Foundations for Reading 5: Comprehension

2 - 4 years
Father reading to child

Did you know there are five key skills that help children learn to read? This article in our Foundation for Reading series covers the fifth skill, ‘comprehension’. Read on for six great tips on how to help your little one lay the foundations for this important skill.

What is ‘comprehension’?

Reading ‘comprehension’ means being able to understand what you are reading – knowing what the individual words mean and then putting the words together to make sense of the text.

To comprehend what they are reading, readers also use the other four key literacy skills (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary and fluency), as well as general thinking skills. Together, these skills let readers figure out words quickly, understand the words individually, put them together into sentences, and make sense of the whole text.

Comprehension skills increase reading effectiveness and enjoyment.

How can you help your child?

Even before they begin learning to read, your little one starts laying the foundation of their comprehension skills while you are reading to them. Use these six tips to support this.

Read, read, read!

The most important thing you can do is read. Read with your little one, read to them and let them see you reading. This will help your little one to develop a love of reading and see it as an enjoyable and useful skill. The more you read to and with them, the greater their comprehension.

Ask questions

As you read to your little one, ask questions about what is happening in the book. You can answer the questions yourself, or encourage your little one to answer – this lets them re-tell parts of the story in their own words, which is a great way to practise comprehension skills. You can also ask for their opinion, which helps to develop their critical thinking skills.

Where did the family go on their trip? What do you think they will do there?

Make connections

Encourage your little one to connect things from the story to events or people in their own life, or make connections for them. This sharpens their focus and deepens their understanding.

She was very excited, wasn’t she! Do you remember being excited like that? I remember you were very excited last year when nonna and poppa came to visit for Christmas!


When you are asking your child about what happened in a book, don’t worry if they get some answers wrong – mistakes are part of learning! Praise their effort then encourage them to try again, or give them a bit of help, or move on to something else. This builds their confidence to keep trying when they are having trouble with something, and makes them a more resilient learner.

That’s a good answer, but are you sure the girl is feeling scared? She looks pretty brave in the picture. What do you think?

Let your child be the guide

Children develop at their own pace, and your little one may not be interested in letters and sounds right now, or may not remember them. That’s ok! Be patient and don’t push it – it’s important to keep reading fun. Just providing exposure to books, language and stories will lay the foundations for their comprehension skills, and set them up for success at reading.

Use your home language

If your home language is not English, you can also apply the same ideas in your own language. This will help lay the foundations for your little one to learn to read English (and your own language).

What about the other skills?

For tips on how to help your child lay the foundations for the other four key reading skills, see the other articles in this series.


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Last modified
12 May 2020