Reading. Patience for reading. Enjoying reading. These are wishes many parents have for their children sometime around school entry, kindergarten or in the early primary grades. Reading is also a topic that many parents wonder and worry about as their children grow. As a teacher, parent and parenting coach myself, I know how critical literacy development is – especially in the early years of a child’s life.
How can you nurture and lead your child to cultivate a love of reading at home? I invited Adrienne Gear, a teacher and literacy consultant, to participate in a Q&A for busy parents who want to support and inspire their children to read well for life! Here it is:
Q: How long should I read to my children at different ages? I have a baby, a toddler and a child in 3rd grade. Do I read to them separately or together? What’s best in your opinion?
A: I don’t think there is ever an age that you should stop reading aloud to your children. By far the greatest gift we can give our children is to nurture a love of books and to help them to become life-long readers. I would certainly read to babies and toddlers together but perhaps have a separate time for reading with a grade 3 child. This is the age where children enjoy chapter books and they would likely prefer a little time alone with a more challenging book.
Q: What are the basics I should start with when reading to a child who can’t yet read (i.e. a preschooler)? Any tips for how and where to sit? Any tried and true books to choose for kids who can’t read yet? What should I focus on to get my kid ready for literacy at school?
A: Sitting side -by -side with a book open between the parent and child’s laps so that the pictures are easily seen. The most important thing about this shared reading experience is that it should be interactive rather than passive. The reader (parent) is interacting with the book (pointing to pictures, asking questions, making connections) and the parent and child are also interacting with each other. Don’t be afraid to stop and ask your child questions or tell your child what the story reminds you of. This interactive reading models one of the most fundamental principles of reading: that reading happens in two places – in the book and in the reader’s head. Learning to read involves both “decoding” – the ability to say the words on the page and “comprehension” – the ability to think about and understand what those words mean. Children who learn to read by the code alone, become “master decoders” – without necessarily understanding what they are reading. As children begin to decode words, there is a tendency to become fixated on their ability to “say the words” correctly. As parents, we can support our children as readers by emphasizing the “thinking” part of reading, as well as the decoding part.
Q: What do you think of learn to read DVDs, software and apps? I’m so busy. Can this technology substitute for reading to my young child?
A: The word that stands out for me in this question is “substitute”. Bottom line: there is NO substitute for a child and parent experiencing a book together. We all lead busy lives but it is likely that a child will spend far more time in front of a screen than they do with a book in their hands. There are certainly excellent apps that can provide support and provide practice for emergent and beginner readers, however there is nothing that can replace the one-to-one shared reading experience between parent and child. It is the single most important thing a parent can do to help their child become a reader. Listening to an adult who reads fluently increases students’ own fluency as well as helps to increase a child’s vocabulary. It’s a well established fact among leading reading research that a child who comes to school with a well developed vocabulary does better than the child who comes to school with little familiarity with words. Twenty minutes a day is all it takes. There are 1440 minutes in a 24 hour period; taking 20 minutes to read aloud with your child still leaves 1420 minutes left over. The benefits of those 20 minutes can never be replaced.
Q: Should I try to teach my child phonics and the alphabet at home with workbooks before they start school or is reading to my child enough to get them ready for kindergarten?
A: Every child is different. Some will begin to show an interest in print much earlier than others. They may start asking what a sign says or pointing to letters asking what they are. I would definitely NOT start pushing the phonics unless your child is already showing an interest in letters and words. Children who are showing signs of becoming aware of print can be supported through some home instruction. Labeling things in a child’s room (“bed”, “door”, “window”) is another way of beginning to introduce print to your child. Don’t rush! The one thing that a child should be introduced to before entering kindergarten is the letters in their name. This will help introduce them to the concept of letter-sound recognition.
Q: I have a child who has been reading for a couple of years now. How can I know if what my child is reading is the right level for him?
A: I am a big believer in allowing children to choose their own books to read. Telling a child that a book is “too hard” or “too easy” or “You read that book yesterday – choose another one” or “graphic novels and comics aren’t REAL books” is not helping them develop a love of reading. At the same time, however, we want our children to be successful so they need to spend time reading texts that are not too challenging. Reading books where they can be successful increases the likelihood that they will become better readers. Dr. Richard Allington, national expert in the area of literacy, believes that children should be aiming for 98% accuracy when reading independently. One method I use in my classroom is called the “Five Finger Rule”. Open a book and read the first page. If you come across FIVE words on that page that you didn’t know or that were too difficult to read, then likely that book is going to be too hard. I encourage parents of fluent readers to continue reading books aloud regularly. A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his or her listening level until around the 8th grade. You can be reading 7-8th grade books to your 5th grader. They can enjoy a more complicated plot and this will motivate them to nudge themselves forward in their independent book choices. The most important thing I can tell you is to allow your child to CHOOSE their own books to read.
Q: How can I help my child to persevere in the habit of reading? My kid knows how to read but just won’t initiate it. Ever. How can I encourage my child to read?
A: Every story I hear about reluctant readers who suddenly become insatiable readers ends with the child finally finding a book they were interested in. There are AMAZING books out there! If they don’t like Harry Potter type stories, they might like animal stories. If not animal stories, maybe mysteries. If not mysteries, then books about disgusting creatures. Check out book blogs (including mine!) that highlight great new books for children – from picture books, to chapter books to YA books. Get to know your child as a reader, read to them and with them no matter how old they are and how good a reader they are, go to the library with them, get audio books and listen to them on long car trips, let your kids see you reading, give books as presents. Don’t give up!
Q: What are your top 3 tips for reading to (and with) children within the family?
A: My top tips include:
1. Read aloud to your children EVERY DAY!
2. Allow your child to choose their own books for reading.
3. Interact with the book while you read with your child – model your thinking, stop and point to pictures, ask questions,
make connections – encourage THINKING!
Adrienne Gear is a teacher and literacy consultant in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is the author of four educational books for teachers on Reading and Writing instruction: Reading Power (2006); Nonfiction Reading Power (2008); Writing Power (2011); Nonfiction Writing Power (2014). She continues to teach part time in Vancouver, as well as present workshops to teachers and parents in many school districts across British Columbia, North America and the UK. Her practical approach to comprehension instruction is being recognized world-wide and her books are translated into French, Chinese and Swedish. Adrienne is passionate about reading and supports the use of authentic children’s literature to teach both reading and writing. She lives in Vancouver with her husband and their two teenage boys. Adrienne posts book recommendations for teachers and parents regularly on her blog and Facebook page.