Recognizing and pronouncing words are important in reading, but without understanding what is being read, the reader is not accomplishing the goal. There are many strategies parents can use to help their child with word recognition. Helping a child understand what is being read is more complicated and takes more practice.
Make reading a positive experience for your child. Infants, toddlers, and school age children all benefit from being read to and from reading to adults. Before a child reaches kindergarten, he or she should have already heard hundreds of stories, poems, and books read to them. Using books or even magazines that have colorful pictures in them work. Even if there is no story to read, talk about the picture and point as you talk or tell a story.
Home library: You don't have to spend lots of money purchasing books. Yard sales, dollar discount stores, and libraries are available. Don't just depend on books. Expose children to a variety of materials, such as books, magazines, newspapers, restaurant menus, cereal box labels, phone books, catalogs, and more. Of course, it's important that these sources be age-appropriate. Children must hear words and ideas expressed. Don't worry about reading the same book over and over; this is not a bad thing. Children may be able to tell you about the pictures before being able to read it, but that's great -- they are comprehending!
Children have to recognize that all those lines that go along with pictures in books are something. As you read, point to words. Show a "dog" on the page, point to it and then the word. It may seem senseless with a toddler, but their little brains are absorbing like a sponge. The knowledge builds, the strange marks on the page become meaningful. They are words... they tell about the pictures... they tell stories!
As verbal skills develop, children are eager to tell you about the picture or story. As I mentioned earlier, this is all part of understanding what they "read" and that is comprehension. They may tell you about each page in a book and never use a word that is on the page, and that is okay, too. But your heart soars when they reach a level when they point to words and know them. If the dog is in the picture, and the word dog is pointed to by the child -- wow, the connection is made. Words tell stories, and if we know words, we can read!
Comprehension is a skill that has to be achieved in order for reading to mean anything. I have taught readers who never missed a word, but when questioned about the material read, they did not know. The opposite is true, also. Struggling readers can comprehend at an amazing level when read to, but have poor word recognition.
Always talk with your child about what is being read -- ask questions. Even ask what they think will happen next, what happened before another action took place. Get them thinking, not just reading.
Word recognition: There are many theories about sight words and phonics. Personally, I learn toward the phonics and phonemic awareness. There are so many blends, on-sets, word chunks, beginning and ending sounds... don't worry, if I hadn't taught, I wouldn't know all of these words.
Knowing long and short vowel sounds and the sounds of letters in the alphabet are phonetic skills to begin with. Yes, and some r-controlled vowel words just have to be memorized.
Don't stress. Google! Try typing in reading, reading comprehension, phonics, phonemic awareness, online books...there are resources that can help. The online books will read the story and the pages turn -- they are such fun.
Most important, make literacy a part of your household. If you think about it, literacy is not just reading a book. A candybar paper, a street sign, and an encyclopedia are all parts of literacy. Make children aware of the world of words that surrounds them.
Make time to read to or with your child everyday. Have the child on your lap or beside you. It is extremely important that we read to children beginning at an early age.
Be a good example: Let your children see you reading on your own. They need to be aware that reading is not just a "school thing," but that it is part of life... even mommy's and daddy's.
Touch of writing: I could not do justice to writing tips so I did not try. Just know that putting what one thinks on paper is hard. Children tend to write like they speak. Teach children good verbal skills, using complete sentences, verb tense, proper use of 'I' and 'me'. That's an age appropriate thing. Don't tell them that's wrong, but instead repeat what they said using the proper verbal skills. If they say it well, it does seem to help them write their thoughts easier. Remember, children think mommy and daddy know everything.
I'm sure you are aware there is quite a lot to say about literacy, and I have really only begun. Know what is going on at school. Always check and see if your child has a reading assignment for home. Ask your child's teacher about reading strengths and weaknesses, and focus on both. The greatest gift a parent can give a child is an appreciation of the written word. Read to them and help them understand the importance of literacy.