Two Ways to Improve Reading Without Books

Apr 06, 2024
Helping dyslexic children build vocabulary and background knowledge


Video version if not feeling like reading today: Two Things to Do Now to Boost Reading Success

The other day, I was listening to my friend, Nicole Chick, from Early Literacy Labs, talk about dyslexia on Vermont Public Radio. [Link to the broadcast:  Vermont bill aims to catch learning differences, like dyslexia, at an early age. ] A parent of a struggling reader called into the show with a question that was essentially, “what can I do as a parent?”. The desperation in her tone broke my heart, but I know so many of you can relate. 

Certainly the most common answer we get to the question of how we as parents can help is: “Read with your child”.

And I think most of us can say, “duh - we tried that. Any different ideas?"


Two huge factors of reading success are a child’s vocabulary and a child’s background knowledge. You can work on both of these without cracking a book!


Vocabulary is simply the words a child knows.  Children who develop perfectly normally in infancy and toddlerhood can enter kindergarten with a very variable vocabulary size.  Some have 1000 words and some have 4000 words.  You can imagine that as you are starting to learn to read, the fact that you are familiar with more words is a huge advantage. 

Talking to your children is key. Talk about everything. Use big words even with young children. If a child has dyslexia, remember they will need you to explicitly explain the meaning of the words, and they will likely need repetition over time.

Simple steps:

-When you come across a new word, explain what it means. 

-Write it down. Let them start to connect the letters to the word they just heard.

-Make an index card for that word.  Hang it on the fridge or on the wall as a reminder for you to continue to use the word. Repetition is key for dyslexic brains.



The second way you can help is to work on building your child’s background knowledge. Background knowledge is the information a child brings to school that’s based on their life experiences.  For example, consider the differences in background knowledge that kindergartners can have just based on where they grow up.  A child in a city have been exposed to different words (cab, subway, crosswalk) than a child in a farm community (bale of hay, harvest, combine).

You can build background knowledge in a thousand different ways - through play, through crafts, through exploring nature, through TV you watch together.  

Schools follow curriculums and so you could ask your child's teachers about upcoming topics in school. If there is a unit coming up about outer space, then you can watch shows, read books or just talk about all the things you know about space.  This will also help to build vocabulary as you teach them what a meteor or what an eclipse is.


Does this help you relax?

I know this helped me to be less stressed by the fact that I could never get my dyslexic daughter to read with me.  To know that there are other ways that I could improve her her reading comprehension and therefore her reading success without having to fight with her. These are things we can incorporate into our every day life and even into our screen time together.  The key if that I have to remain mindful of it.

March on, parents.  We got this!



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