Category Archives: reading in kindergarten

My child can’t read CVC words after finishing kindergarten. Should I hold him back?

“It depends” is not the answer you want, but that’s the best I can do.  Let’s look at some of the factors you should consider.

Young child writing C-A-T.

  • Is your child doing poorly in reading only? Is he struggling to read but doing fine in math, for example? This kind of disconnect could signal a particular learning problem with reading.  He might need a reading specialist or a tutor to work with him in first grade so that he can catch up to his classmates.
  • Is he performing at a mediocre level in reading, math and most kindergarten skills? If so, he might not be intellectually ready to move on to first grade.  Kids’ brains develop at different rates just like their bones do.  An extra year to grow can make a great difference in a child’s ability to learn.
  • Is your son one of the youngest children in the class? Younger children in a kindergarten or first grade class sometimes are immature compared to their classmates.  Their attention span is less.  They have more difficulty sitting still.  They are more impulsive.  If your son was barely old enough for kindergarten, chances are that he is barely old enough for first grade too.
  • Is he showing signs of stress? Is he more babyish than his classmates, more apt to cry or sulk when things go wrong?  Our emotions grow at various rates too.  A student with good self-esteem will be better able to weather poor grades in reading and not blame himself compared to an insecure student.
  • Did your son miss school often because of sickness, moving, or problems at home? Is he depressed?  How motivated is he to learn?
  • What are the expectations of the kindergarten curriculum at the end of the year? (You can go online to find out your state’s curriculum requirements.)  Has he met them?  Kindergarten reading skills provide a base for first grade reading skills.  Will CVC phonics be taught in first grade or will it be reviewed quickly with the expectation that students already know that?
  • Does your son’s school have a strong intervention plan and well trained teachers for outliers like your son? If so, how will it be determined if your son meets the criteria for this special learning?  And when will the intervention begin—in September or in January?
  • Does your state have mandatory third grade retention laws, so that if your son is still doing poorly at the end of third grade, he would be forced to repeat that grade?
  • Do you have the time or the ability to work with your son to catch him up? If so, can you commit to this teaching, knowing your son will fight you?  If not, do you have the money for a tutor to catch him up while he moves into first grade?
  • Is there a younger sibling? Will both children be in the same grade if the older child repeats?   If the older child continues to do poorly, will his family status be threatened?  Will his younger sibling become a star in comparison?
  • Are grandparents pressuring you one way or the other? If so, how knowledgeable are they about your son’s skills?  Is their status threatened if your son repeats a grade?
  • Can you talk to teachers who know your child well or who have taught kindergarten or first grade, educators who can give you first hand advice?

When you weigh all these factors, one is most important:  What is best for my child?

My son’s kindergarten reading teacher says he won’t talk. He talks at home, but he is really shy. What’s going on?

It helps to know the reason for the speechlessness so that your son’s teacher will know how to modify her teaching style to make the student and teacher comfortable.  Since he has normal speech at home, perhaps he is selectively mute.

EPSON MFP image

Selectively mute children might be speechless all the time or only in social situations which make them afraid.  They might show anxiety, excessive shyness, fear of social embarrassment and withdrawal.  Symptoms* include

  • “consistent failure to speak in specific social situations (in which there is an expectation for speaking, such as at school) continues despite speaking in other situations.
  • “not speaking interferes with school or work, or with social communication.
  • “not speaking lasts at least one month (not limited to the first month of school).
  • “failure to speak is not due to a lack of knowledge of, or comfort, with the spoken language required in the social situation
  • “not speaking is not due to a communication disorder (e.g., stuttering).”

Ask that your son be evaluated by a speech pathologist.  But also have his hearing tested.  Sometimes persistent middle ear infections can make hearing hard.

After you have pinpointed the problem as much as possible, then you can plan how to make your son verbal in school.  This may take several professionals working together—the school psychologist, the speech pathologist, his teacher, you and possibly his pediatrician.

In the meantime, inform his reading teacher that you are following up on her observation.  Ask her to accept that this behavior is normal for him right now.  Ask her to find nonverbal ways for him to respond and participate in group activities until an intervention plan gets underway.

*According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Should my kindergarten son read aloud to me? How about my third grade daughter?

Reading aloud to a parent or teacher has two purposes:  to show that the child can decode words properly and to show that the child can read with fluency.  If the child is learning English as a second language, showing proper pronunciation is also a purpose.

child with adult helping to read

First decoding.  Probably your kindergarten son is at the decoding stage, that is, learning how to link language sounds with letters to form words.  If he is at this stage, then yes, he should read aloud.  That way you can tell what he knows, what he needs more practice on, and what he needs instruction on.

