Once your child has figured out how to decode words and can read in a sustained way, his reading instruction should focus on helping him squeeze meaning and richness from the experience. Getting kids excited about the written word is a great way to turn fledgling readers into voracious readers.

And here’s where all parents can help. If you’ve been reading to your child, that’s great. Don’t stop now! Listen to audio books together is beneficial, too. But now that your child is a reader, surround her with print. Get a newspaper delivered. Get her a library card and make the library a regular stop, like the grocery store and the dry cleaner. And go broad when you think about what counts as reading. Fiction, nonfiction, comic books, how-tos, mysteries, sports biographies are all great choices, as are magazines about current events, gadgets, or video gaming. Open the door wide. Find ways to bring what she is reading into the conversation. Ask questions like: What is it about? What is the setting? What happens? What do you like/not like about the way the author writes?

Word by word

If your child is reading and sampling a wide variety of material, he will be encountering a lot of words in print that he doesn’t know. He should be able to sound out unfamiliar words.  Encourage him to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words from their context. For example, what could propulsion mean based on the words that came before and after it in the sentence? Then, see if he can tease out the meaning of the word by finding its root. For instance, the word propel is hidden in propulsion and gives a strong hint for the meaning of the word.

Teachers help students build comprehension through the systemic study of vocabulary words. Kids who study words — by this I mean systematically learning their meanings — have larger vocabularies and are also better readers. It’s not effective for the teacher to simply hand out a list of ten words and have kids look them up and then take a test. They need to hear the words, see them, speak them, and write them that week and in the weeks that follow.

Kids encounter an average of three thousand new words a year — more than eight a day. Unless the entire school day is going to be given over to word study (and no one thinks this is a good idea), teachers must instruct children on how to shave off chunks of an unfamiliar word and tease out its meaning by studying suffixes, prefixes, and the meaning of common root words. Comprehension, fluency, and stamina should grow steadily stronger as your child moves through school.