Certain kinds of errors indicate dangerously bad habits
Some books and blogs about teaching your child to read recommend that you avoid correcting your child when they make reading mistakes in order to protect their self-esteem, but this is bad advice that goes against the science of reading.
I do not believe that all reading needs to be supervised—children should learn that reading can be a fun activity that they are capable of doing independently. However, if you are supervising your child’s reading and you notice them saying the wrong words, it is important that you correct these errors.
One thing I want to be absolutely clear about is that pronunciation errors in young children are not reading mistakes. There is no need to correct a beginning reader’s pronunciation if they substitute a sound or omit one sound. For example, if your child says “dweem” instead of “dream” or “share” instead of “chair,” these are normal sound substitutions for children under seven. For another example, your child might sometimes say “fas” instead of “fast” and at other times enunciate the word fully, but such omissions are normal for children and tend to disappear as they get older.
Let’s take a look at why saying the wrong word is a problem and how you can fix it.
Why should I always correct my child’s reading mistakes?
To understand why it’s so critical to correct errors in your child’s reading, we need to understand why they are making those errors in the first place.
Say, for example, your child is reading a book and comes across the word “correct,” but instead of saying “correct,” they say the word “carrot.” These words look very similar. They share many of the same letters, and their overall shape is almost the same. Your child is familiar with the word “carrot,” and, seeing these similarities, guesses that this is the word in front of them. If your child is using this strategy, they are using the whole-word method. This is an approach to reading that was actually taught in classrooms by many educators for over a century. However, the whole-word method has been discredited because it limits readers to words already in their vocabulary, preventing them from sounding out unfamiliar words.
This is why it’s so important to correct your child when they make mistakes like this: to stop them from using a strategy that will limit their ability to read in the future.
What is the best way to correct my child’s reading mistakes?
The way you go about correcting your child’s mistakes is just as important as correcting them in the first place. You should always encourage your child to come to the answer on their own. Simply jumping in and saying the correct word will not help, because it just tells them that they guessed the wrong word, and does not stop them from using the whole-word method. Instead, ask questions that lead them to the right answer.
Correct your child’s error by asking them to sound the word out again using all the letters. They might try again and fix their mistake, but if they are still having trouble, point to the problem letters. Put your finger on the o, the e, and the c, asking your child what sound each letter makes. You might need to remind them that an o and an r together make a single sound “or.” Once they have identified each letter’s sound, tell them to blend the sounds together. Now they might say “c-or-e-c-t…correct.”
If the word is particularly difficult for your child at their stage of reading, you may instead assist in sounding out the word to your child. You might do any of the following:
- Cover up one part of the word so they are faced with fewer letters to sound out. Then, cover up a different part of the word. When they have sounded out the word in parts, these parts can be blended together to form the word. Often, breaking the word into syllables is helpful: “corr-ect… correct.”
- Say the individual sounds for them, then ask your child to help you blend it together. Children like to help you when they can. Alternatively, you can promise to blend the word if they tell you the sounds or a particular sound they ought to know.
If they still have trouble, model the act of sounding out the word for them, then blending it together, instead of giving them the whole word. Often, this will make you sound like a beginning reader yourself. It can be fun to act like a beginning reader and have your child be the helper. When your child has mastered certain skills, you can even play a game with them where they correct your mistakes.
Stopping your child from guessing entire words, and guiding through the process of sounding out words themselves, is the best thing you can do to ensure they have the tools to become fluent readers in the long term.
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