Traffic Light Reading And Other Tips For Parents
Learning how to help your child to read is one of the most satisfying and rewarding things in the world if it is done in a way that you both enjoy. Here are some tips to help you to help your child to read and to turn teaching kids to read into an enjoyable experience for both of you. A lifelong love of reading is a wonderful gift to impart to your child.
Traffic Light Reading Method
If you have tried to help your child to read, specifically with reading school books at home, you may well have found that teaching kids to read can sometimes feel like a battle.
You are definitely not alone in this, it is quite common for parents to be unsure of the best way to support their child and help them to read. What should be a happy, shared time between you and your child, reading a book together, turns instead into almost a chore for both of you, another job to be ticked off in an already crowded day. It does not have to be this way, though.
If you try to visualise the experience of helping your child to read in three stages, like traffic lights changing from Red to Green, it will help you to divide the process into easy to manage steps.
Red Stage, Organizing To Read
The red stage is the first stage of the traffic light reading method and involves getting organized to read:
- Find somewhere quiet and comfortable to read. Let your child help with choosing this quiet place and try to read in the same place each time.
- Choose a regular time to read or create a simple timetable to track when reading is going to take place.
- If your child is a reluctant reader you might want to consider creating a sticker chart or other reward strategy such as placing a marble in a jar which, when filled up would lead to a small treat. Have this on display in your reading space. This could be used every time you read with your child.
- Set a timer. Decide on how long you are going to spend reading. It is unlikely that very young children would benefit from a very long reading session. Ten to fifteen minutes per day is a realistic goal. Remember you do not have to read the entire book in one sitting.
- Assess your child’s mood and your own. Is reading time going to be successful today? It is important that reading is a positive experience. If your child is exhausted or you are feeling stressed out or rushed off your feet then the reading experience is not likely to be of much value.
Amber Stage, Introducing The Book
The amber stage is the second stage of the traffic light system and is where you introduce the book:
- When your child brings home a new book, don’t just rush onto reading the words.
- Look at the front cover together. What is the story called? What is happening on the front cover? What does your child think is going to happen in the story? (Predicting storylines is an important skill and helps develop early story writing skills).
- You might want to look through the pictures first together. This will help your child consider what the story might be about and encourage your child to consider the types of words that might be used.
- Is there a blurb (writing on the back of the book)? If so, read it to your child or encourage them to read the blurb.
- If your child brings home a non-fiction book, ask them to talk about the photographs and the different features such as the contents page or index.
Green Stage, Reading The Book
The third, and final stage of the traffic light system is the green stage. This is where you actually begin to read the book with your child.
- It is important that young children are encouraged to point to the words as they read. This helps them follow the text and can help them split words into sounds.
- The majority of children learn best through the phonetic approach and this will be the key strategy taught in schools. This should be used as one of the strategies to read unknown words. So for example, if faced with the unknown word ‘frog’, children should be encouraged to sound it out ‘f’, ‘r’, ‘o’, ‘g’ and then blend the sounds together to make the word. Make sure the child says the word clearly after they have sounded it out so that you are sure they have blended the word correctly before going
- Make sure the child says the word clearly after they have sounded it out so that you are sure they have blended the word correctly before going on to the next word. When the child is confident with their sounds, they will be introduced to blends such as ‘sh’, ‘ch’ ‘er’. The child should then be encouraged to use this knowledge when they read e.g. when faced with the unknown word, ‘shop’, they should be encouraged to sound it out ‘sh’, ‘o’, ‘p’.
- Sounding out is not the only strategy to working out unknown words. Your child could be encouraged to look for clues in the pictures or carry on reading the sentence and then come back and try to work out the unknown word.
- There are some words that cannot be read by sounding out for example ‘the’, ‘be’ and ‘there’. Your child is going to have to learn to recognise these words by sight. These could be taught through word cards shown in random order. Be careful to only introduce a few words at a time so your child is not overwhelmed. Lots of schools send home key words to learn.
- You may wish to consider telling the child a word from time to time if the word is very tricky or your child is becoming frustrated after several attempts.
- As your child is reading, stop from time to time to ask them about what they have read e.g. ‘How do you think Floppy is feeling?’ ‘Why did he do that?’ ’What do you think is going to happen next?’. The reason for doing this is to check your child’s comprehension. Many children can happily read a sentence without really understanding the significance of what they have read.
- At the end of the reading session, find out how your child felt about the book. Did they enjoy it? Why? It is ok for your child not to enjoy a particular book. You may find it useful to jot down words that your child found hard so that you can refer to them at a different time. If your child has a reading record, note down the pages they have read, and add a brief note to let your child’s teacher/teaching assistant know how your child got on.
Other Tips And Opportunities For Reading
Some parents frequently become frustrated by the number of times their child changes their book at school. Ideally, a child should be heard once or twice a week and their book changed at least once a week. Teachers and their assistants have a great deal of expectations laid on their shoulders and have a great many other things to do and teach during the day – imagine trying to read with 30 children on your own every day. Having said that, reading is a vital part of school life and I think that you would be surprised by the amount that takes place each day at school e.g. guided reading, phonics, Literacy, topic work.....
Your child’s school book is a useful starting place for reading but there are many other opportunities such as:
- reading books around the house
- reading interest books – fiction and non-fiction
- using the internet (under supervision). There are some great websites to support early reading e.g. the CBeebies or Starfall websites
- reading comics
- playing literacy games and puzzles
- using read-along story tapes
- looking at instructions e.g. manuals, recipes, and guides
- looking at brochures for places that you visit
- visiting your local library is also a good way of encouraging children to read a range of books.
It is also possible to extend reading into other experiences such as:
- Make-believe, (vital for the basis of good story writing). This can include dressing up, taking on different roles, making and using puppets, playing with small world toys such as a farm set.
- Story writing – children can create their own picture books or simple, written versions.
- Creating props or making things linked to the book e.g. if you read the story ‘The Gingerbread Man’, you could make ‘Gingerbread men biscuits’. If you are reading a book about pirates why not encourage your child to make a treasure map?
Links and Learning Resources
- Jolly Learning
Jolly Learning is an independent British publisher which produces the Jolly Learning range of Jolly Phonics, Jolly Grammar, and Jolly Readers.It teaches the letter sounds in an enjoyable, multisensory way. Good for Literacy games and Home School
- BBC - CBeebies - Home
CBeebies - literacy games, fun and learning for children aged 0 - 6 - a BBC site in UK. A good resource for Home School
Amazon is a great resource for parents searching resources and help in reading with their children. These Jolly Phonics workbooks are inexpensive and have been invaluable in helping children in my daughter's class to read confidently and well.
Other helpful articles on reading with your child
- BBC - Schools Parents - Helping with Reading
Advice for parents on helping your child read.
- Can Your Child Read? Literacy Matters More Than Ever
If your child is struggling to read, he or she is going to be at a significant disadvantage. Now that we are fully entrenched into the 21st century, reading is more vital than ever.
And Finally ...
I hope that the tips I have provided on using the traffic light reading method at home with your child will prove useful. I have given some ideas for other reading opportunities but I am sure you could come up with many more of your own.
If you still have some concerns about the progress your child is making with their reading or if, for some reason, you are not able to read with your child at home, it is very important that you arrange a time to go and see your child’s class teacher and share your concerns or problems. I am sure they would be glad to help and full of their own ideas on teaching kids to read and to improve their early reading skills.
Author's note. This article has been produced in collaboration with my daughter, Zoe, who is a Reception/Year 1 Primary School Teacher.