If you think about the skills your child needs to succeed in school, good reading comprehension is probably at the top of your list. You know that if your child can read with strong comprehension, it will give him or her a big boost in all subjects. It’s also what makes reading enjoyable, and it helps make kids into lifelong readers.
So, what is comprehension, and how do kids develop it? What is the big payoff of strong comprehension?
What is comprehension?
Simply put, comprehension is the ability to understand what you read. It’s the reason we read — to get meaning from the words on the page.
Comprehension isn’t only about understanding the meaning of words and sentences, though. It’s about how your child actively engages with the story. The best way to think about comprehension isn’t just as a set of skills but what a good reader does while reading. When your child has strong comprehension, he or she can visualize what’s happening, identify with the main character, follow the events in the story, and anticipate what’s going to happen next.
Let’s take a closer look at what good readers do. When your child reads, he or she thinks about four elements that make up the world of a story:
- Setting is when and where a story takes place. As soon as your child begins reading a book, he or she starts to figure this out. Does the story happen in a real or imaginary place? Does it take place in the past, present, or future? This helps your child visualize the story.
- Characters are at the heart of any story, so your child needs to understand who they are and why they act the way they do. A good reader is curious and always asks questions: What’s this character like? How is the character like me, or not like me? How does he or she grow and change throughout the story?
- Plot is what happens to the characters. The plot gives the story its structure, and your child will follow what happens in the beginning, middle, and end. Are the characters facing a problem at the beginning of the story? What’s going to happen next? How does the problem get solved?
- Theme is the big idea that holds the whole story together. It’s what your child takes away from the story. Good books for young readers explore rich themes that your child can identify with, like friendship, overcoming fears, and growing up. This is where your child finds real meaning in books.
How do children develop strong comprehension?
Comprehension is what all reading instruction is about, so a few different skills come into play. Your child needs solid decoding skills to read the words themselves. Your child needs to read fluently, which means he or she can read accurately and at a good pace. Fluency frees your child up to pay attention to meaning. Your child also needs a strong vocabulary to understand the words.
Most importantly, your son or daughter needs to do lots of reading. This is, hands-down, the best thing to do to build strong comprehension. When all of these skills come together, it sets up your child to think deeply and really engage with the meaning of what he or she is reading. This is when reading really captures the imagination.
What’s the payoff?
Developing strong comprehension has a wonderful payoff: your son or daughter will experience the joy of being lost in a good book.
When your child reads with strong comprehension, the world of the story comes alive. Your child feels what the characters feel and experiences the adventures of the story right along with them. You’ll see your child get so lost in the story that you can hardly get his or her attention—that’s how thrilling and powerful it can be to get absorbed in a good book.
This is how kids fall in love with books, and how they start to see themselves as readers. The rewards are terrific and long-lasting. Not only does it give your child a big academic boost in all subjects but reading books will shape your child’s character and values in a really positive way. Your child will look to books as a way to learn and to have fun, and as a source of inspiration. Your child will have a love of reading that lasts a lifetime.