Children’s reading and how to teach a child to read faster and speed reading
We are frequently asked the questions: ‘Do the spd rdng techniques apply to children? And ‘At what age should they start?’ The answers depend on the mental rather than chronological age of each child, but generally we recommend the following.
Start spd rdng techniques aged 15+ The spd rdng system explained in this book is designed for adults. We recommend that young people start using the techniques after they’ve had some experience of reading conventionally and when they need to be more efficient. This is probably aged about 15+, at a time when they need to read more for self-directed study rather than (or as well as) for pleasure.
Aged 5-15 Read a lot, for pleasure. Before that the age of 15, there is much to be gained from reading more slowly – you build up vocabulary, learn how sentences are structured, understand how stories develop. So the best thing children can do is to read as much as possible – of anything which interests them. It doesn’t matter whether that’s stories, football, factual information or comics. The parents’ main job is to offer them books by authors they might not otherwise come across by themselves. But the worst thing you can do is turn children off reading by making it a boring chore. Foster a love of reading in any way you can – read yourself (this is especially important for boys: they need to see men – their father or other relatives – getting pleasure from reading), talk about books you’ve read, and keep books available for them to ‘discover’ by themselves.
For all children we also recommend that parents and teachers help children with ‘learning to learn’ techniques, which will lay the groundwork for improved reading skills. (See ‘Resources’ for recommended reading.)
EXPERT TIP Foster a love of reading. Have lots of books around. Let your children see that you love and value reading.
Babies The biggest indicator of how good a reader someone is in later life is how much they were read to as a very young child – not how much they themselves read, although that too is a factor. Don’t wait until children are ‘old enough’ to read. Even before they are one, they will enjoy sitting with you looking at the pictures in books, identifying things they know, learning colours, counting, listening to simple stories, singing nursery rhymes, etc. Board books help them learn to turn pages and hold the book the right way up, but interacting with you and the book engenders a love of reading.
Always be guided by what the child wants. If they want to interact and take an active role, let them. Sometimes though they will just want to sit back and enjoy the sound of your voice. And sometimes they will want to do something else entirely.
Learning to read The ‘natural’ age for learning to read is about 7 – in many countries with a high literacy rate children don’t start school till they’re 6 or 7. Many children will be ready to learn earlier than that (particularly if they’re read to), but it should be because they want to, not because they’re forced to.
When young children don’t learn naturally for themselves, they are at the mercy of the school system and whatever reading system is in vogue. Many of the reading schemes work for many children, but children are different and different approaches work for different children. Unfortunately schools very often don’t have the resources to cater for individuals who are not doing well in class.
The normal sequence for understanding the reading process is:
- being read to – especially by a parent – while looking at the book
- making a connection between illustrations and real objects
- realising that the ‘squiggles’ on the page are somehow telling the story
- learning individual letters – usually starting with the initial letters of their name, and the names of people and objects around them
- recognising their own name
- being able to tell you the words on the page (even if it’s from memory from constant repetition)
- suddenly realising that they can recognise what a word means from its letters – which may be the street sign in your road, one of their books, an advertising hoarding, a newspaper; this is the breakthrough point, children usually manage it by themselves, and from then on it is question of refinement and experience
- building up their reading skills through a combination of recognising individual letters and complete word shapes, linking words to meanings, writing letters and words, and then working out (often by being told) the link between the sounds of letters and how they can be built up to work out a complete word
Once children reach this stage, when they are functionally reading, apart from giving further practice, schools tend to leave children to their own devices – ignoring the fact that at a later stage, in secondary school, children would benefit hugely from additional spd rdng strategies. Some people work out a faster reading system for themselves – but many don’t.
“If we learnt to walk and talk in the way we are taught to read and write, we would all limp and stutter.” Mark Twain
Ineffective reading strategies
There are also strategies for teaching reading which are not most effective for anyone:
- starting from letters (meaningless symbols to a young child) and building to words and sentences is much less effective than starting with stories and working back to words and letters
- asking children to read aloud is for the benefit of the teacher so they can check the child’s ability to decipher words – but it should be used in moderation. Reading aloud in front of the class is possibly the worst ‘teaching’ habit – the stress engendered in many children (of any age) can only inhibit both comprehension and the ability to read fluently, as well as (particularly in the case of boys) turning them off from reading at all. Reading is about getting meaning from the text, and you may remember from experience how difficult it can be to answer questions about a text when you’ve just been reading it aloud to someone else. It can also encourage children to move their lips while reading – which will slow them down later.
Children with reading problems
If your child is seven or older and unable to read:
- check whether they have sight problems or need glasses – they can’t read if they can’t see the words
- get them outside running around, twirling like helicopters, hanging upside down, doing somersaults and cartwheels, etc – all the things young children naturally like to do. This will help develop their vestibular system and neck muscles – both of which are essential before reading
- don’t force the issue; offer to read with/to children things that they enjoy to build their trust and encourage them to work with you
- encourage children to read while lying on their tummies on the floor – it strengthens their neck muscles
- suggest older children read to younger siblings, relatives or friends – it gives them confidence to read something simpler while ostensibly being for the benefit of the younger child
Remember, the best thing you can do to help your children’s reading is to read with them and to them from an early age, and encourage them to read for pleasure – basically, make sure it’s fun!