By Hamida Butt, Learning Specialist and Curriculum Coordinator
Language development starts when parents welcome a new member into their world. Language and literacy development occur almost simultaneously as you talk, sing songs and lullabies to your infants. It is a very steep trajectory of learning for a new human being, but it happens with none of us realizing the magic of it. As your child gets older, you may be wondering what you can do to enhance that growth. Your natural instincts will keep guiding you as they did until now. If you have talked to your children, read to them, sung songs together and read poetry (Dr. Seuss!) you have already accomplished a lot.
Before children learn to read, they listen to adults reading to them. There is a lot of research demonstrating that reading storybooks at home supports children’s language and literacy development, and the dynamic interaction of sharing books acts as a socializing factor within a family. Research not only validates the merits of family reading, it also supports parents’ natural instincts about what they choose to read together. Family reading is an intimate time with your children; it grows organically and becomes part of everyday life, with rituals and routines that fit the needs and interests of individual families. It is a time of closeness that would be difficult to achieve in any other way.
Young children are not only excited to listen to stories, they are excited about the process of learning to read. That desire and curiosity drives them through many stages of reading development, and as parents you have probably witnessed some of these stages already. You may have observed your children pretending to read, telling a story by looking at the pictures, memorizing the text, and sounding out words once they are aware of phonics. They also demand repetitive reading of a book so they can internalize the language, and will read a book over and over. Try not to stop this process – it is an attempt to gain fluency and confidence, and it works.
We live in a print-rich environment, and of course there is no shortage of enticing screen time activities. In addition to reading as a family, there are other practices that can further enhance the pleasure and development of reading.
- A tried-and-true game of “I spy something beginning with …” is still just as amusing as a fast paced game on a screen with a similar goal.
- Make a shopping list together; repeated items on a list of any kind are easy to memorize and read.
- If reading becomes challenging, it is seldom a good idea to battle it out. Kids always win. Instead, either take over the task of reading and/or preview the reading, both of which help a tremendous amount in encouraging reading.
- There are numerous word games available, and you should use them to their fullest capacity. If your kids are too young for Junior Scrabble, let them watch you play with someone. It is amazing how soon they’ll try to help you out with words.
- It is always exciting to get something in the snail mail every month. There are some excellent children’s magazines that the whole family can enjoy that are full of fun facts. One that is consistently of high quality is National Geographic Young Explorer, which is suitable for young children of all ages.
- In our fast paced world, it is very rewarding to become members of your local library. Librarians become priceless advisors to children in their journeys as readers, “giving you books that you cannot keep forever,” as one child confided to me.
While young readers are on this path, our role as adults is to continue reading to them and listening to them as they begin to master this most incredible feat that a human brain accomplishes at such a tender age. Early readers want to share the sheer joy of being able to read. Any mistakes they make should be seen in the same way as they were when the children were learning to talk. They learn that meaning is what is important in reading, just as it was when they were learning to say their first words. Continued encouragement and support, as well as continuing to model reading through stories, poetry and songs, will help children develop strategies and increase accuracy and independence.
At Calhoun we read to our students every day, often several times a day. We learn about their interests and their readiness, and guide them every step of the way. We are here to help them become lifelong readers.