Most of the new information kids receive at school comes from reading. Even if that information is on the computer, they still need to read it. So if there is something you need to do well as a parent, it is to make sure your kids read well, that they understand what they read and that they read in order to find and use information.
Kids are not born with reading skills, but they still need them to build their knowledge and understanding. We develop these skills in them by reading for fun or by reading to get information.
Although I believe that reading for fun is very important and can help increase your vocabulary and understanding, I think it is limited, because kids cannot check on their own if they understood the stories or not. Many books have layers of understanding and the young reader cannot tell which layer he or she is reading at and what they might be missing.
School is pretty much the only place where we can check kids' understanding and help them develop their reading skills and teachers are qualified to tell which level of reading and which reading skill is expected at each age, but as a parent, there are things you can teach your kids at home that will help them greatly with their reading development.
- Title - Guessing ahead is a good skill in reading. Teachers ask kids to guess what the story is about by reading the title only. This is an easy game that you can play with kids of all ages. Give them a title and ask them to guess what the story, the article or the book is about. They do not have to be 100% correct to develop this skill. They only need to have a good association with the title in their mind. When they can read more, give them paragraphs and ask them to come up with a title. The primary question the title needs to answer is, "What is this about?"
- Content page or headings - Reading a content page or going over the headings can help us greatly to understand the structure of the book or article, to "get into the author's head" and to discover the flow of the book, article or essay. You can ask children to guess what each chapter or section is about from its heading. One sentence is enough to get the picture. If kids read lots of content pages and lots of headings, it can help them with their writing skills too, because they can understand how to structure an essay on any topic. First, we find the title, then we make a skeleton of the things we want to say and only at the end, we write it all down. Often, the content page and the headings are enough to help kids remember a book or an article when they need to.
- Pictures - Photos and drawings are a very good way to communicate ideas. Even before kids can read, you can use pictures to help them "read". I remember 2-year-olds in my childcare center reading books to me using only the photos, so every child can do that. Ask your kids to guess what the book is about from the pictures. When they grow up, they will also use the photos and artwork on the cover of the book to pick books from the library.
- First and last paragraph - In every article, section or chapter, the first and last paragraphs are the most important parts for the reader. The author is supposed to write in the opening paragraph what the article will be about and in the closing paragraph what the article was about. Crossing those two paragraphs can give a very good indication for what children are supposed to remember when they read. Later on, it can provide a quick way to review and recall the information.
- Taking notes - Turning your reading into something short that you can remember is very important. Do not wait until the end to memorize. Instead, at the end of every chapter, write down in one sentence what you have read. Do it in your own words and keep your notes in a handy place. If you can write inside a workbook, that would be the best place. If not, write on a piece of paper and insert between the pages like a bookmark. Teach your kids to do the same.
- Highlight - I have always loved books and taken good care of my books. However, whenever I bought the book and it was mine, I wrote my notes inside it and highlighted the most important parts of the book. Highlighting makes sure you pay attention to only the important things in the book or article. It is also extremely helpful in remembering what you have read for an exam and for finding great quotes to references in your own writing. Show your kids how you do it and teach them to do it too.
Your kids' teachers will probably dedicate lots of time to teaching these skills, but they need to teach 25 to 30 kids and every year, there will be another teacher doing it, with a different style and a different approach. You are there all the time for your kids, so when you help them do their homework, you can easily teach them these tricks to help them become effective readers.