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Improve Your Child's Reading Comprehension Skills by Building Knowledge

Updated on April 7, 2021

Many parents who read a lot to their children in the early years are understandably mortified when their kids get older and have no interest in reading a book. There can be many reasons kids don't like to read. Too many distractions like TV, social media, and video games can be one. But another possible cause of disinterest in reading may be poor reading ability, resulting from a lack of broad general knowledge. A child may do fine when it comes to decoding text. But if they don't understand much of what they are reading they understandably won't enjoy doing it. Parents may assume that their children have good reading skills because they have good decoding skills.

Decoding Versus Comprehending

Reading ability requires both decoding and comprehending ability. Decoding refers to the ability to sound out words and recognize sight words. Comprehending refers to understanding of what is read. This requires a broad general knowledge base. In the elementary school years much of the focus is on building and improving decoding skills. However, it is a big mistake to neglect comprehension and general knowledge. Parents should focus on building a child's comprehension ability and knowledge as early as the toddler years. Schools should put equal focus on both decoding and comprehension starting in Kindergarten. Unfortunately, many schools fail to do this.

Many parents assume that any reading is beneficial. I know parents who don't care what their children read, as long as they read. But not all reading is equal. A child who builds up a strong general knowledge base in many different subjects will have better reading skills than a child who doesn't. Reading tests up to the 5th grade level focus largely on decoding ability and often consist of topics that most children would already know something about. Tests of 6th grade reading ability and beyond tend to be far more knowledge focused. So, a child's true reading ability may not become obvious until they have reached middle school.

Decoding is sounding out words phonetically and recognizing sight words.

Comprehending is the ability to understand what is being read.

Reading Comprehension Strategies

How to Build General Knowledge Quickly and Easily

Starting when your child is a toddler get books that cover many different subjects areas. This is easy to do if you make regular trips to the library. Once your child is 4 or 5, start collecting various Usborne, Kingfisher and Scholastic books. These publishers produce a lot of encyclopedias that cover a wide-range of topics. Read these books to your child. Each section is short, so you can easily read from two to four books at a time. Your child will build up a general knowledge base that covers science, history, art history, mythology, and geography. These books are appropriate for preschool and elementary age kids.

Usborne, Scholastic and Kingfisher books can easily be bought used, so you can build a large collection at little cost. I either buy them used from for a total cost of $4 to $5 or I pick them up at my local library's used bookstore for $1 to $2. I have probably spent $40 on a large collection of these kinds of books. Some good titles are:

  • The Usborne Internet-Linked First Encyclopedia of Our World
  • The Usborne Encyclopedia of the Ancient World
  • The Usborne Science Encyclopedia
  • First Encyclopedia of the Human Body
  • The Usborne Internet-Linked Prehistoric World
  • The Usborne Story of Painting: Cave Painting to Modern Art
  • The Story of Painting
  • The Usborne Story of Music
  • The Usborne Book of Discovery: Inventors/Scientists/Explorers
  • First Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life
  • First Encyclopedia of History
  • First Encyclopedia of Space
  • Usborne Illustrated Guide to Greek Myths and Legends
  • First Encyclopedia of Seas & Oceans
  • The Kingfisher First Human Body Encyclopedia
  • The Kingfisher First Picture Atlas
  • Kingfisher First Encyclopedia
  • Scholastic Encyclopedia of Space
  • Scholastic Children's Encyclopedia
  • Scholastic Encyclopedia Of Animals
  • The Best Book of Early People
  • The Best Book of Endangered and Extinct Animals
  • The Best Book of Fossils, Rocks, and Minerals

When you visit the library, look for age appropriate books, including educational chapter books, that go into more detail about topics you are reading about in an encyclopedia. This will further increase your child's understanding, knowledge and comprehension. 

Usborne has a large collection of childrens encyclopedias that can be read to preschool and elementary age children.
Usborne has a large collection of childrens encyclopedias that can be read to preschool and elementary age children.

Watch to Build Knowledge

Educational shows are another great way to build knowledge. Documentaries may not always be interesting to younger kids but there are many TV shows aimed at them. Shows like The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy build science knowledge. Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego helps with geography. Liberty's Kids introduces kids to the American Revolution. Websites like BrainPop and BrainPopJr are expensive but have great videos covering a range of topics. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson is available on Netflix and is good for grade 3 and up. The show teaches science and history. PBS is another great source of educational shows for kids.

Liberty's Kids

© 2011 LT Wright


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