Entering the world of reading and books can be a wonderful experience for a child. How exciting to discover that inside the covers of books lie myriad worlds just waiting for you to enter and enjoy. What a wonderful feeling it is to let your imagination soar on the power of words!
Is reading like that for your child? Does she look forward to reading as a very special and pleasurable activity in her day?
Nurturing positive reading habits will help make your child a reader for life. Here’s how:
1. Listening and responding to stories
If you do nothing else, then do this. Read to your child. Reading to your child enhances all the skills and perceptions she needs for reading. Remember, a child understands and appreciates far more than she can independently read. Sharing stories and poetry with your child immerses her in print conventions, rich vocabulary and sentence structures she will encounter in later reading experiences. In listening to or creating stories, she develops an understanding of structure and sequence.
At the same time, she develops her ability to listen, focus on print and concentrate, developing her ability to multi-task physically and cognitively, critical skills for reading success.
2. Reading more than words – talking about stories
Reading is more than decoding words. Comprehension beyond word level is important if your child is to become a motivated and effective reader. Stop and talk about the story. Predict what might happen next, discuss whether you like a character in the story, make connections to your own life. This creates active engagement with the story and helps develop imagination, understanding and appreciation, basic building blocks for comprehension and reading motivation.
3. Talking about reading
Reading is a multi-purpose activity. It is functional when you read for specific information. It is a learning process when you read to understand something. And it relaxes and engages imagination when you lose yourself in the pleasure of a story or poem. Does your child see you engaged in all these different reading activities? Do you verbalize your reading experiences so she sees the ways in which reading is important to you?
When you say, “I need to look in this book for a phone number” or “Let’s check the list to see if we have bought everything for dinner”, your child sees how reading helps you get things done. When you say, “Wow! That was a wonderful story… it was almost as if I was in that cave”, your child sees the power of imagination and the worlds that lie waiting in books.
4. Talking… just talking
Speech is the strongest bridge to reading. Conversation immerses your child in meaningful, rich and varied language. Before a child can read, she must know the sounds, words, meanings and syntax of a language. The more she knows, the more complexity she commands, the easier it is to connect her knowledge in oral language to the decoding process she engages in with written language.
Best of all, talking needs no special time or equipment. Anytime, anyplace is good for talking.
5. Using imagination in responding to books and stories
Follow the leader… and the leader in this case should be your child. The more books become a source of play and imagination, the stronger the motivation to read. Follow your child’s lead in exploring books imaginatively so that they come alive and are part of the world she actively experiences. Play games based on books, dress up as her favourite character from a book, create meals that a favourite character might enjoy, draw places and characters from her favourite stories.
6. Physical ability and print convention awareness
Reading is a unique physical activity. No where else (except in the related act of writing) does one engage in the kind of focusing reading calls for. Words and pictures demand fine focusing, control of eye movement in scanning print, as well as concentration on the activity for a period of time. Print material follows conventions. A child must come to understand that words and sentences go from left to right, how books open, that stories flow from page to page.
What a lot there is to master and understand – and this, before the actual cognitive act of decoding written language!
What can you do at home? Simple. The easiest way to develop these skills is immersion in active, motivating, print-rich settings that give them opportunities to develop these physical skills and understand how print works.
Surround your child with books, paper, pencils, crayons; all the things that make print come alive. Books must be linked to fun and play rather than work and difficulty. They shouldn’t only make appearances at reading time; they must be within easy reach, as much a part of your child’s normal environment as the toys and furniture she explores. Being able to pick up and explore books freely is critical in developing familiarity and love for the world of print. Once a child has this familiarity she takes on the complex reading process with eagerness and confidence.
Let art & craft be your ally. Children love mazes, collage work, finding hidden objects and words and tracing or creating patterns. These print based activities require concentration on task, scanning and focusing with the eyes. The added bonus of some of these activities is hand eye coordination which engages the child in practising developing fine motor control, essential for writing.
7. Phonemic awareness through rhythms and rhymes
Research tells us – phonemic awareness helps develop good reading skills.
But what is it?
Phonemic awareness includes awareness that words are made of syllables, that individual letters have different sounds and they can be combined in many different ways to make different words, and that changing one letter / sound in a word can make it a different word. Obviously to be able to use this in reading, a child also needs to understand how letters symbolize sounds.
Interestingly, this seemingly technical aspect of language development is strongly approached through play.
Phonemic awareness actually begins well before children are aware of print. It is discovered and explored in play and communication settings as children naturally explore words and sounds, enjoying their dynamic nature and discovering their properties.
All we need do to enhance this development is to take advantage of something all children enjoy – the sound play in the rhythms and rhymes of poetry and songs. Poetry connects the imagination to the concrete language properties, making it a powerful medium for learning language patterns. Exploring rhythms develops a sensitivity to the intonation patterns of language. Sound patterns in rhymes help children become aware of words as groups of sounds rather than as single objects. It is no accident that every culture in the world has rhythmic play, rhymes and songs for children.
8. Reading as joy not work
The kind of reading that severely clips the wings of motivation is making your child read and correcting her as she does. This makes reading a chore, focusing her on difficulties and problems. However, if you make every reading experience joyful and safe, motivation soars. Praise your child’s efforts at reading, whether she is pointing out words she knows or reading entire lines. Make book buying an occasion and a real treat; give books as presents. Books must be seen as that part of life that brings joy if you want your child to reach for reading naturally and eagerly.
Three Terrific Things to Try
If you are really busy and want to know just 3 things you could do, here’s what we recommend:
1. Read to your child
You don’t needs buckets of time. Just a little precious pailful – to explore a book or poem, to read it together, talk a little and enjoy the warmth and joy of sharing an imaginative experience with your child. 15 minutes a day isn’t much, but what a difference it makes!
2. Immerse your child in print
Let there be books… and magazines, comics, newspapers. All within reach. Never mind if your child can’t read the stuff. Let her explore the world of print any way she wants – pointing out pictures, this week’s favourite letter, cutting out all the words with two ‘tt’s, or just turning pages over and over. Immersion is the name of the game. And yes, it may be messy… but it is easy to do and the pay-offs are enormous.
3. Make reading fun not work
The things we remember for life are the things we experience in a joyful context. This is the easiest thing of all – don’t waste precious time ‘testing’ or ‘teaching’. Just have a great time sharing books, stories and poetry with your child. It will make a positive difference to her reading motivation.