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Blog:  Teacher Tips

Teacher Tip: The Most Fun Way to Build Reading Skills for Back-to-School

Teacher Tips blog post by The Understood Team
Jun 06, 2017

Siblings on a ride in an amusement park

Back-to-school will be here before you know it. You may be looking for ways to help your child with learning and attention issues 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 he has about the world. When something in a book reminds a student of an experience or an event in his own life, reading becomes an active process. This helps the student make meaning from what he’s 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, he’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 him in new and exciting ways.

Tapping into prior knowledge does more than boost your child’s reading comprehension and his 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 your child’s prior knowledge, and books come alive when he 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.

—Ginny Osewalt

Ginny Osewalt is a dually certified elementary and special education teacher with 14 years of experience in the classroom. She is also an Understood expert.


Learn more fun ways to help your child build reading skills. Check out summer reading lists packed with book ideas for reluctant readers. And get tips on how to reinforce your child’s IEP goals over the summer break.

Any opinions, views, information and other content contained in blogs on Understood.org are the sole responsibility of the writer of the blog, and do not necessarily reflect the views, values, opinions or beliefs of, and are not endorsed by, Understood.

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The Understood Team is composed of writers, editors and community moderators, many of whom have children with learning and attention issues.

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