If you know from previous reading aloud that your third grader has mastered decoding, then your daughter needn’t read aloud for that purpose.  You might sit next to her as she reads.  If she has questions about pronouncing an unfamiliar word or if she asks about the meaning of a new word, you can help.  Occasionally you might ask her to tell you what she has read to be sure she has understood.

If your older child comes to English from a second language, she might be able to pronounce words perfectly yet have no idea what they mean.  If so, ask her to underline words she doesn’t know so you can talk about them.  If there are context clues, you might help her identify them.  With such a child, you should work on vocabulary development.

As for fluency (reading at a normal speed with voice inflection, pauses for punctuation and emotion in the voice) the kindergartener and ESL child should read aloud.  Some readers who are at the decoding stage spend so much energy on decoding that they miss the meaning.  By listening to how you say a line and then mimicking the way you say it, the child can pull together decoding and fluency.

Your third grader should be able to read fluently within her head.  However, if you notice that your child has trouble with comprehension even though she can decode well, then her reading aloud could help you to figure out why.  Is she ignoring punctuation and lumping parts of one sentence with another?  Is she sliding over longer words without decoding them because she is lazy or in a hurry?  Does she have short term memory problems, allowing her to forget the beginning of a sentence or paragraph before she gets to the end?  Is her emotional voice flat?  Is she missing inferences?  Some of this you can tell by listening to her read aloud, and some by asking her about what she has read.

In general, newer readers should read aloud with instruction and monitoring while experienced readers should read silently.

Numbers, numbers

2-3      Between 2 and 3 years old, toddlers learn a new word every day.

3rd      Third grade is long past the time to intervene for a struggling reader.

3-4      3 to 4 letters/spaces to the left and 14-15 letters/spaces to the right of where we fix our eyes is where we pick up meaning from what we read .

4          There are 4 ways to pronounce the letter A using standard American English.

4-5      Children should be speaking in complete sentences by 4 or 5 years old.

6-12    Between 6 and 12 months old, infants should start babbling.

10-15   A typical student needs to interact with a word 10 to 15 times in order to learn it.

12-18   Children usually say their first words between 12 to 18 months, but not always.

18-24   Children usually say their first tiny sentences between 18 and 24 months.

20        If a child can count to 20, that is a sign he might be ready for kindergarten.

20-30 Kindergarten children should read or be read to 20 to 30 minutes daily.

24th    US students scored 24th out of 65 countries taking the latest Program for International Assessment tests.

30       First graders should read or be read to 30 minutes daily.

42-44 The number of letter sounds in standard American English is 42 to 44, depending where you live.

220     There are 220 Dolch words, better known as sight words.

300    Children from professional families hear 300 more spoken English words in an hour than children of parents on welfare.

1,000 Parents should read to their children 1,000 books before kindergarten, according to the 1,000 Books Foundation.

2,000 A student learns about 2,000 new words a year.

88,500 An incoming high school freshman should know 88,500 word families.

2,250,000 A student reading an hour a day will read 2.25 million words in a year.

32,000,000 Children from professional families hear about 32 million more words—including repeated words—than children from poorly educated families.

Should kids leave kindergarten knowing how to read?

Yes, kids should finish kindergarten knowing how to read, according to a survey of kindergarten teachers. Eighty percent of teachers said yes in 2012, up from 31 percent in 1998.

boy reading

This change in thinking about kindergarteners’ reading achievement was discovered through research by the University of Virginia. The researchers looked at surveys of 2500 kindergarten teachers in 1998 and compared them with surveys of 2700 kindergarten teachers taken about five years ago.

Expectations of kindergarteners today are more like expectations of first graders in the recent past. According to the teachers, students should enter kindergarten knowing the alphabet and they should leave kindergarten knowing how to read.

Why the change? Credit (or blame) the 2001 No Child Left Behind law which required third graders to be tested in English language skills.  To raise third graders’ achievement levels, teachers needed to find more time to teach the basics.  That time was found in kindergarten.

This pressure to learn academic skills at younger and younger ages has come at a price, according to the researchers. The amount of time kindergarteners spend in art, music, play and child-selected activities has decreased.

Is this change good or bad for children? We will need to wait for future research to answer that question.

For a struggling reader, intervene as early as possible, says new research

child with adult helping to readIf you notice a child is having trouble reading, intervene as soon as possible, even in preschool.

