In early years education, reading comprehension refers to a child’s ability to understand and interpret what is being read to them. It involves a specific set of skills, such as vocabulary understanding, word recognition, decoding (the ability to read some individual words), and question answering (the ability to ask or answer questions about what has been read to them).
The importance of early reading comprehension cannot be underestimated, as numerous studies over the past decades show that it lays the foundation for future outcomes at school, and has been linked to better self-regulation and social-cognitive abilities. In turn, these are known to support overall well-being, are conducive to learning and act as a protective factor for a range of early mental health challenges.
However, supporting reading comprehension for nursery-aged children at home can be quite challenging, but there are several strategies that parents can use to help their children understand and enjoy the books they are reading. Here is a list of some of the things that you can do at home to support this essential set of skills.
Create a reading environment
Set aside a quiet space in the home where your child can read and have access to a variety of books. Encourage them to read for pleasure, and make sure they have age-appropriate books to read. You can get assistance on this from your local library, or nursery school.
Read to your child
Reading to your child is the most effective way to support their reading skills. It helps them develop a love of books and improves their vocabulary and comprehension.
Model reading behaviour: Children learn by example, so if you want your child to read more, you should read more. Let your child see you reading books and informative magazines, and talk about the books you are reading with your child.
Use picture books: Picture books are an excellent way to introduce young children to the world of reading. The illustrations help them understand the story, and the simple text helps them learn the basics of reading.
Specific techniques that you can use when reading
Use repetition: Repeat the story or a favourite part of the story multiple times to help children learn the story and build their comprehension.
Ask open questions: Ask your child simple questions about the story, the characters and the pictures. Encourage them to tell you what they think is happening in the story, and what they think might happen next. This helps them to think critically about the book and improves their comprehension.
Act out the story: Encourage your child to act out the story with you or using their toys as props. This helps them understand the story and remember it better. It is also really fun!
Encourage vocabulary development: Use new and interesting words while reading the story and encourage your child to use these new words in sentences.
Make connections: Discuss how the story relates to their own life and experiences. This will help them understand the story better and make it more meaningful to them.
Reading on, outside, & beyond the line: 3 powerful techniques
Reading on the line – this refers to reading / focusing on the one that has the ‘right answer’ in the text (e.g., for a line that reads ‘The Little Red Hen took the grains to the Mill using a wheelbarrow.’) ● Who took the grains to the Mill? ● Where did the Little Red Hen take the grain? ● How did Little Red Hen take the grains to the Mill?
Reading outside the line – this refers to the case when a line has the ‘right answer’ but needs knowledge of word-meaning (e.g., ‘The brave little red hen carried the grains to the Mill tolerantly.’) ● What does ‘brave’ mean? ● Could you guess what tolerantly means? ● Could you think of another word that means the same? ● Can you think of a better word?
Reading beyond the line – remember that there are many possible answers a child can give, and you should keep inviting personal responses based on your child’s own interpretation, e.g., ‘The cat grinned at the little red hen.’ ● Do you think the little red hen feels happy, why? ● Why do you think the cat grinned?
Reading is a multidimensional process involving word recognition, comprehension, fluency, and ‘reading motivation’. Bringing a book to life for a child is one of the most important things we can do as adults reading to our developing young learners. It sets children on a path of discovery and encourages them to see books and reading as something exciting, fun and relevant to their world.
By using the simple strategies listed above consistently and in various combinations, you can help your child develop their reading comprehension skills, and make reading an enjoyable learning experience.
At Alphablocks Nursery School we use a hybrid educational approach, which relies on project-based learning, and combines the best elements of the primary pedagogies in early years education. Reading and reading comprehension are at the core of our curriculum, and Bringing Stories to Life is one of our long-running projects, which is always changing and tailored to our school cohort’s interests.