Throughout my years of teaching preschool, kindergarten and first grade, parents often asked me what they could do at home in order to help their child to be successful in school.
When children enter preschool or kindergarten, the expectation is that they will quickly learn to read and for some, reading ability is equated with learning and giftedness.
Filled with good intentions, some parents employ popular strategies with the goal of building strong readers from infancy in the years leading up to their child entering school. A number of adults mistakenly assume that drill and practice techniques or memorization are the most effective ways for their young child to learn to read. Alphabet puzzles, flashcards and leveled readers are introduced and rehearsed as though children are computers that can be fed bits of information that the brain will synthesize and spit out as reading ability.
Research on reading acquisition tells a different story.
Reading experts define reading as a complex process involving many different parts of the developing brain. Language acquisition, symbolic representation, and the ability to hear and discriminate between sounds are all developmental abilities that are acquired over time and cannot be forced or rushed.
That being said, there ARE many things parents can do from the time their children are babies in lieu of flashcards and memorization strategies to nurture their children’s development and prepare them to successfully learn to read.
Five things parents can do to with young children to prepare them to be strong readers
1. Engage in responsive verbal and non-verbal interaction with their children from the moment they are born. Time spent in back and forth exchanges of facial expressions, gesture and sounds (including words spoken by the adult) fosters the relationship between parent and child, strengthening their bond, and laying the foundation and expectation for continuing responsive interactions.
Parents constructively interact with their children when they listen to their infants and follow their cues as much as talk to them. Interactions become more effective as they reflect the baby’s interest and attention. When parents establish the habit of listening early on, they carry the practice into later conversations when their children begin to talk.
2. Read Aloud Together. Reading aloud with a child provides both participants with a pleasant experience and warm, nurturing interactions. Parents model the value and delight of reading with their children as they establish the practice of snuggling together with a book as an enjoyable, shared activity. Books and reading become linked with positive feelings of comfort and connectedness.
As parents incorporate interactive questions and responses into the reading experience the child develops reading comprehension skills. Conversations about the information and stories found in shared books help children develop the ability to form opinions develop critical thinking skills. Discussions regarding the content found in books flow naturally as participants engage in predictions, wondering and reflection while enjoying books together.
3. Encourage Questions and Answer Them. Children are naturally curious and ask many questions about countless topics on a daily basis. Parents foster their children’s growing curiosity when they answer the questions children pose and share in the act of discovering new information together. Parents can pose questions of their own and join their children in learning the answers together through books and other media sources.
4. Share New and Meaningful Experiences. When parents seek out fascinating topics to discuss with their children, the children’s knowledge base will increase. Participating in interesting shared experiences can lead to conversations, questions and answers.
When parents take the time to talk and ask questions about their daily interactions and experiences with their children, errands such as a trip to the grocery store, post office or dry cleaners can become treasure troves of conversational topics. Outdoor activities such as visits to parks and ponds or taking a walk or bike ride can also supply interesting things to talk about.
5. Engage in Singing, Silly Rhymes and Word Games. Recent research has found that children experience emotional regulatory benefits from being sung to and that singing has a calming effect on babies.
As children interact with the sounds of language and music through songs, poems and games, they learn to discriminate sounds and to make rhymes. The ability to hear and play around with different sounds and combinations of sounds helps children to later make connections in learning how to read through decoding print.
Research has shown that children’s reading abilities reflect all the conversations and every life experience they have had.
Many parents already incorporate these five activities into their regular family routines. Other parents may wonder how to begin and may question what these kinds of interactions look like.
Visit Nurturance to discover more information on ways to integrate these five proven methods for improving your child’s reading ability into your family practices.
This article was originally posted on the author’s website, Nurturance.