Words and Deeds


Figuring out the word “could” was tough for Charles Swoope as he read aloud to his mother.

“The ‘L’ is silent,” Marybeth Swoope hinted to her son.

“Called. Coo-ud,” he guessed. Then he finally figured it out. “Could,” he declared, and continued reading.

Since kindergarten, 10-year-old Charles has had reading difficulties, his mother said. Sometimes he misreads “to” for “it.” And even short words like “roll” can trip him sometimes.

But with a lot of encouragement and help at home and at school, the freckle-faced fourth-grader now can master more complicated words such as “pedestal” and “delicate.”


Since Charles enrolled two months ago in an after-school program called Reading Village, his literacy skills have increased vastly, he and his mother said. He used to rely on the pictures in storybooks to figure out the vocabulary. Now he can dissect multisyllabic words to get the meaning of a tale.

“Now when I see a book, at least I’ll give it a try,” he said.

Children with reading problems can get help from a variety of private and public programs. But experts say that success depends on parents’ active involvement in their children’s reading to help them strengthen their skills.

“We want the parents in the program to become fellow reading teachers with us,” said Kristin Nelson, director of special projects for Capistrano Unified School District.

“That goes beyond parents reading good-night stories to their children,” said Nelson, who coordinates the district’s Reading Village program.

With several locations on and off campus (the newest center is in Mission Viejo Mall), Reading Village offers one-on-one tutoring. The program teaches children strategies to improve their reading and to enjoy books, and coaches parents on how to help their children.

Nelson suggests these checkpoints that a parent can use to make sure that a child is reading accurately and understanding the content of the story:


* Summaries. While reading to children, ask them periodically or after a chapter to summarize what they have just heard. Using the same technique, encourage them to sum up what they have just seen on television. On a Sunday evening, ask your child to recount and summarize what the family did together over the weekend. The goal is to help the child see the bigger picture.

* Vocabulary. Encourage children to learn new words by making the lesson a game. Ask a child to look up a difficult word in the dictionary, then pronounce it. Give points or other rewards for each word pronounced correctly and then used properly in a sentence. The goal is to help students analyze words. Experts say that youngsters who have trouble with reading typically have limited vocabularies and do not understand how to find the roots and other parts of words.

* Cause and effect. Making connections between a series of events helps a child to grasp the story and its theme. If a child is struggling with vocabulary, he or she most likely will not understand the content. Help the child follow the narrative by revisiting and making ties to events in previous chapters. Then ask the child to predict what will happen next. The goal is to emphasize parts of the story that may foreshadow or have significance to the development of the story.

* Sequence. Teach the child that events and stories typically have an order: a beginning, a middle and an end. Help the child to review the events of a story. To demonstrate that series of actions are important not only in stories but in real life, show how to do household chores in an orderly fashion. The goal is to help youngsters to organize thoughts and procedures.

Parents can follow those points to begin helping their children to read better. Programs like Reading Village also teach younger children some simple tricks. For example, Charles Swoope now follows the text with his index finger to help him keep focused on what he is reading. And he breaks up words by syllables to figure out their pronunciations and meanings.

Though he still struggles, his progress has boosted his self-esteem, Marybeth Swoope said.

“He’s still a slow reader,” she said. “But now I know he’ll get there. He may get there at a later point, but he will become a good reader.”



Best Bets

Officials of Capistrano Unified recommend these books for children who are slow to develop reading skills and interest. The nonfiction works are about topics covered in the district’s curriculum and are written in a simple and interesting style. Titles to consider:

Social Studies

* “The Statue of Liberty,” by Lucille Penner (Random House). A look at how the famous landmark was built and what it signifies.

* “Follow the Drinking Gourd” by Jeanette Winter (Knopf). An account of slaves who used the Underground Railroad to escape during the Civil War.

* “Growing Up in Ancient China” by Ken Teague (Troll). A story describing how children might have lived in ancient China.


* “Great Eagle and Small One” by Ralph Moisa (Perfection Learning). Facts about eagles, how they live and how they fly.

* “How to Be A Nature Detective” by Mildred Selsam (Harper). A guide to help children observe nature and look for clues to help them understand their surroundings.


* “Mars” by Simon Seymour (Mulberry). A collection of beautiful illustrations and descriptions of the planet.

Source: Capistrano Unified School District