So conclude researchers who looked at the reading achievement of students for twelve years.  The researchers concluded that struggling readers should receive help as early as possible.

Their research shows that struggling readers are obvious to teachers in first grade (the earliest grade included in the research).  Without help, these kids will not improve over time.

In short, there is no advantage in waiting to intervene.  Start now.

Many children do not receive help until third grade–too late, according to the researchers.  This might be because many states have passed laws saying that all children should be reading by third grade.

Participants in the study were 414 people in the Connecticut Longitudinal Study who were assessed annually every year in elementary, middle and high school.

For more information, read “Achievement Gap in Reading Is Present as Early as First Grade and Persists through Adolescence” in the November 2015 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.

My kindergartener wants to read chapter books. What features should I be looking for so she doesn’t get discouraged?

Congratulations! Some early readers are ready for chapter books, but that doesn’t mean all chapter books are right for them. Here’s what you should be looking for.

  • Characters whom the child relates to and cares about are really important. That means child characters, ones the same age or just a bit older than the reader, or characters who behave in child-like ways, such as Toad in the Frog and Toad series. The characters in books for young readers must be encountering situations that the reader can relate to—like Junie B. Jones fearing to take the school bus, or of Nate the Great visiting his friends’ houses in search of a lost cat.
  • girl reading Junie B. JonesCharacters should be different from one another—their names, gender, and personalities. Junie B.’s friend, Lucille, is prissy and wears pretty dresses while her classmate, May, is a tattletale. Frog’s friend, Toad is a short, brown scared follower while Frog is a taller, green, organized leader.
  • If the chapter book is part of a series, familiar characters or activities should appear. Children delight in recognizing these patterns. They know that when reading Nate the Great stories, for example, Nate always takes a break to eat pancakes. His friend, Rosamond, always appears with her four black cats. Nate’s dog, Sludge, helps him solve crimes, while another dog, Fang, always makes an appearance.
  • Asian girl reading book Plots should be straightforward with no flashbacks or complicated subplots. If the story concerns finding one of Rosamond’s cats, then that becomes the whole focus of the story. Good books remind children what they have learned. A character like Nate might think about the clues he’s uncovered, and a list of them might appear as an illustration. The plots are shallow and move quickly through a series of events.
  • Good chapter books for young readers should contain illustrations. A page of text will appear harder to read than a page with a line drawing on it. The drawings should provide additional information that the text might not dwell on. For example, drawings of Junie B. show her with fly-away hair and one sock up, one sock down, telling us in pictures about her personality. Illustrations don’t need to appear on every page, but more illustrations make the book appear easier to read.  Also, illustrations lengthen the number of pages, so the child thinks she is reading more than she actually is.
  • girl looking at book displayPicture books are printed with large type, but chapter books have reduced size type. To offset this change, good chapter books for young readers will increase the space between the lines of type and increase white space by making margins larger. This makes the text easier to read and the page “friendlier.” Good children’s books use dialog too. Dialog is usually short, so more white space surrounds it. Hyphenations will not be used at the ends of lines to split words, and sentences will end on the bottom of a page rather than being carried forward to the next page.
  • Discouraged child thinks there are too many words in a book she is readingThe vocabulary of chapter books for young readers should be easy enough to read so that the child can read for enjoyment, without help. New words can be introduced, but in context, and should be repeated during the story so the child can master them.
  • Sentence structure should be normal, that is, subjects followed by predicates. When complex sentences are used, the dependent clause should come second. That is the way children speak and write, so that pattern will be easy to understand. Sentences should be shorter than adults would expect. Not all sentences need to be short, but longer sentences should make sense on the first read through.

Right now I am working with a second grader who is reading his first chapter book, Charlotte’s Web. It was assigned by his teacher. Some of the characters’ names are similar (Avery, and Mr. Arable, for example). The vocabulary is advanced. The pig is called “radiant”; he is put into a “crate”; he is watched by “goslings.” For a suburban child, these words are mysterious. The sentence structure is too sophisticated. Even though Charlotte’s Web is an excellent novel, it is not an appropriate first chapter book for my student. He is not ready to read it without help.

In my public library, chapter books for elementary school aged students are grouped together. Within those books, some are labeled on the spine, “First chap.” Those books are perfect for children reading their first chapter books. Or if you are lucky enough to have a children’s librarian, ask her what books she would suggest. Or phone or visit your school librarian and ask her for help.

Hundreds of wonderful books are appropriate for your kindergartener. Good luck!