A few years ago, I was asked by a small group of parents what advice I would give to help their children with their reading development. This was my response:
Keep plenty of books in your home
Read to your children often, modelling expression
Love them well
These are also applicable in the classroom. Let me explain.
1. Keep plenty of books in your home
A literacy-rich home environment is essential for good before-school literacy development. One key study showed that children who come from families with a history of reading difficulties are more likely to have reading difficulties at some level. A proposed reason for this was the likelihood that these families had fewer written materials (e.g. books, magazines, newspapers) in their home. As a result, these children were less exposed to printed reading materials, unintentionally perpetuating a cycle of reading difficulties to some extent.
A high-interest, literacy-rich home environment and classroom is a place where children encounter alphabet books, rhyming books, funny books, interactive books, magazines and all sorts of activities that promote reading and writing for enjoyment.
2. Read to your children often, modelling expression
We know children pick up our habits – both good and those we would like to kick! But what if little ones also copy our reading habits?
Young children are like sponges. Their brains develop at an incredible rate, and reading with expression helps them with their awareness of story context, character development, how to use punctuation, and develops other areas of comprehension... plus it's simply much more fun!
Next time you read to your child try doing these things:
Use outrageous voices for characters
Exaggerate how to read sentences with different punctuation
Emphasise key words or phrases to add greater meaning
Be silly, mysterious, sad and serious, depending on the story and scene
It’s time to embrace your inner Big Bad Wolf or, if you’d rather, Goldilocks. Reading with expression demonstrates we understand ("comprehend") what we read.
(Tip: If you’re having trouble with this, think: How would Disney tell this story?)
3. Love them well (invest in their interests and creativity)
There are many definitions and experiences of the “love”. I like the definition I often hear at weddings: Love is patient, kind, faithful, not easily angered; it protects, hopes and perseveres; it is unconditional and keeps no record of wrong.
We often strive for excellence and high achievement – and these are good things. But more importantly, kids need to know they are well and truly loved, regardless of their academic success. This provides them with a solid foundation. When we aim to be confidence builders rather than “success” builders our children will find true success and approach new and challenging activities with a confidence that cannot be replaced, opposed to a fear of failure.
Another way of looking at this we should teach our kids to become learners rather than performers. Learners seek answers, truth, meaning and understanding. By contrast, performers act out a role and live in fear of messing something up or becoming "unmasked". There is a time and a place for performance, but we run a dreadful risk of teaching our kids to live from this mindset.
One thing love does is look out for the interests of others. It sees potential in areas of others whom we are different; they have strengths and areas of interest we do not, and it is important to acknowledge and encourage them in their natural “gifts”.
We have the opportunity to help the next generation take risks, live fearlessly and dream big. If children know they are loved unconditionally, they will astound us by what they can achieve and the heights they will reach.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and there’s much more practical literacy advice I could give here, but I believe these three tips are the foundation for raising healthy, happy children who have an enduring love of literacy, resilience and passion for life.
I look forward to hearing from you!