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How to Help Your Child Understand What They Read

Did you know that 1 in 4 children are considered below average readers by the time they enter third grade?

Read on to see how you can help your child understand what they read in 4 simple steps.

Reading comprehension can be one of the most difficult concepts to teach children. It requires that they process large amounts of information to correctly understand what they read, and it can seem overwhelming at times trying to get them on the right track to reading effectively.

Fortunately, there are a number of simple things you can do to help your child develop into an avid reader who gets more out of what they read.

You'll be taking a great step toward increasing your child's literacy skills if you follow these four simple steps to assist them understand what they read!

1) Talk About the Book

Whenever your child finishes a book, it’s a great idea to get them talking about it. But there’s an art to doing so. Do NOT give them a test or quiz of some sort!

Rather, ask open-ended questions that encourage kids to share their opinions and recall facts from memory.

Getting excited about books will make it much more likely that your kid will enjoy reading in general—and set themselves up for long-term

academic success.

Here are some questions you might want to include when talking with your child about a book they just finished reading:

  • What was their favorite part of the story?

  • Why did they like that part so much?

  • What was one thing about it that surprised them?

  • Did anything happen in the story that made them upset, happy, angry...or something else entirely?

  • How did they feel at different parts of the book and why were they feeling those emotions?

NOTE: When you want to provide answers to questions regarding the book don't just say, "Because it's the way the author wrote it." Talk through it with them instead.


Beyond discussion time after reading a book, try looking over tricky words together with your child and go over difficult concepts if possible. Every bit helps even if all it takes is explaining a character's motivation once or twice.

2) Summarize Chapters

When it comes to comprehension, kids need as much support as possible. One of the most powerful tools for helping them decipher text is summarizing. Summarizing means identifying main ideas and rephrasing them in your own words.

But not just any rephrasing will do. Children need to summarize out loud for comprehension skills to take hold.

Here’s how you can summarize chapters with your child:

  • Find a good spot in a book that you’re reading

  • Read through together

  • Stop when you come to an important point or event—like, the princess cried because she didn’t want to be ugly anymore—and ask your child to tell you about it.

  • Use questions like: Who was crying? and Why were they crying? so your child has something concrete from which to draw answers.

Encourage your child to keep going until they tell you everything they know about that moment in time. Then have them repeat back what they've said before moving on to another section of the book.

This exercise helps kids better understand their readings, often after just one go around. You might want to try making an audio recording of your summary session so everyone can listen back and work on improving (because getting better at summarizing doesn't happen overnight).

Depending on how fast your child reads, expect each summary session to last at least five minutes.

3) Write Out Unfamiliar Words

Children develop their reading skills at different rates, but they must know how to look up unfamiliar words. If they don’t recognize a word, point it out and ask them how it might be pronounced or how it might be related to another word (for example, is there a similar sound?).

If there isn’t one, get creative and make one up! Together, try to come up with as many ways as possible for spelling/pronouncing that word. The fun of making up silly words will keep kids engaged in building their vocabulary.

4.) Turn Chapters into Mini Books

Reading is a great way for children to learn new vocabulary, explore scientific concepts, and even build their writing skills. However, reading an entire book from front to back may seem like a daunting task for young children (or for adults for that matter!).

We’ve all been there: our eyes gloss over text or we quickly skim sections that seem unnecessary or boring. This makes reading a book difficult and less rewarding.

To solve it, look at each chapter as its own mini-book, read it with your child aloud as they follow along in their copy of the book, and ask them questions about why parts of the story were included.

Let them discuss topics that interest them most or give suggestions on how the next chapter could be different.

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