the story, a tree loves a boy and gives to him until there is nothing physically left to give. It is a story of how love grows and evolves over time.

2014 07 01 The Secret GardenFinally, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is appropriate for your older child (second grade and older) due to its length (331 pages). An orphaned girl is forced to live on her Uncle’s estate where she discovers a secret garden. It is a story of her emotional growth as she transforms the garden into a thing of beauty and discovers some deep hidden secrets along the way. Time will fly as your imagination takes you to the mysterious, magical garden.

These are my top five favorite books to read aloud to elementary-age kids.

What are some of your kid’s favorite books to have read aloud?

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.

Albert Einstein

Many parents ask me what are some of my favorite reading programs for use in their unschool or home school programs.

Because I work with children age four to eleven and from different backgrounds, English language learners for example, I rely on materials from three exceptional programs. These three programs offer the flexibility and range that accommodates the different abilities of my students. Any of these programs would be excellent additions to your unschooler or homeschooler program.

First, the Wilson reading system is very phonetically structure. It breaks down the rules and structures of reading in a way that makes them easily taught. The materials include phonetically controlled stories and sentences, and workbooks to support the rules used and learned. This program is great for second graders and adults alike. It offers training for parents and teachers. I found the training helpful but not essential to using the materials which are very self-explanatory.

2014 06 24 bumpy gridSecond, the Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading is very multisensory and follows a sequence in teaching letter sounds so kids can start reading words after learning just four letter sounds. It focuses on a lot of tactile learning using sand trays and grids with paper and crayons to allow kids to feel how to form the letters or remember how to spell sight words.

Third, Explode the Code by Nancy Hall is an excellent series of workbooks that helps support the Wilson reading and Orton-Gillingham programs. They are designed for preschoolers and elementary age children. However, you can adapt these materials for struggling older readers or English language learners.

These are my top three reading approaches/programs that will easily complement our roadmap2reading apps.

What are some reading programs you recommend or have found useful in working with your kids?

The summer is a great time to learn how to help your child become a better reader. Three books offer great insights to help foster your child’s inherent desire to read:

2014 06 19 How Children SucceedWhat does it take to succeed against difficult odds? In How Children Succeed, Paul Tough focuses on real life stories from teachers working with children that have grit and character – the ability to achieve in tough situations confounded by poverty and parental neglect. By sharing these stories and current brain research, this book serves as a touchstone for teaching your child how to learn from failure and turn it into achievement. It emphasizes the powerful importance of your role as parent and teacher in nurturing character – and ultimately your child’s success

2014 05 whole brain childHow do you nurture your child’s developing mind? The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel offers 12 strategies that emphasize teaching brain integration – helping your child interpret her behavior better so that she can connect her emotions to her experiences. Seigel offers you a plan for helping develop your child’s thinking brain – so that she becomes skilled at using words to explain feelings. This book puts you in a great position to teach your child skills that will foster and develop emotional intelligence that is essential to having a full and successful life.

2014 05 20 Mindset Then New Psychology of SuccessMindset: The New Psychology of Success by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck emphasizes the importance of having a growth mindset. Through her research and experience, Dweck defines a person with a growth mindset as one who takes on challenges and views them as growth opportunities. For example, a child with a growth mindset will view failing a spelling test as opportunity to study harder next time to make a better grade. This book gives great ideas that you can use to help your child succeed by fostering a sense that not succeeding is not the end, but instead an opportunity to work hard to achieve to success. Additionally, Dweck offers great insights into the danger of praise and positive labeling with our children. According to Dweck, parents should focus praise on effort, “Wow! You got an A on your test. You must have studied hard!” …not on ability, “Wow! You got an A on your test. You’re so talented!”

These three books have inspired me as a parent and teacher.

What are some books you can recommend for parents and teachers to read this summer?

