Tell me if this sounds familiar: you spend the required 15 daily minutes with your child reading, and once the book is closed, there is little to no recollection of what was read. They can’t remember the elephant's name was Horton, they don’t recall what kind of website Katie Kazoo and her friend were trying to make, or they don’t have a clue as to how Peter’s pet dog, ‘Turtle,’ got his name. Comprehension. It is the next step in learning to read. Your child can be so focused on the act of reading words and how they work together, that they overlook what is going on in the story. This is common when they are beginning to learn to read. Once they have the vocabulary aspect of reading down, you can move on to retaining what is being read. As you move through this process, there are a few things you can do to help your child remember what they read.
Turn Words into Pictures
One lesson I learned about five years ago was about bringing words to life. This involves converting words to mental pictures. For instance, if your child is reading a story about floating in a boat down a river, it helps to mentally picture the boat and feeling yourself coasting down the river. Descriptive words the author uses assist with these pictures. However, sometimes the author can leave some of these details out. What you are left with is bland reading. In that case help your child be creative. Have them add their own sights, smells, feelings, and other descriptive content. Creating pictures doesn’t have to end with nouns and verbs. You can take any aspect of prose and create a mental picture of the words on the page. When you mentally see a word or phrase, you trigger something within the memory that makes it easier to recall. This works especially if your child is a visual learner. If you run across a dull book with few details, stop and ask questions of your child. As in our boat example, ask them what color they think it is, how wide the river is, or what is the temperature like. Thais takes us to our second point:
Ask Plenty of Questions
Not only can you ask questions due to ambiguity, but you can also ask questions to help comprehension. If your story is about a black cat named Whiskers chasing a mouse through the kitchen, you can test their understanding by asking questions like, “What was the name of the cat?” or “What room are they running through?” A question about any of the details will help them see the cat and mouse in their mind, once again further engraining the experience into their long-term memory. This form of learning is especially useful for those children whose minds tend to wander. My oldest son had this issue. We had to help his mind stay focused on the task of reading. This required pauses in the middle of the story and questions being asked: What just happened? Who did it happen to? Who said what? All questions are pointing to what was currently going on in the passage we just read. Sometimes he could remember, and sometimes we had to backtrack and reread a section. And that is okay. Repetitive reading also helps comprehension.
Talk About the Story
Not only do questions help with retention, but discussion about the subject matter can lead a child to remember a book into their adulthood. This method goes deeper than what is going on in the story. It extends into feelings and motives that are behind the characters' actions: Why do you think they acted this way? What other options could they have taken? Also questions about what they would have done if they were faced with a similar situation. Get their minds to think, instead of plowing through the story in an effort to complete it. Discussion about a book can also help teach life lessons that may not necessarily in the pages of the book you are reading. An author usually as a purpose for writing what he or she writes. Talking with your child about the book can shine light on subject matter that is between the lines. If a character in a story is dealing with the consequences of a bad decision, they may get themselves out of the situation, but the writer may not tell you straight out that the character should have listened to their parents from the beginning. This can be brought out with asking questions like, “What could have helped the character not get into trouble?” Then when faced with a similar situation, they may remember what happened in the book and chose to make a wiser decision.
Whether it is a story about a mouse and a cookie, an elephant with a flower, or a biography on sea turtles you can help your child retain what they read. When done right, they won't even realize that they are learning. The key is to have patience. Some of these skills don’t work on all kids, or sometimes it takes a while for them to be adapted into habits. Either way, do not give up on your child. Repetition is the key. Use their imagination to your advantage. Turn words into pictures, ask plenty of questions, and discuss their stories. The more you access the creative portion of their minds, the more they will remember what they read. This will not only help them with the books they read now; it helps them with reading in future grades and into adulthood.
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