Teacher tip: The most fun way to build reading skills for back to school

Back-to-school time will be here before you know it. You may be looking for ways to help your child with learning and thinking differences get ready.

There are plenty of ways to prep for back-to-school. But here’s one you might not have thought about — simply provide your child with many different experiences. Making summer memories isn’t just fun. It’s also a cornerstone of how kids learn to read.

New learning is supported by what your child already knows. Teachers call this prior knowledge. To quote master teacher Debbie Miller:

“[Prior knowledge] is all the stuff that’s already inside your head, like places you’ve been, things you’ve done, books you’ve read — all the experiences you’ve had that make up who you are and what you know and believe to be true.”

Solid research tells us that how well a child reads is strengthened by the prior knowledge the child has about the world. When something in a book reminds a student of an experience or an event in the student’s own life, reading becomes an active process. This helps kids make meaning from what they’re reading.

For example, maybe your child plays on a basketball team. Or spends a Sunday afternoon in August watching a baseball game with Grandpa. Because of those experiences, your child’s more likely to connect with books that feature sports, like Skinnybones, by Barbara Park, or The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander.

Does your child love to garden or dig for worms in the yard? Books like How Groundhog’s Garden Grew, by Lynne Cherry, or Some Smug Slug, by Pamela Duncan Edwards, may challenge and inspire your child in new and exciting ways.

Tapping into prior knowledge does more than boost children’s reading comprehension and their ability to retain new information. It also makes reading a much more enjoyable and motivating experience.

I give parents lots of tips for helping their children become better readers. High up on the list is providing your child with a wide variety of experiences outside of school. Experiences build kids’ prior knowledge, and books come alive when they can connect to those experiences.

Now is the perfect time to build your child’s prior knowledge. And you don’t have to be rich to find rich experiences! Here are just a few ideas:

  • Hike a trail and look for signs of wildlife.
  • Spend a day at a children’s museum.
  • Design the best paper airplanes for distance and speed.
  • Visit a construction site and watch a building take shape.
  • Volunteer as a family by serving those in need.

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