Tips for early readers
In the struggle to make sense of longer sentences, the story -- and the enjoyment -- can often get lost. For back-to-school assignments, be sure your kid understands the material she's reading and continues to see books as a treat.
Be theatrical. Act out a book your child is reading together. "Make the story come alive by imagining what different characters might sound like and by mimicking movements, like slithering on the floor like a snake," says Lisa Safran, author of Reading and Writing Come Alive.
Cook up some fun. Create recipes with simple words and drawings for your little chef to follow. "Kids love making things, and the experience is exponentially more powerful if they read the directions on their own," says Jennifer Jones, Ph.D., founder of Green Ivy Schools, in New York City.
Don't get rid of well-loved baby books. A child's library should have three different reading levels, says Penny Silvers, Ed.D., associate professor of literacy at Dominican University, in River Forest, Illinois: old favorites that he's practically memorized (too easy); books that match his current level (just right); and titles that are a little beyond his ability (too hard), which you can read to him.
Look it up. Instead of dodging tricky questions you can't answer ("How many teeth does a shark have?" or "How far away is China?"), search for the answers together online or in a reference book. Your child will see that reading is a great way to access the information she wants.
Pass notes. Leave a "See you later!" sticky in his lunch box or a card on your kid's pillow thanking him for being kind to his sister. "A child loves reading a message that's just for him," says Dr. Jones.
Go on vocabulary-expanding excursions. Doing errands presents opportunities to introduce new words organically. Need something at the gardening center? Explain the difference between "perennial" and "annual." Stopping to get money at the bank? Introduce the idea of a "deposit" and a "withdrawal."
Never stop reading. Once your child is reading independently you might be tempted to back off, but keep reading to her. More advanced titles will keep her engaged, and you'll be able to model good technique, such as pausing at the end of each sentence.
Dress up! Playing make-believe brings stories to life. Try to have costumes and props easily accessible to your child.
Don't think of reading as a solo act. When your kid sits down with a good book, stay nearby. Help him sound out tough words. Ask him to explain the story to you. And give him a thumbs-up when he finishes a challenging title.
Apps That Make the Grade
There are tons of e-books and games that promise to further a child's reading skills. But "we don't yet know whether technology is good or bad for kids' literacy, so you need to evaluate what's appropriate for your child," says Dr. Judy Cheatham. Think of reading apps first and foremost as conversation starters designed to build the skills that will lead to literacy -- and, when possible, to play with together. Some of our favorites:
Your preschooler will have fun learning terms like famished and hilarious. Not all of the animated word puzzles are such a mouthful, though, and even little kids will enjoy dragging the colorful letters onto their matching outline. $7 for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch; $5 for Android; 4+
The bright, simple graphics and silly humor are pitch-perfect for little learners. Each letter of the alphabet is paired with an action verb (L is for launch, for example) and the interactive button helps kids figure out what it means. $3 for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android, and Nook; 4+
Learn With Homer
This app has interactive activities that teach letter sounds, stories to enjoy together (or alone), and a feature that allows kids to exchange notes with trusted family members. Free; for iPad and iPhone; 4+
The Big Brag -- Dr. Seuss
Young kids will love the terrific voice acting in this lesser-known Dr. Seuss tale, and you might learn how to become a better narrator. It has three modes: autoplay, a narrated story with highlighted words, and a DIY version for early readers. $3 for iPad, iPhone, and Android; 4+
Hideout: Early Reading
Developed by literacy experts, this app focuses on creating words out of common endings: Start with "ap" and add "t" for "tap" or "m" for "map." Free; for iPad and iPhone; 4+
My PlayHome Stores
Fans of the virtual dollhouse app My Play Home can now take their characters out for groceries, ice cream, and more. Used together or separately, both offer self-directed play that encourages kids to make up their own stories. $2 for iPad, iPhone, and Android; 4+
Originally published in the September 2014 issue of Parents magazine.