Imagine yourself in a foreign country. Without the local language it is near impossible to buy a train ticket or order food you like let alone apply for a job or fill in a census form. Speaking, listening, reading and writing are crucial to optimise the way you negotiate the world. You can’t start too early developing your child’s literacy skills. And one of the best ways to do it is supporting them to become enthusiastic readers. In this COVID environment make time for bonding over reading.
From babyhood sharing picture books introduces your child to the conventions of reading. After they drum on the book with a spoon or drop it on the floor in that game where you pick it up for the tenth time - they start to see it for what it is, a source of joy and entertainment. They learn to open the pages, point at images, vocalise and exclaim. Children’s authors Richard Scarry, Dick Bruna, Tommie de Paola and Aliki were almost members of our family!
As children grow older, increase the complexity of the books. Picture books with more text and involved plots can be followed with chapter books. J.K Rowling is probably responsible for accelerating the reading age of my children by three years because they tired of being limited to the single pre-bed chapter and decided to read themselves! As young adults both are still prodigious readers.
1. Make it fun
Reading should be enjoyable. Get comfortable, read with expression and choose age-appropriate books about something children find interesting. Books with repetitions, rhymes and resonating onomatopoeia like ‘bang’, ‘boom’, ‘crash’ and’ zap’ are ever popular. Don’t stop during the first reading! Too many questions or comments spoil a good story. On subsequent readings you can expand their understanding. They remember each story so well they’ll let you know if you sneakily try to skip a page!
2. Talk about how images and text complement each other
Children benefit from discussing how pictures, words and symbols all add meaning. Pictures often provide information that is not in the text and vice versa. I recently read a beautiful book called ‘Collecting Sunshine’ by Rachel Flynn and Tamsin Ainslie with a group of three-year old children. Besides the main plot about children going walking to collect treasures a couple of budgerigars and some mischievous cats are ‘telling’ their graphic stories in delightful sub plots. The children were enthralled.
3. Highlight structural elements of the story
Stories have structural elements and older children benefit from knowing them. When you talk about Paddington Bear, a firm favourite of mine, mention that he is the main character. Rather than say ‘I wonder what will happen next’, say,’ I wonder what’s next in the plot. Focus on the story’s setting. Highlight the problem that the characters are solving and unpack how incidents advance or add twists to the story. Mention that stories have a beginning, middle and end. Have your child make up a story that includes these elements. As a family, it’s entertaining to create progressive stories. The first person introduces a character, setting and action and then the next person builds on it. A hairy, grey monster rose out of the sea…
4. Sharpen thinking skills – predict, monitor, question and summarise
Reading requires thinking skills and as children advance you can focus on four. Occasionally ask them to predict what will happen. To do this, they combine information from the current story, their understanding of how stories work in general and their collective prior knowledge. They will like this challenge and relish being right.
Check that they are monitoring what has happened to a certain point. Written language builds on itself, and if something is missed or misinterpreted, it can impede comprehension. Who stole the bicycle, where was it taken, who sold it, who bought it, and why was that strange?
Encourage your children to ask questions when they don’t get something. Questioning is an underestimated learning tool and asking you for explanations might prime them to do it when they find things confusing in the classroom.
At the end of reading, ask for a summation of what happened? Being able to remember the key linkages is a vital skill and is needed in many situations!
5. Encourage reading independence
As time passes children recognise letters, identify sound patterns, read words and whole sentences. They become readers! When they’re ready it’s beneficial for them to read texts alongside recorded stories. Give them choices by visiting the library to select a variety of texts including poems and allocate time and a reading space where they can disappear down the reading rabbit hole. This will foster a life-long love of literature.
My grandfather made a wooden wagon large enough for my younger sister and brother to sit in. For several years I’d haul them weekly to our local library. My childhood was populated with fabulous characters, faraway lands and gripping adventures. I wish this for your children and they will be richer for it.
Lili-Ann Kriegler (B. A Hons, H. Dip. Ed, M.Ed.) is a Melbourne-based education consultant and award-winning author of ‘Edu-Chameleon’. Lili-Ann’s primary specialisations are in early childhood education (birth-9 years), leadership and optimising human thinking and cognition. Her current part-time role is as an education consultant at Independent Schools Victoria and she runs her own consultancy, Kriegler-Education. Lili-Ann is a parent, child and family advocate and writes because she believes education has the ability to shape and transform society. Find out more at https://kriegler-education.com