In America today, we spend billions helping young children learn to read. From pre-school through high school, helping kids develop a love of literacy is more important than ever – and new research indicates that even the family dog can help out.
Thirteen-year-old Jesse used to have trouble reading.
“Like words that I didn’t understand, I would just skip over them before, but now I am able to look at them and understand them better,” he says.
He’s one of the millions. When Jesse got to middle school, he could not read very well. He could read a word and pronounce it, but he didn’t always understand the sentence, the paragraph, or the page.
Yet, at his middle school, reading is fundamental. For 45 minutes each day, every student participates in a structured reading activity.
“It was a top priority for us to make sure that all of our students could not only read, but [also] comprehend, could think for themselves, could draw inferences,” says Aaron Turpin, middle school principal.
While those are all good teaching habits that make for a successful reader, millions of children still struggle with reading once they leave elementary school. Many understand the basics of reading, but not much more. They recognize words on a page and can pronounce them, but they don’t always understand the sentence, the paragraph or the story in its full context.
Twelve-year-old Vigilis can empathize. “We only used to focus on words, like spelling words. But we never really used them in context. We never really read,” Vigilis says.
“Words that I didn’t understand, I would just skip over them before,” says Jesse, 13. “But now I am able to look at them and understand them better.”
The U.S. Department of Education reports that reading scores are on the rise for U.S. students. Yet experts agree that to continue that trend, programs must help kids to read from pre-school through high school.
“I believe, and research has shown, that students need to be exposed to reading programs from kindergarten, pre-K, through 12th grade and even college courses,” Dr. Turpin says. “The content, the format, needs to change as the students grow up; however, it needs to be a fundamental focus.”
Experts say parents also play a big part in helping their kids become better readers. To help kids learn to read at home, some families might even enlist the family pet for support. New research to be published in the journal Language and Literacy reports that “animal assisted literacy” – reading to and cuddling with a dog — can help kids learn to love to read in a safe, caring environment.
Make sure your children read every day – especially materials that interest them. And take every opportunity you can to read with them.
What We Need to Know
Ten million American children have difficulties learning to read, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Of those, 10-15% eventually drop out of school, and only 2% complete a four-year college program.
Children with reading difficulties stop and start frequently, mispronouncing some words and skipping others entirely. They soon grow ashamed as they struggle with a skill their fellow students seem to master easily. Reading-impaired children are then unable to explore science, history, literature, mathematics and other information that is available in print. NICHD research shows that a reading disability affects boys and girls at about the same rate. Boys are more likely to be referred for treatment since they are more likely to get the teacher’s attention by misbehaving. Reading disabled girls, however, may escape the teacher’s attention and withdraw into themselves.
The Learning Disabilities Online cites some common disabilities that affect learning to read:
- Dyslexia: Dyslexia affects approximately 20% of school-age children.
- Speech and Language Disorders: This general term refers to problems with communication, including reception (understanding), expression (speaking) and articulation (forming sounds) disorders. These disorders affect approximately 10% of the school population and account for 25% of children in special education
- Processing Deficits: Processing disorders interfere with information taken in through the senses. The most common types affecting school tasks are visual, auditory and motor deficits.
- ADHD: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is characterized by age-inappropriate levels of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. It affects 3-5% of the population and often occurs with other conditions.
- Developmental Disabilities (Mental Retardation): Mental retardation is diagnosed by an IQ below 70-75 and limitations in daily living. It affects approximately 3% of the population. Of this group, 87% are mildly affected. Children with mild mental retardation may just seem a little slower than others in learning new information and skills.
The good news, according to NICHD, is that many reading problems can be corrected with early intervention and proper instruction. The Appalachian Educational Laboratory offers parents some general advice for helping their children with reading difficulties:
- When it comes to reading, (directed) practice makes perfect.
- Never force your child to read orally in front of his or her peers.
- Choose reading material on subjects of interest to your child.
- Speak distinctly and expressively when reading, clearly enunciating words and sounds. Inflect your voice in accordance with punctuation.
- Help make reading enjoyable. Children with reading difficulties usually don’t like to read and don’t get sufficient practice to become fluent.
Creating a Love for Literacy
About the Program
The U.S. Department of Education reports that reading scores are on the rise for U.S. students. Yet experts agree that to continue that trend, programs must help kids to read from pre-school through high school. Parents can play a big part in helping their kids become better readers. Some families might even enlist the family pet for support. New research to be published in the journal Language and Literacy reports that “animal assisted literacy” – reading to and cuddling with a dog — can help kids learn to love to read in a safe, caring environment.