Activities with Kids

A teacher’s top tips for reading with kids

Holly Pigache  |  6 Jan 2023

Many parents know the battles of reading time.  Not bedtime reading – this can be a joy (until the story ends and the lights go out) – but when your child reads their guided-reading book to you. 

Cue: reluctance, stubbornness, phonics knowledge flying out the window and your child pleading for you to take over.

Whilst I’m not a parent, as a former primary teacher I know all about the battles of guided reading and have an arsenal of top tips for getting children to read. 

So if you’re struggling to read with your child or looking for top tips for shared reading, read on…

Top tips for reading with kids

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Talk to your child’s teacher

Even if you’re not keen on your child’s teacher (it happens), working with them rather than against them will help your child be happier at school and get more out of their learning.

Find out what your child is reading in school and ask for general topics covered this term.  If you can, research topics with your child: visit the library, search the Internet, buy a book or a game.  Flooding children with relevant vocabulary speeds up their reading development.

Try to find out which phonics programme the school uses.  They all teach the same basic sounds but some approach phonics differently.  Hopefully, your class teacher will have some phonics resources you can take home to learn more – after all, it makes the teacher’s life easier if parents help children to read in the same way.

Get to grips with phonics

Phonics is the foundation of the English language.  There are 44 basic sounds in the English language (phonemes) made up of around 144 letter combinations (graphemes).  That’s a lot of overlap and a huge challenge for children learning English.

Learning to read has changed since we were in school.  Now, phonics is much more streamlined; focusing on “pure sounds”.  We used to add an /uh/ sound onto letters: e.g. ‘cat’ would be sounded out as: cuh-ah-tuh.  This makes it much harder for children to identify the individual sounds and use those sounds to spell words.  By using pure sounds, children learn to read words by segmenting the word into sounds (note: this is different to syllables) and those sounds (phonemes) can be slotted together to build words.

Or have I completely lost you?


In true teacher fashion, here’s an example:

Rosie is 5 years old and has learnt to read (decode) the words ‘cat’, ‘pin’ and ‘fish’.  She’s now trying to spell the word ‘ship’.  Learning to separate (segment) the words into their pure sounds, she has all the tools (assuming she has no speech and language impediment) to put the sounds together – and hopefully in the correct order.  Rosie can hear a /sh/ sound at the beginning of the word ‘ship’ and knows that’s made up of the letters ‘s’ and ‘h’ next to each other: the grapheme ‘sh’.  She writes it down.

Next, she can hear an /i/ sound.  That looks like this: i.  Down it goes.

Finally, there’s a /p/ sound.  This is a bit trickier; which grapheme represents a /p/ sound?  Is it ‘q’ or ‘p’.  She has a feeling it’s ‘p’.  Yes, that looks right: ship.

If Rosie was trying to spell with the tools we learnt at school she may have ended up with: shuhipuh.

But hang on, we learnt to read and write just fine, thanks, Holly.

Yes, that’s true but how about we make life easier for our kids?

For a helpful video of the pure sounds click here.  Be aware not all schools use the “Read, Write, Inc.” phonics scheme but your child will learn all of these sounds (bar /nk/ – although still a useful sound) with whichever scheme their school is following.

Play a guessing game

Can your child guess what the book is about just by looking at the cover?  Can they predict the story when you read them the blurb?  How do they think the story would differ if an alternative illustration was on the front?  Ask questions about the story to build anticipation of opening the book.

At random intervals throughout the book, ask your child what might happen next.  Remind them they don’t have to be right; guessing is fun.

Make reading time short and sweet

Perhaps getting your child to sit down and read is a tall order in itself, so make reading sessions manageable.  If your five-year-old is also a weak reader, 10-15 minutes three or four times a week is enough. If your five-year-old is fluently reading Paddington Bear, show them you trust their reading abilities and allow them the time and space to read independently – without you hovering over their shoulder.

Related: Helping your child learn to read


Share the reading

When your child is struggling or you notice them feeling tired, engage in shared reading.  You could read every other page to keep the pace going or every other chapter if your child is a fluent reader.  (A word of warning: children think it’s a fun idea to read every other word or line, it’s not.)

Foster reading confidence

Don’t correct every single mistake – trust me on this.  Correcting every mistake will harm your child’s self-esteem and it’s better long-term that children build up the confidence and fluency in their reading at this early stage.  (This is especially important if you don’t know the correct pronunciation of phonics sounds!  Let the teacher pick up the errors and correct them; don’t teach them wrong.)

Recap the story so far

If you’re continuing a book your child has already started, such as a chapter book, ask them what has happened so far.  If you’re re-reading a book your child knows well, can they remember the story or any repeated phrases?

Reading with your child for just 10 minutes, four times a week makes a world of difference.  It improves their reading development and enhances their confidence in tackling unknown words, using phonics to spell words as well as deepening their comprehension.

With these tools in their reading and writing toolkit, they’ll also be more able to access the rest of the curriculum.

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