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Reading Help for 1st Graders

Geoff Nixon

By Geoff Nixon

Focus on a lifelong love of reading

Your 1st grader will not and should not be reading Harry Potter. And that’s not the goal of reading help for your 1st grader.  Rather the goal is create a solid foundation for a lifelong reading habit, which includes proficient reading and a desire to read.  That requires a sequence of skill development to reading comprehension and metacognition is set in stone. It has to start with mastery of phonics, then reading with fluency, then comprehension.

The key to eventual reading proficiency is for your child to put in the reading time – to develop language processing skills and comfort with the reading. And  so reading help for 1st graders – at the start of the learn to read process – is all about exposure to language and text, and connecting reading to god things – fun, engaging, mimicking you, success.

If you can successfully nurture a love of reading in 1st grade, you have done your job. Here is a guide to that end goal.

First things first – phonics and sounding out

Reading comprehension is not the goal of reading help for 1st graders.  That will come later, once your child is decoding words automatically, without needing to concentrate on the reading.  Once decoding becomes automatic, and for many children that occurs in 1st, 2nd or 3rd grade, then the mind has the free space to do other things while reading the words.  Early on the brain will attach literal meaning to the words being read, then in later life – 4th and 5th grade or older – a student will learn how to think critically about that meaning.

This process to thinking while reading comprehension cannot start until a child can decode effortlessly.

And so in 1st grade, your role is to get emphasize language dexterity – nursery rhymes, word games, rhyming, adult conversations – and to engage your child in the learn to read journey, a process that starts in early childhood.  Any interaction with text on a page is helpful.  Here are some ideas.

Ideas to Encourage Your 1st Grader to Read

Here are some tips to help you become a positive influence and foster a love for reading in your child:

Be a Reading Role Model

Remember, the key is to make reading a fun and enjoyable activity for your child. By being a supportive role model and creating a positive reading environment, you can inspire your child to develop a lifelong love for books and reading. Here are some ways to engage and motivate your 1st grader

  • Set aside regular reading time together: Create a daily or weekly routine where you and your child engage in reading together. This dedicated time will show your child that reading is important and enjoyable.
  • Surround your child with books: Have a variety of books available at home.
  • Read aloud to your child – and make it fun: Reading aloud exposes your child to language – it really is the most powerful way to help a child develop the language processing skills needed for phonics and decoding.  Plus of course, a child will hear new vocabulary, storytelling techniques, and experience the joy of listening to a story. If you can add animation and fun, e.g., using different voices, all the better. Don’t turn your story telling into a I(boring?) lesson by asking questions about the story, but rather focus on the positive connection to reading for your child.
  • Let your child see you reading: Be a role model by reading books, magazines, or newspapers yourself. Children often imitate the behavior of their parents, so seeing you enjoy reading will encourage them to do the same.
  • Visit the library or bookstore together: Show your child you care about books by making regular trips to the library or bookstore. Let them explore the shelves and choose books that catch their interest.

There has been amazing research done about ambient language – how much children learn from observing others, listening in on other conversations, taking the world in  – as opposed to the more limited learning from direct instruction!  So to be a role model, you don’t need to spell out the messaging in the actions above, i.e.,by telling your child you love reading. Your child is observing. Your actions speak volumes.

Here are some ideas about how to up your game when reading to your child.

Invest Time in Book Selection

Remembering the goal of reading help for 1st graders in 1st grade is all about creating a positive reading foundation, here are the considerations in choosing books for your budding reader:

  • Just right books
  • Engaging

Just Right Books

If your child has a healthy attitude to reading, meaning he likes trying to read,and doesn’t’ get frustrated when he gets stuck – then picking just right books is less of a consideration.  Books with hard words every now and again is not a problem.

However, if your child has a somewhat fragile relationship with reading, then just right books can make a real difference.  “Just right books” take into account vocabulary, sentence complexity, content, and overall difficulty. Here are some key characteristics of just right books:

  1. Reading Level: “Just right” refers to books that are in your child’s zone of proximal development relative to their reading grade level – the words are not too hard where frustration is a risk, and not so easy as to be boring. If you don’t know your child’s reading level, take our free reading assessment here.
  2. Familiar Words: Just right books contain a significant number of words that a child already knows and can read independently. This familiarity allows them to read with relative ease and maintain comprehension while encountering occasional new or challenging words.
  3. Contextual Support: Just right books often offer context clues and visual supports, such as illustrations or diagrams, to aid in comprehension. These supports help children make connections between the text and the visuals, enhancing their understanding of the story or topic.

Teachers, librarians, and reading specialists can help you choose the right books.  You can also check the reading grade level of books online  – for instance, the Scholastic Book Wizard.  More on just right reading books here.

Levelled Readers

If your child has an extremely fragile reading attitude, then you might want to consider levelled books, which are have very narrow levels of reading difficulty right around the reading level of the child.  Various leveling systems are used to categorize books into different reading levels, such as guided reading levels, Lexile levels, or Fountas & Pinnell levels. More on levelled readers here.

You can find levelled readers at bookstores, online bookstores and libraries.

Choose Engaging Books

In addition to knowing your child’s reading level, you also need to have a good idea of interests or what might appeal. Here are some thoughts:

  • Focus on funny – if you can connect books to laughing, you are golden!
  • Follow your child’s interests
  • Picture books
  • Involve your child in your choices

Choosing Funny Books!

