Fluency is sounding like you're talking when you are reading aloud. Most beginning readers are not fluent. They are pointing to each word as they read, perhaps sounding out some words, and barely paying attention to those punctuation marks! If. it. sounds. like. your. beginning. reader. is reading. like. this. It's okay~ they're learning to read! Fluency is an important skill because the purpose of reading is to understand what you are reading (comprehension). So, if all of your energy is spent sounding out words and stumbling through a difficult book, you are not going to have any energy left to comprehend the words. This is why we find an "independent reading level" for our kids. On this level, it should be somewhat challenging, but they should be able to read most words on the page and understand what they are reading. So, this fluency piece is important!
read at the correct pace
pay attention to punctuation marks
change their voice for dialogue
emphasize important words
use their volume to express the mood
When your child is an emergent or beginning reader, you are not focusing on building up their rate. You can answer their questions if they ask, "What does this ! funny period mean, Mommy?" or "Why is that word bigger than others?" They may even notice when you're reading that YOU are louder on certain words.
We are a huge fan of Mo Willems' books in our house. Whenever I get to the page with the big black letters with the red background that says, "DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS!," my four-year-old will cover his ears and say, "Don't read it too loud, Mommy!" Your kids pick up on things just from reading aloud to them. I can't stress enough how important it is to read, read, read to your kids! You don't realize it, but you are helping them build those reading skills and teaching how to read with expression simply by reading to them.
There are certain things you can do to build that fluency at a young age. In school, there are a bunch of formal assessments that measure the accuracy and the speed when you read aloud. At home, it's really just about reading together! The speed, expression, and accuracy will come.
Some ideas to build fluency in your kids:
read to them
reread favorite books
sing (and read) silly songs or nursery rhymes
listen to audio books (and follow the print)
video your child reading aloud to you
Read to Your Kids:
Reading aloud to your kids has so many benefits, one of which is that they are hearing fluent reading from you. A lot of parents think once their kid has that reading thing down, there's no need to read to them anymore. (Quote from Mem Fox) Reading aloud to your kids has so many benefits, including that your child is being exposed to fluent reading from one of their favorite people: YOU!
Reread Familiar Books:
A lot of times when I'm speaking I get asked, "Is it OK if we read the same books over and over? We go to the library, we get new books, and they still want to read the same book each night!" My short answer: YES! It's amazing to hear those old favorites on repeat. Your kids get to hear the same words, same expressions, and they may start picking up on things and ask things like "Mommy, why did your voice go up like that at the end of the sentence?" and you can explain the importance of a question mark. Rereading books has so many benefits!
If your child is rereading a book on their independent reading level, you can have some fun and switch up how you read the book together. Reread the book together and take turns reading in a silly voice, a whisper voice, an angry voice, read like you're excited. You can make this as fun or as silly as you want!
Sing & Read Nursery Rhymes or Silly Songs:
Rereading stories is a great way to practice fluency, and so is rereading nursery rhymes or familiar songs your child knows. You can read a line to them, and they can repeat it back to you if they are unfamiliar with the poem or song. This is called echo reading when you read a line and your child repeats the line. It is helpful if you point to the words, and encourage your little one to point as well. You can even take them for a "finger ride" if it's difficult for them to point to the words. This is where you are pointing to each word with your child's index finger on top of your index finger as you read each word aloud. This is only a tool if your child needs the help tracking the print. If they seem to have it down, let them do this independently!
Songs are a fun way to "read" together as well. There are a lot of songs that have been turned into beautiful books with gorgeous illustrations. You can sing a page, and then have your child sing it back to you or sing the next page. This is also a fun way to see if your child is simply singing from memory or is actually tracking the print on the page.
Listen to Audio Books:
This is a great one for those long road trips! In my elementary classrooms, I always had a Listening Center. At first it was books on CD, then it moved to reading books on the computer, and now I'm sure there's an app for that (wink!). If you're listening to audio books with the intention of improving your child's fluency, they should be reading along in the actual book as well. There are a lot of options for audio books, and we check out a few from our local library.
Video Your Child Reading Aloud:
Put that smartphone to work! This is great because your little one will want to "practice" before you actually video them reading aloud. My kindergartener loves to practice one of his independent reading books, and then I video him and we send it to his dad at work. You are encouraging rereading simply by saying, "I can't wait to video your best reading!" They may ask you how to say certain words, and you can help them practice. If it's a longer book, just video a part of their reading. They will want to watch themselves read their story aloud, and you'll have a memory of them reading on your phone to cherish! It's a win-win!
Remember, we focus on building fluency skills so that comprehension piece is easier. When reading is effortless, our little ones can put their energy into what their story was about. One of the best ways to practice fluency is to read aloud to your kids, each and every day!
For a list of MY absolute favorite books to inspire your kids to love to read, click here to download the list!
I'd love to know in the comments: How are you building fluency at home?