to raise a reader
|By: Deanna Mascle
You want to raise a reader. That
much you know. But how? That's the $20,000 question. You
could probably spend that $20,000 on how-to books for
you, readers for your child, flash cards and other
accessories, and specialized reading programs promoting
every possible avenue to full literacy.
You could, but you don't have to do all that. The facts
are simple. Between 80-85 percent of children learn to
read by the middle of first grade and most of those
children will learn without the benefit of fancy reading
programs and books. Many of those children will learn to
read as the result of simple preliteracy activities they
encountered at home and/or school.
In fact, studies show that starting early is not
necessary and could do more harm than good. Formal
reading instruction, especially if introduced too early
and if focused on "skill and drill," can
actually interfere with emergent literacy. However there
are things you can do before you get to that point--and
these activities are fun and can lay a strong early
literacy foundation to make it easier for your child to
learn to read later on.
As a basic foundation for learning to read and write,
kids need strong speaking and listening skills. When you
and other adults around your kids encourage them to talk,
ask questions, and use dramatic play, it increases their
vocabulary, allows them to hear and practice building
sentences, and gives them more knowledge to understand
spoken and written language.
Simply reading, talking, and listening to a young child
in a warm and positive environment at every opportunity
are among the most important things you can do.
There are three skill areas that form the foundation for
reading. Kids who develop strong skills in these areas
have greater success learning to read: Print Knowledge,
Literacy Awareness, and Language Understanding.
Print knowledge is simply the understanding that print
(letters, words, symbols, and printed media such as books
and signs) carries a message. This encompasses learning
that people read text rather than pictures and the
correct way to read a book or page (right side up, left
to right, top to bottom).
Literacy awareness encompasses a child's first efforts to
use print in a meaningful way. This includes recognizing
letters and groupings of letters (the child recognizes
his or her name or the name of a store) and attempts to
write letters and words such as his or her name.
Language understanding is just that-understanding how
language works. This includes being able to sound out
individual letters in a word and counting the words in a
Children develop these skills by having many early
experiences with language, books, and print. They can
have these experiences as part of everyday life, through
play, conversation, and a wide range of activities. Young
children use play and talk as a way to expand, explore,
and make sense of their world. When kids talk about daily
tasks and special events, tell stories, sing songs, and
scribble, they are laying the groundwork for reading and
The primary reason many children struggle with learning
to read is because they simply do not have enough
experiences with language, books, and print. They need
more time at home and in their early childhood programs
devoted to helping them develop the skills that lead to
reading. A lack of developmentally appropriate
skill-building at an early age can significantly limit
the reading and writing level a child attains.
Becoming a literate person is something that every human
begins almost from birth. In essence, we are actually
programmed to become literate. However, that does not
mean the path to literacy is smooth and easy.
While the progression to literacy is a natural evolution
we are all programmed to follow, literacy does not occur
in a vacuum. Literacy emerges in individuals only when
they are immersed in a community of literacy.
Interactions such as sharing a picture book, telling a
story, and talking about experiences are central to
Most parents are aware of the importance of reading to
their child, but it is so important that it cannot be
emphasized enough. According to the Partnership for
Reading, a project administered by the National Institute
for Literacy, Reading aloud to children has been called
the single most important activity for building the
knowledge required for success in reading."
Typically, parents play an important role in developing
this skill by reading to children and showing how
important reading is to their daily life. Find time to
read aloud with your child every day. Lap time with
picture books and stories can strongly motivate your
child to enjoy reading.
Studies focusing on parents of successful readers found
that they do more than simply read to their children.
They also engage in specific strategies, which maximize
the reading experience. These strategies are actually
fairly simple: talk about the book with your child before
reading it; read aloud using an enthusiastic voice; and
let your child ask questions about the book. Parents can
also encourage their child to "read" the story
back to them (especially if it is a favorite that has
been read many times to the child) and/or share fun
variations of the story.
However, while this is significant, this is not the only
way your child learns. Knowledge is constructed as a
result of dynamic interactions between the individual and
the physical and social environments. In a sense the
child discovers knowledge through active experimentation.
Try to make books available for your child to explore and
enjoy on their own as well as with you.
It is important to remember that literacy is much broader
than simply reading. Allowing a child to draw or color
and playing word games and singing songs are also a part
of literacy. Sometimes literacy development does not
actually involve print. There are many ways of learning
to read and write. Some of these ways may look
suspiciously like play which makes them all the more
Children learn through play. Play provides opportunities
for exploration, experimentation, and manipulation that
are essential for constructing knowledge and contributes
to the development of representational thought. During
play, children examine and refine their learning in light
of the feedback they receive from the environment and
other people. It is through play that children develop
their imaginations and creativity. During the primary
grades, children's play becomes more rule-oriented and
promotes the development of autonomy and cooperation
which contributes to social, emotional, and intellectual
Make-believe among peers also plays an important role in
emergent literacy. Pretending is, in fact, an ideal area
in which children can develop literacy-related language
skills. In pretend play, children use language to create
imaginary worlds; and the manner in which language is
used when pretending has much in common with reading. It
is important to provide children time and settings in
which they can use language with each other in a variety
of social dramatic play activities.
Block play, too, can serve as a foundation for literacy.
While reading and writing and playing with blocks seem
miles apart at first glance, block play offers the
literacy-related benefits of helping children understand
symbolization, refine visual discrimination, develop
fine-motor coordination, and practice oral language.
So remember, your goal is not to teach your child to read
so much as it is to help them become literate. Immerse
your child in literacy by talking, reading, singing,
pretending, and playing and you will have done a great
deal to prepare your child to become a reader.
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