Reading aloud with your children can be a fun and entertaining activity for both parent and child. Many parents will spend a little time each day to read to and read with their child. It is during these reading sessions that your child gets to explore different stories, learn new things, and even develop their vocabulary and reading skills.
But does your child understand what is being read?
Most parents probably do not put much thought into the reading comprehension aspect when they read to their children. But being a father of 4 kids and also being a reading teacher, I’m fully aware of the importance of reading comprehension, and during reading sessions, I always take the opportunity by doing two very simple things to really help my kids (and students) gain a better understanding of what they are reading.
What is Reading Comprehension?
Before I discuss the two simple ideas for enhancing reading comprehension, let’s first talk a bit about reading comprehension itself. Of course, reading comprehension is being able to read the text in print and then be able to gather meaning from the text, but have you ever thought about what determines a person’s level of reading comprehension skills?
Reading comprehension is largely dependent on two key aspects, and they are: 1) decoding and word recognition skills, and 2) vocabulary and general knowledge. Good readers with a high level of reading comprehension will have exceptional decoding and word recognition abilities, and at the same time, have a rich vocabulary as well.
A child (or anyone) must have exceptional word recognition skills such that their mental capacity remains available to process and understand the text they are reading. If this child lacks decoding and word recognition skills, much of his or her mental capacity is focused on reading the words, rather than trying to understand what is being read.
To have good reading comprehension, the child must also have a good vocabulary. Good readers will always have rich vocabularies. While a child’s basic vocabulary is developed early on in life from everyday speech, the bulk of a person’s vocabulary will come from reading. The more you read, the richer your vocabulary will become. That’s just the way it is. In fact, just the simple act of reading a book several times will enhance a child’s vocabulary development. More on this in a bit.
Aside from word recognition and vocabulary, there is a third aspect called active comprehension strategies that will also greatly enhance a child’s reading comprehension.
So, parents, here are the two simple tips you can follow that will help enhance your child’s reading comprehension.
1) Read Stories Multiple Times With Your Child
Yes! It’s really that simple. Simply reading the same story several times with your child will greatly enhance your child’s vocabulary growth and understanding of the story. Studies have found that when stories were just read once, children understood only 4% more word meanings; however, when stories were read 3 to 4 times, children understood 10 to 15% more word meanings. Even more importantly, if you read the same story multiple times and proceed with word explanations when needed, children gained 14 to 29% more word meanings. 
Isn’t that amazing? All you have to do is read stories multiple times, and explain the meanings of words, and your child will have so much more to gain. Yes, it can get boring for the parent to read the same story over and over, but children never get bored of it!
A while back, my youngest received a “Soup Book” from her pre-school, and for 2 weeks straight, she made me read that book for her every single night. I had enough of that “Soup Book”, but she loved every moment of it, and I know that she benefited greatly (in ways noted above), because we read that book so many times.
2) Engage Your Child With Active Comprehension Strategies
During reading sessions, I like to ask the “W” questions. I do this with my kids and I do this with all my students to ensure that they have a good understanding of what they are reading. The “W” questions are questions of: who, what, where, when, and why. Asking these questions is a great way to engage your child with the story.
Discussing the plot, the setting, the characters, and asking questions of what was the problem, was there a solution, and what was the solution, will help your child gain a much deeper understanding of what they are reading. This is also a great way to get feedback and to ensure your child is processing and understanding what he or she is reading.
So, there you have it – 2 very simple, yet super effective ways to help enhance your child’s reading comprehension.
Written by Jim Yang
Jim Yang is a reading teacher and author of the Children Learning Reading program. He has taught children as young as 3 years old to read, and he also helps struggling readers to become fluent and confident readers.
1. VocabuVocabulary Development and Instruction: A Prerequisite for School Learning, Andrew Biemiller, University of Toronto