Reading is a skill which needs to be taught. When modelled by someone they respect, children learn to value its pleasure. We take a look at why those who read enjoy more success than those who don’t.
I am sure that we all remember bedtime stories when we were children. There was the thrill of choosing a book and having the undivided attention of one of our parents or carers for those few precious moments before drifting off to sleep. We imagined places, characters and adventures with the help of the printed word.
As fluent, capable readers we take this skill for granted seeing it as effortless, simple and automatic. Yet, we underestimate the many complex processes which are required.
Consider for a moment these marks on the page, which we call letters, and the different kinds of marks that cause us to pause, which we call punctuation. Think about the combinations of letters we put together to make different sounds as well as our use of lower case and upper case letters, words that sound the same and silent letters. That is a lot for a young reader to contend with!
How can we help?
The best thing we can do to help our children to read is to make sure that they see us reading and, in turn, to encourage them to read. Read anything. Read the supermarket list, the name of shops, the characters in films, the newspaper and the phone book!
But how, with so many different complicated elements, does a child begin to read? How do children learn to understand the squiggles and marks on the page, which we call language? And what are the first words which your child will be able to read? If you see written language as a code, then imagine your child as a code breaker.
Take English as an example. Although children need to learn the names of the 26 letters in the alphabet, the process of learning to read is most commonly taught by a system called phonics. Phonemes are units of sounds and children have 42 phonic sounds to learn in order to become fluent readers.
It is likely that your child will quickly begin to recognise their own name as they will be familiar with how the patterns of letters look on the page. They will then come to learn what are known as high frequency words. These are short, simple and found regularly in first reading books. These words include ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘to’, ‘and’, ‘of’, ‘in’, ‘on’ and ‘at’ to name a few. Visit www.highfrequencywords.org for ideas on how to practise these with your child.
Whilst phonics is taught in schools, as parents we are the most important educators in the lives of our children and this is why it is important that you teach your child the joys of reading. Even before your child has the ability to read, they will learn skills from you such as:
• directionality (whether the text goes from right to left or left to right)
• how to hold a book and turn pages
• a wider and richer vocabulary
• how stories work
• how pictures tell stories
• empathy and understanding how other people may feel
Children are usually taught to read with the use of reading schemes. These are designed in order to give your child confidence.
In a child’s reading book, you will see that the vocabulary and structure will be repetitive and contain many high frequency words. Work with them and practise reading these texts as this is essential for quick progression through the system.
Bear in mind that these books are tiered. As the vocabulary and sentence structures become more complex, the size of the image becomes smaller. Do encourage your child to use the images on the page to decode unfamiliar words and to guess what is happening in a story. That is why they are there — to help, to make words come alive and to keep the reader’s interest.
Make it fun
Reading is an essential life skill and, as Bali Rai, a fiction writer, explains, “Reading for pleasure is the single biggest factor in success later in life, outside of education. Study after study has shown that children who read for pleasure are the ones who are most likely to fulfil their ambitions. If your child reads, they will succeed. It is as simple as that.”
We all want the best for our children. So give them your time and encourage them to read, read and read! Reading should never be presented to a child as something which is boring and has to be done like homework or chores. It is essential that reading is viewed as a positive experience.
What about children who find reading difficult or boring? Well, unfortunately, not every child is an avid reader and it can be difficult for parents to enthuse those who are more reluctant. Visit childrensbooks.about.com which provides ideas of excellent tried and tested texts for all age groups.
If your child is not a keen reader of fictional texts, then it is essential that you find an alternative. Vary reading materials and include such things as poetry, autobiographies, newspapers, comics, magazines and websites, which may be more interesting for the reluctant reader.
The main thing is not to turn it into a battle. Turn the television off, put the computer games away and make time to read with your child. Read in a comfortable place. Get them to read to you often. Don’t forget to take books, kindles or iPads on holidays and long journeys.
As the English poet and playwright Joseph Addison said: Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. It is essential for a successful life and, after love and security, it is one of the most important gifts a parent can give to their child.
• Make visits to the library and bookshops a regular part of your life.
• Show your child how important books really are by having them available at home.
• Set aside some time each day to read to or with your child.
• Encourage your child to look at a wide range of books, both fiction and non-fiction.
• Even before your child can read, encourage them to follow the words on the page with their fingers.
• Make sure that your child sees you reading.
We agree with the great author CS Lewis. You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough for me. Go and enjoy some reading time with your child. It will be a magical, precious and enjoyable! g
Guest writer Caroline Beckett has been Head of English at numerous international schools.