Did you know that learning to read is a complex process that begins at birth? KERRYL HOWARTH, Deputy Head of Elementary at the Australian International School (AIS), explains what parents can do at home to prepare children to learn to read, and encourage them to become confident, accomplished readers.
Learning to read is a long process; can you explain the earliest foundations?
Learning to speak is a precursor to learning to read. The quality conversations parents hold with their young children are essential to reading development. Before children can learn to read they must be able to actively engage in conversations on a range of topics. Young children need to be able to understand many features of language if they are to be successful readers. These include: hearing sounds, rhyme and rhythm in spoken words; using correct sentence structure and word order; understanding that printed text, such as books, holds meaning; and seeing reading as an enjoyable experience.
My child is under five years old; how can I prepare them to learn to read?
- Have rich everyday conversations; whether it’s at home, in the playground, even in the shopping centre, these are necessary for building the vocabulary needed to learn to read. Remember, it’s important to be in the moment, without the distraction of screens.
- Read to your child every day from a variety of quality books. Reading from birth is a great way to establish this routine. Most of the vocabulary needed to be successful in school and at university is learned from reading. Reading builds a love for reading from an early age. It also teaches your child a great deal about language structure, vocabulary and the rhythm of language.
- Teach your child simple songs and nursery rhymes to develop a sense of rhythm and rhyme. Children don’t care what your singing sounds like, but they do love singing along with their parents.
- Play simple language games with your child like “I spy with my little eye”, using letter sounds rather than letter names.
Once they have started to learn to read at school, how can I support my child at home?
- Stay relaxed and don’t become overly concerned about reading levels and progress. All children learn to read at different rates, according to their level of readiness. Just as children learn to walk or talk at different ages, some children can pick up reading relatively effortlessly, while others need more time.
- Read to your child every day. Just because your child has begun the process of learning to read doesn’t mean parents should stop. Reading with your child provides an excellent model of what proficient reading looks like, sounds like and feels like, and goes a long way to building a love of reading.
- Listen to your child read at home. It’s important to find time away from the distractions of daily life to focus on your child at this moment. Find a cosy space and sit alongside your child. Praise their efforts and encourage them when it’s hard.
- When your child is stuck on a word try the “Pause, Prompt, Praise” strategy:
Pause: give your child a few seconds to think about the word themselves
Prompt: give your child a clue to help them work out the word – what does it start with? Look at the picture for a clue – what word would make sense there?
Praise: praise their attempt and give them the word if they did not work it out.
Always let your child see the pictures; they are an important source of information when learning to read.
- Value your child’s choice of book. As adults, we read a range of materials, from magazines to high literature and complex reports. Children need to have this same experience.
- Talk with your child about the books that you read together. Ask them to predict what might happen next, or talk about the character’s actions. This will ensure that you are supporting the development of comprehension skills.
- Encourage and support your child to complete any reading homework that is set by the school, such as practicing sight words and home reading.
- If you have concerns about your child’s reading, it’s essential that you make a time to talk with the class teacher about reading progress.
How can I sustain my child’s interest in reading as they become proficient readers?
To answer this question, I sought the opinion of my own teenage children, who both agreed: Give the children great books! For children to sustain an interest in reading, they have to find it engaging, relevant and purposeful. There also needs to be the time and space to read.
How do you suggest parents can continue to build this love of reading?
Passion for reading develops when there is a strong connection between the child, the book and the adults who support and read with the child.
- Continue reading to your child every day; your children are never top old to listen to you read. Continue to talk about the books that you read together. Make sure they experience a rich diet of books including fiction, non-fiction and books that have been carefully crafted by authors.
- Set up a cosy, well-lit reading space at home. This could be on your sofa, or on cushions near a bookshelf in the corner.
- Honour your child’s interests and tastes in reading. If they’re passionate about a topic or a series then provide them with opportunities to read to their passions.
- Let your child see you as a reader. By reading yourself, you are teaching your child that this is something that your family values.
- Spend time with your child in the library or book stores searching for new topics, titles and authors.
Brought to you by
Australian International School (AIS)
1 Lorong Chuan
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