We all want to develop reading readiness in our young children and a life long love of reading, as they grow. As a former teacher, I remember the gasp I took whenever I heard a child say “I hate reading”. After the initial recoil, I realized that they often hadn’t learned to enjoy the experience of reading and were simply focusing on the task of making their way through an assigned reading or book. I wholeheartedly believe that a child who hates to read, either a) isn’t a confident reader or b) just hasn’t found the right book yet. Allowing a child to start the selection process, and then guiding them gently in their choice of books, can help them find those books that will really turn them on the the experience of reading.
As a parent, we have a great influence on our children’s habits, especially from birth to preschool age. With really young children we need to simply develop the fun of books. Babies can turn pages, touch and feel textured books, chew on their board books, carry books around for comfort and just plain learn to enjoy the book as another object to learn about in their world. I will never forget a parent with a 9 month old daughter who said to me “We really don’t need any books. Obviously, she can’t read yet”. After picking myself up off the floor, I gently said, “That’s exactly why you need books for her. She will want to learn to read all the more, and be better prepared to read, if she learns now that books are a fun thing to share with you”.
As your toddler grows, you’ll want to begin introducing books of greater length that incorporate their interests. Children who are ga-ga over trains will need several books on trains. Actually, parents will want their children to have several books on their favorite topics, because your child will undoubtedly have a favorite or two that he/she will want to read over 100 times-sometimes several times a day! You’ll want to have some back-ups for when you just don’t think you can stomach that favorite book one more time today. But don’t discourage those favorites. The repetition of those most loved books, is developing reading skills too. Kids will pick up new details in the illustrations (picture clues), new ideas from the text (like unexpected plot turns or humorous situations) and increase their comprehension of the story every time you read it. Plus repetitious reading reinforces their recognition that words remain the same everytime you read them. Thus they begin to understand that the words on the page do tell the story that’s laid out in the pictures.
In addition to favorite topics Alphabet and Number books are good at this stage as they introduce these concepts in a variety of ways. And classic stories like The Three Little Pigs, Nursery Rhymes and Mother Goose are fun to add to your library at this age too. It’s a great idea to add some non-fiction to your collection at this age too, since children are so intrigued by learning about their world and so ready to soak up every last detail about their favorite topics. For a child who loves machinery or ballerinas, a non-fiction title will provide them will all the wonderful minute details they long to know about.
As your child enters school, they will soon begin reading instruction. Once they reach Kindergarten and first grade learning to read will be one of their most important goals for them. A child who has been read to for sometime, will obviously have a great advantage. Nonetheless learning to read can be a frustrating experience. It’s hard for many of us to remember what that was like, but here’s an analogy. Learning to read is like learning to work a new logic puzzle – one where you know the recognize the pieces and some make sense, but others aren’t yet clear. Somedays, you can really fit a lot of the pieces together and others, you may spin your wheels. And then you reach a point where a great light bulb comes on and more and more of the pieces begin to fit together. As you continue working to solve the puzzle, it gets easier, sometimes you run into a piece you haven’t encountered before, but having figured out some of the pieces before, you are confident you can do this one too. And before you know it, you’re ready to take on any puzzle that’s handed to you.
Encouraging your child at this critical stage is very important. You want to help them attack new words, but must also be patient as they learn to decipher words, sometimes very slowly, on their own. This is a great time for phonics stories, books that have lots of picture clues that help decipher the words on the page, and books with short amounts of text on each page- just a 1-3 sentences is a very comfortable amount. Books with “high frequency” or “sight” words are helpful at this age too. Your child’s teacher can supply you with a list of these, but basically they are words that your child should be able to read on sight, without having to decode or sound them out.
You can also begin reading to children from chapter books where the reading level is much more difficult, but the content is age appropriate. Charlotte’s Web for instance is for a fluent reader of around 3rd grade or above, but the story is one younger children will enjoy. You can continue this habit as your children grow since they will always be able to comprehend your reading to them easily. And it’s a wonderful habit to share this special reading time with your child regardless of their age. Whenever you read with your kids, talk about what you’ve read. Sharing ideas helps you see what they understand about the story and develops comprehension skills.
As kids do start reading independently, in K and first grade, ‘ll want to help them choose books that are both age, reading level and content appropriate. Let them choose pretty liberally, but realize that they may want to choose above their level. Just help them choose some that are very easy for them to read as well. Making sure that they have some material that is very easy, will build their fluency and their confidence. And being a confident reader is the ultimate key to developing a love of reading, because if you know you can read anything, then the world of books offers you an unlimited amount of fun, learning and adventure.
Read aloud together with your child every day. Make it fun by reading outdoors on the front steps, patio, at the beach or park. Also, let your children read to you. For younger children, point out the relationship between words and sounds.
Set a good example! Parents must be willing to model behavior for their children. Keep lots of reading material around the house. Turn off the TV and have each person read his or her book, including mom and dad.
Read the same book your child is reading and discuss it. This is the way to develop habits of the mind and build capacity for thought and insight.
Let kids choose what they want to read, and don’t turn your nose up at popular fiction. It will only discourage the reading habit.
Buy books on tape. Listen to them in the car, or turn off the TV and have the family listen to them together.
Take your children to the library regularly. Most libraries sponsor summer reading clubs with easy-to-reach goals for preschool and school-age children. Check the library calendar for special summer reading activities and events. Libraries also provide age appropriate lists for summer reading.
Subscribe, in your child’s name, to magazines like Sports Illustrated for Kids, Highlights for Children, or National Geographic KIDS Encourage older children to read the newspaper and current events magazines, to keep up the reading habit over the summer and develop vocabulary. Ask them what they think about what they’ve read, and listen to what they say.
Ease disappointment over summer separation from a favorite school friend by encouraging them to become pen pals. Present both children with postcards or envelopes that are already addressed and stamped. If both children have access to the Internet, email is another option.
Make trips a way to encourage reading by reading aloud traffic signs, billboards, notices. Show your children how to read a map, and once you are on the road, let them take turns being the navigator.
Encourage children to keep a summer scrapbook. Tape in souvenirs of your family’s summer activities picture postcards, ticket stubs, photos. Have your children write the captions and read them aloud as you look at the book together.
By Cathy Eads, B.A.
Elementary Education Independent Educational Consultant, Usborne Books at Home http://findtheduck.com