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Helping your child understand what they read

Your child needs to have many skills to be a good reader. They have to be able to:

  • decode printed words (“sounding out” words by recognizing letters and combinations of letters and knowing the sounds they make)
  • attach meaning to what they’ve read
  • relate the words they’ve just read to what they already know

If your child has problems with any of these skills, they will have problems understanding what they’ve read. Being able to understand what they’ve read is called reading comprehension.

Between 7 and 9 years of age, many children slowly learn how to use these reading skills without thinking about them.

By 9 years of age, many children can easily decode printed words and can now focus more on what the words mean. If your child has trouble decoding printed words, they will also have problems understanding what they’ve read.

​​​​​How can I help my child understand what they’ve read?

Reading a story out loud may help your child understand it, but they may still need some help. Below are some ideas you can use to help your child understand what they’ve read.

Before reading

  • Choose books that are interesting to your child. An interesting book will keep your child’s attention and make them want to learn.
  • Talk to your child to find out what they know about a topic. This will help your child get ready for the story.
  • Talk together about what the book will be about. Use the title and pictures as possible clues.
  • Talk about new words before you read the story with your child.

While reading

  • Talk about the pictures and the story as you read. Focus first on the main story instead of on details. Encourage your child to wonder about the creatures or events in the story and to think about details that aren’t written in the story.
  • Encourage your child to make a picture in their mind as you read.
  • If the book has pictures, ask your child to look at the pictures and talk about how they relate to the story.
  • Make the story meaningful to your child by relating it to their life.
  • Use the 5 W and H questions (who are the characters in the story, what happened, when, where, why, and how did it happen) to help your child understand the main ideas and events in the story.
  • Talk to your child about why things are happening in the book and what effect they are having on the story and characters. You can also talk about the funny things that are happening and the feelings and behaviors of characters. Ask questions that encourage your child to predict what will happen next in the story and to think about why it will happen.
  • Talk about ideas or other things that aren’t written in the story but are suggested or implied.
  • Encourage your child to ask themself questions when reading to make sure they understand what they’ve read.
  • Encourage your child to ask you questions when they don’t understand the story.
  • Read slowly when you read to your child. Speaking slowly will make it easier for your child to listen and understand.

After reading

  • When you return to a story that you haven’t finished reading, ask your child to tell you what’s happened so far in the story. Draw their attention to mysteries or problems that haven’t been solved.
  • Ask your child to retell the story in their own words and explain what happened in the story.
  • Try to use new words and ideas from the story after you’ve finished reading.
  • Most importantly, read, read, and re-read to help your child remember and understand what they’ve read.​

Where to go get help

For more information about how speech-language pathologists and audiologists can help, contact:

  • Your teacher to find out about school supports
  • Programs at your local library
  • Visit the Talk Box - A parent guide to creating language rich environments ​

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