It is important to keep in mind that reading comprehension is as vital a skill for children to learn as reading fluency. If your child can read words but then loses the meaning as they move across a page, reading will remain an arduous task and will not seem fun. Your child needs to be able to retain the information on a page and keep track of the story, and this can be difficult at first while they are struggling to decode and blend. Make sure that you incorporate reading comprehension skills when you are reading books to your child as well. The more you do this in your shared reading time, the more your child will gain these skills when they read independently.
When you are reading to your child ask questions as you go:
- What do you think will happen next?
- Why is the character doing this?
- Why do you think that just happened?
You want your child to think about what will happen next in a story to practice the concept of prediction, because this helps them understand patterns in stories for critical reading. For example, if you are reading a story in which a parent leaves the room and tells a child not to touch something, does your child expect that the character will probably do exactly the opposite of what he has been told? If your child is thinking about what will happen next, they will be more excited to read and more engaged in storytelling.
You want your child to think about the thread of the story and how one piece connects to the next. Why is the character(s) behaving in this way? Does the story make sense? Your child needs to understand how to process each piece of the story in the context of the whole and comprehend why each event in the story happened. Have conversations with your child throughout the story and at the end to make sure they are critically thinking about the story. Every standardized test your child will encounter, from MCAS/PARCC to the SAT, will expect your child to have these skills.
One way to increase comprehension of story structure is to emphasize stories that have clear sequencing, which means that one part of the plot clearly leads to the next which leads to the next, etc. A great example of a book with clear sequencing is If You Give A Moose A Muffin by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond. This is a series, which also includes If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. These books clearly show how the character’s actions move from one step to the next in a logical way: the mouse is thirsty so he needs some milk, and then he needs a straw, and then he has to clean up, so he needs a napkin, and then he needs to look in the mirror so he can check his milk mustache, etc. Each part logically moves onto the next, so your child can learn to recognize cause-and-effect relationships in stories. One activity that you can do along with these books is to photocopy each of the pages, mix them up, and then ask your child to put them back in order according to the events in the story.
Lastly, when reading with your child, you want to think about the characters themselves and build connections between your child and the humanity behind these characters (even if the characters are animals!). Building empathy is an important skill for your child in these early years, and reading stories together is a great opportunity to do this. Work on building text-to-self connections, which are highly personal connections that a reader makes between a piece of reading material and the reader’s own experiences or life. An example of a text-to-self connection might be, “This story reminds me of a vacation we took to my grandfather’s farm.”
As you are reading with your child, ask the following questions:
- How is the character feeling?
- How does the story make you feel?
- Has something like this ever happened to you/a friend?
It is important for your child to think about reading and stories as a part of their life, not a completely external idea to the experiences they themselves are going through. This is not only important for comprehension and building empathy, but for ensuring that your child develops a lifelong love of reading.