In a world where parents are bombarded with an array of educational products & apps promising to teach children to talk & read faster & sooner, it’s easy to lose sight of what is developmentally appropriate for children. We get in a rush to push a child along to the next level and don’t spend enough quality time on the very skills that are foundational to reading. Let’s back it up and start with the basics. Instill a love for reading in your child & help build important early language & literacy skills by taking the time to think about these five simple tips each time you sit down to read a book with your child.
In a world that’s going, going, going, sometimes when we sit down to read a book it can feel a bit like a means to an end. Reading books is how we get to the afternoon nap or bedtime. It’s what we do when we are waiting for the doctor. Don’t get me wrong. These are all excellent times for reading. But, instead of rushing through four or five books during a sitting, why not slow down your pace & focus on just one or two? In order for children to learn language & new vocabulary, we’ve got to go slow enough for them to process the words that are being read. We’ve got to take time to pause & look at the pictures together. To ask questions. To talk about the story. Slowing the pace you read is one of the easiest ways to help your child build vocabulary & improve story comprehension. Slow down. Pause often. Pause longer than you are used to. It’s important to maintain the natural rhythm of the book, but you can accomplish this goal and go slow. Give it a try.
Just because children are sitting and listening to a book doesn’t mean they are picking up the salient vocabulary or focusing on the pictures at the proper time in the story. How can you help them do that? Get animated. Get dramatic. Use your voice to highlight new vocabulary. Point to the pictures as you read a new word. If it isn’t depicted in a picture, help your child understand by making the word come alive with actions & gestures.
For instance, during a reading of We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, use your hands to show the concepts over, under, & through as you are reading. Stress important words with your voice as you read (i.e., “We can’t go OVER it! We can’t go UNDER it! Oh no! We’ve got to go THROUGH it!”). Be lively. Be animated. Be dramatic. Have fun. If you look & act like you are having a good time while you’re reading, your child will follow your lead. It’s worth the effort.
Re-Read, Re-Read, Re-Read
Yes, reading We’re Going On A Bear Hunt for the 100th time or The Night Before Christmas in March may seem monotonous & crazy to parents & educators. But guess what? It’s good for your child. In order for a children to broaden their vocabulary, they have to hear new words more than just once or twice. Reading a book to your child a couple of times simply does not do the trick. The number of words a child learns, their understanding of the words, & their ability to use new words significantly impacts the kind of readers they will become. Simply put, children with rich vocabularies have an enormous advantage. In fact, many studies show that vocabulary is one of the best predictors of reading comprehension skills at the end of second & third grade.
Does your child have challenges learning language? The need to re-read is even greater. The next time your child pulls out that familiar old book, yet again, just smile, act excited, and read it. It may not be your first choice, but it’s a wonderful way to encourage your child’s independence & love of reading. So read The Night Before Christmas in March or whatever book your child is excited about reading yet again. As long as your child is reading a variety of books & doesn’t insist on reading the same book all of the time, it’s likely quite normal. If your child is excited about it, you are on your way to raising a reader. And that’s what it’s all about, after all.
Describe Often. Ask Questions On Occasion.
If you are going to take the time to read the book, you’ve got to also take a moment to talk about the story. The type of questions you ask your child matter. Book reading time is not a time to test your child’s vocabulary skills. It’s a time to build his vocabulary & language. Asking your child to label animals and objects on each page is not a bad choice, it’s just not the best choice when it comes to building language & vocabulary. Dig a little deeper. Think about asking questions that encourage your child to predict, describe, & make inferences about the character’s thoughts and feelings. If your child is giving you one- or two-word responses, you are probably off track. Keep trying. For instance, instead of pointing to the picture of a cave in the story We’re Going On A Bear Hunt and asking “What do you see?”, try asking “What do you think could be inside?” or “What do you think is going to happen next?” Focus on asking questions that get your child thinking & using more complex language.
And remember, asking questions during book reading is a strategy that should be used with restraint. Think about pausing every few pages & asking a question about the story. If you ask too many questions, it can have the opposite intended effect. Spend more time describing & commenting on the story than asking questions. Describe what you think will happen next. Describe a time you felt the same way as the characters in the book. Help your child remember when something similar happened to a character in another favorite book. Simply talking about the story is a fabulous way to enhance language during book reading. If your child is attentive & engaged, you are on the right track.
Calling your child’s attention to the words, not just the pictures, is an important part of early book reading experiences and helps children develop print awareness. Print awareness is about helping children understand that print carries meaning. It’s about understanding that oral language & written language are connected. Each time you pause to draw your child’s attention to a printed word, you are helping build print awareness. During book reading, that means you should take a moment to read the title, and the author/illustrator’s name before opening up to the first page. You should also take time to point out salient letters or words written in colorful letters or bold text. Many children’s books naturally draw your child’s attention to letters & printed words. Other books place heavier emphasis on the illustrations. Either way, as a parent or educator, it’s your job to do the work to help your child develop print awareness each time you read a book together. Pretend you don’t know where the words are & have your child point them out for you before you start reading. It’s that simple. And incredibly effective. Give it a try.
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