Click here to see my more in depth review of The Whole Brain Child

Click here to see my more in depth review of Mindset

Click here for my blog about the importance of grit and character

As your child’s school year ends, your child might begin to realize differences in her abilities compared to her peers. She might say, “I’m never going to be a good reader! All my other friends know how. I just can’t do it.”

2014 05 20 Mindset Then New Psychology of SuccessAfter listening to a great audio book called Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, I recognize the importance of our children having a growth mindset and believing in their abilities. With a growth mindset, children recognize that success is within their power. By working harder and smarter, they can change the outcomes in their life. As a reading specialist, teacher and parent, I see this with my students and own child. Something is challenging, so they think that they are just not smart or something is wrong with them. Without encouragement, they may decide that they can never overcome the challenge.

When teaching your child to become a reader you are also teaching her to become a lifelong learner. Learning to read is how she will expand her ability to learn.Your younger child may be just starting to learn the many rules of reading and spelling. You might reassure her, “Even though you didn’t do so well on your spelling test, you can work harder and study more and then do better on the next spelling test.” Your older child may have challenges, too. Maybe she did not do as well as she thought on her book report. You can remind her, “Now you know that it might take more than just one night to complete a satisfactory report.”

Through this conversation with your child, you are teaching her that she can learn and change her behavior. That is how the growth mindset works – your child realizing that she has the ability to change and grow though her efforts.

What are some examples of ways you have helped instill a growth mindset with your child?

At month four, your child is beginning to develop a sense of herself, and how she relates to the world around her. She demonstrates this by smiling, communicating, reaching out, and engaging in activities.

Pat_the_Bunny_imageThrough some wonderful books, you can help your child explore the world through touch and sound. They may make sounds – like crunching – or have rough or smooth surfaces to touch.

In the classic Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt, the brother and sister in the story get to pat the soft bunny or touch Daddy’s scratchy face. This was my daughter’s longtime favorite. She loved looking at herself and making faces in the book’ mirror. As my daughter grew older, she would rub my husband’s face in the morning, and chuckle with a smile, “Scratchy face.”

On The Farmon the farm by Dana V. Swartz (Author) and Francesca Ferri (Illustrator), was my daughter’s favorite interactive, fabric book. In this book, your child gets to turn each fabric page. As the story unfolds, she puts items in her little fabric basket attached to the book – an egg from the hen’s nest or an apple from the apple tree. I would ask my daughter, “Where is the apple in the tree?” She would reach for it. Because your child now has a greater sense of herself, she starts to become interested in real life images of everyday items and animals. Along the way, the story provides great opportunity to build language and vocabulary.

My Best Friends61JREVXKNEL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ by Margaret Miller has beautiful photos of children and their pets. Each page has a simple picture with one word on the page. For example, the page for “hugging” has two children hugging their pets. As we read this book, my daughter would hug her favorite stuffed animal.

These books will help you engage your child’s emerging developing sense of self.

What books did your child love at this age?


Links to Earlier Months: Your Child’s Journey to Becoming an Early Reader

Month 1

Month 2

Month 3

One of my favorite activities with Bella at two months was singing to her. I only sing so well but she didn’t seem to mind.

She especially loved to listen to nursery rhymes. This was great for me, too. I could get her to engage physically with me. She would lift up her head while on her tummy or track me with her eyes as I changed pitches to her favorite rhymes that we sang over and over again.

Often times I would add hand puppets for her to visually track. I would act out a song, such as Humpy Dumpty Had A Great Fall, moving the puppets up and down, or London Bridge is Falling Down as I sang the words.

this little piggyOne of our favorite CD/book combinations was This Little Piggy by Jane Yolen and Will Hillenbrand. It was great for acting out the songs. It included lots of rhyming and is  entertaining in general. I would prop her up on my lap and move her body to the rhythm of the song and the beats of the music.

Rhyming is the beginning stage to learning how to read. Nursery rhymes are a great way to engage your child in this process while setting the foundation for later days when she will be reading. A great example of how you can get your two-month-old ready for reading.

What are some ways you engage your two-month-old to help get them reading ready?