How can you be sure if your child knows how to read? This is a question I am asked all the time. If you just hear your child read familiar books with predictable text, you might not be able to tell. Many young children memorize their favorite stories and “read” aloud to entertain their parents and family members. Pictures reinforce that they are reciting the story correctly. As they get older, their sight word recognition grows, and they are able to fool others into believing that they are reading, even themselves. But when you really pay attention, you notice that words are altered based on what the child thinks is the word, not what is actually on the page. Small, familiar words such as in/on are left out or confused, multi-syllable words such as continent/content are guessed at based on the beginning and ending syllables, and words that don’t look anything alike are substituted for one another based on contextual cueing.
Here is a quick and easy way to see if you have cause for concern:
Have your child read a list of words that are not common and see what happens. Strong readers will have no problem reading isolated words, even ones that are not in their vocabularies yet. They have the skill to chunk the words into decodable parts and figure them out. They will also be able to process words quickly. On the other hand, the less skilled reader will read slowly, not having an understanding of how to chunk the word or recognize the vowel sounds, and they might not even bother trying if the word is challenging.
Try to vary the structural elements of the smaller words; include words that have blends (such as flap, prop, mist) and vowel teams (such as haul, fawn, coil, gown). For older children, give them multisyllabic words, and see how they do. Don’t be surprised if they actually can read these words better than some of the smaller words; sometimes, they will pay more attention to a longer word simply because it forces them to go slower through the word. If you have any doubt, your instincts are probably correct. In speaking with many parents throughout the years, they are usually the first ones to suspect reading difficulties.
(High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching is located in Plainview, Long Island.)
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