It is scary to think that the effectiveness of reading help for 1st graders might come down to understanding 1st grade humor, but it’s a big one.  Here’s why:

  1. Engagement and enjoyment: When children find books funny and entertaining, it increases their engagement and enjoyment of reading. Laugh-out-loud moments make reading a fun and pleasurable experience, which can help foster a positive attitude towards books and reading.
  2. Emotional connection: Humorous books often create an emotional connection with young readers. Laughing together with characters and experiencing their humorous adventures can help children develop empathy, relate to the story, and form a bond with the characters.
  3. Language development: Funny books often use playful language, wordplay, and humor techniques like puns or jokes. Exposing first graders to such language can enhance their vocabulary, comprehension skills, and understanding of different literary elements.
  4. Motivation to read: Books that make children laugh can be motivating for reluctant readers or those who are still building confidence in their reading abilities. The humor and entertainment value can encourage them to pick up a book willingly and persist through the reading process.
  5. Reading fluency: Funny books with dialogue and humorous situations can support the development of reading fluency. The natural rhythm, pacing, and intonation required to deliver humorous lines can contribute to improving a child’s oral reading skills.

When selecting funny books for first graders, look for books with engaging illustrations, witty dialogue, and age-appropriate humor. Popular authors for this age group include Mo Willems, Dav Pilkey, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, and Jeff Kinney, among others.

Your child’s interests

To provide a well-rounded reading experience, and to help understand your child’s reading progress, you will want to expose your child to different types of books that cater to their interests, to expand reading horizons, on the road to a lifelong love for reading.

Finding book ideas for 1st graders based on their interests is getting easier and easier these days:

  1. Ask ChatGPT.  If you enter a reading level and interest, ChatGPT will give you 5-10 books in a few seconds,
  2. Ask your child’s teacher or school librarian for book recommendations.
  3. Online bookstores can be searched by topic or by recommended lists. Here is an Amazon reading list for 1st graders.
  4. Online book review sites like Goodreads, Common Sense Media, and Reading Rockets provide book recommendations and reviews specifically for children’s literature. You can search for books by topic, age group, or genre and read reviews to get an idea of the content and suitability for 1st graders.
  5. Parenting and Education Blogs: Many parenting blogs and educational websites offer curated book lists and recommendations for children. Search for blogs that focus on children’s literature or education and explore their book suggestions based on various interests.
  6. Scholastic Book Clubs: Scholastic offers book clubs through schools or online where you can find age-appropriate books categorized by grade level and interests. Their catalogs often feature popular books, series, and themed collections that appeal to 1st graders.
  7. Social Media: Follow social media accounts or join groups dedicated to children’s books and parenting. Many accounts share book recommendations based on different themes or interests. Engaging with the online community can help you discover new titles and get personalized recommendations.

If your child is pushing back at all, focus on engagement, i.e., stick to things that could be of interest.  If your child is on a roll though, it’s beneficial to introduce a variety of books and genres to broaden the reading experiences.

Think About a Reading Routine

The last piece of the puzzle is integrating reading into the rhythm of life. Creating a good reading routine for your child can help make reading a regular and enjoyable part of their life. Here are some tips to help you establish a successful reading routine:

  1. Consider a designated reading time: Determine a specific time each day that is dedicated to reading. It could be in the morning, after school, before bedtime, or any other time that works well for your child’s schedule. Consistency is key to establishing a routine.
  2. Create a cozy reading environment:  This  might be a cozy are, that is well-lit and free from distractions, such as TV or electronic devices.
  3. Make reading a shared activity: Read together with your child. Take turns reading pages or chapters aloud, depending on their reading level. Or just sit together, each reading your own books.
  4. Keep the books interesting.  Children who struggle often want to read the same book over and over again.  There is some fluency value in doing that as each time they read it, they do it more automatically.  But after 3 or so readings, try to find an alternative to avoid boredom that could turn into a shut down. So keep engaged in rotating books, even if your child is pushing back at times.
  5. Celebrate and praise reading progress: Acknowledge and celebrate your child’s reading achievements. Offer praise, rewards, or special treats for reaching reading goals or completing books. This positive reinforcement can help a child get over difficulties, e.g., a book that is too hard, and get back in the saddle.

Establishing a reading routine takes time and consistency. Be patient and supportive, allowing your child to develop their own reading preferences and pace. Adapt the routine as needed based on their changing interests and reading abilities. Ultimately, the goal is to create a lifelong love for reading and learning.

Final Thoughts

Reading help for 1st graders is not the same are reading help in later grades. It’s not about reading Harry Potter or even reading comprehension.  If your child exits first grade with a good vocabulary, mastery of phonics and a robust attitude to reading, consider 1st grade a success.

It’s important for your child to have a positive reading connection and that means you not being frustrated, not pushy or worse, being anxious.  Your child is an expert in your body language, and so you need to be as encouraged and engaged in the journey as you want your child to be.

If your child is a robust reader- if he laughs off mispronounced words and is happy to have a go at any book you present – then all of the above applies. However, if none of this is going well or the attitude deteriorates, that could be a warning sign.  First grade is when many children first realize they are required to learn to read and reading looks impossible.

If that is your child, you might want to think about a reading intervention or at least sharing your concerns with your child’s teacher.  Here is a list of signs of reading delay.  Click the button for a report that includes and early warning checklist that uses a wide range of behavioral symptoms known to be associated with at risk readers.

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