One of the biggest questions I get asked is whether the little words matter when it comes to a child’s reading fluency or accuracy. For example, the words a and the are often misread for each other and some reading instructors and parents will make sure the child goes back and fixes that mistake. The biggest thing to be conscious of is the needs of the child. If the child makes frequent mistakes when reading, then my focus is not going to be on the little words that do not change meaning. However, if when the child is reading and the word he/she has put in does change the meaning, then I will have him or her go back and read it.
Since I mentioned that you will want to take into consideration the needs of the child, I have listed 4 different types of children below. Determine which child seems like yours and then follow the suggestion for whether your focus should be on the little words or not.
Child A – Makes few errors has a high self-esteem – Absolutely have the child go back and read the word correctly. He/she rarely makes a mistake and it won’t hurt his/her self-esteem.
Child B – Makes few errors has a low self-esteem – This is a tricky one. While this child does not seem to make a lot of mistakes, their self esteem could be affected. You are probably better off not worrying about it.
Child C – Makes a ton of errors and has a high-self esteem – If it changes the meaning of the text, have the child go back and reread it. If it does not, then don’t worry about it.
Child D – Makes a ton of errors and has a low self-esteem – Definitely do not bring a lot of attention to it. You can say, “Try again” in the nicest voice possible or focus on the bigger words that seem to be inaccurate. Also you want to base it off of why the child is reading it incorrectly. Many times our eyes are focused on the next word instead of the word that we are actually reading. So a child may know how to read a word, but read it incorrectly because of where he/she is putting his/her attention.
This is definitely a case by case and situation by situation call. You want to remember that if you are constantly pointing out all of the words that a child is reading incorrectly, they will never go back and try to read it correctly on his/her own. Also, his/her self-esteem will eventually take a beating and push the child into a state of resistance. If you have ever tried to teach a resistant child, then you know what I mean.
For today, just be aware if your child is reading those little words incorrectly. Take a note of how you respond to it and then check to see if it seems to be on par with the suggestions from above.
P.S. It is really hard to change old habits, like constantly correcting our children when they read incorrectly. When you feel like you want to correct them, but you know you shouldn’t, take a deep breath and picture your mouth closed with peanut butter.