FOR NURTURING READING
by Julia Gabriel
Entering the world of reading and books
can be a wonderful experience for a child. How exciting
to discover that inside the covers of books lie myriad
worlds just waiting for you to enter and enjoy. What
a wonderful feeling it is to let your imagination soar
on the power of words!
Is reading like that for your child? Does she look
forward to reading as a very special and pleasurable
activity in her day?
Nurturing positive reading habits will help make your
child a reader for life. Here's how:
" Listening and responding to stories.
If you do nothing else, then do this. Read to your child.
Reading to your child enhances all the skills and perceptions
she needs for reading. Remember, a child understands
and appreciates far more than she can independently
read. Sharing stories and poetry with your child immerses
her in print conventions, rich vocabulary and sentence
structures she will encounter in later reading experiences.
In listening to or creating stories, she develops an
understanding of structure and sequence. At the same
time, she develops her ability to listen, focus on print
and concentrate, developing her ability to multi-task
physically and cognitively, critical skills for reading
" Reading more than words - talking about stories
Reading is more than decoding words. Comprehension beyond
word level is important if your child is to become a
motivated and effective reader. Stop and talk about
the story. Predict what might happen next, discuss whether
you like a character in the story, make connections
to your own life. This creates active engagement with
the story and helps develop imagination, understanding
and appreciation, basic building blocks for comprehension
and reading motivation.
" Talking about reading
Reading is a multi-purpose activity. It is functional
when you read for specific information. It is a learning
process when you read to understand something. And it
relaxes and engages imagination when you lose yourself
in the pleasure of a story or poem. Does your child
see you engaged in all these different reading activities?
Do you verbalize your reading experiences so she sees
the ways in which reading is important to you? When
you say, "I need to look in this book for a phone
number" or "Let's check the list to see if
we have bought everything for dinner", your child
sees how reading helps you get things done. When you
say, "Wow! That was a wonderful story ... it was
almost as if I was in that cave", your child sees
the power of imagination and the worlds that lie waiting
" Talking ...just talking
Speech is the strongest bridge to reading. Conversation
immerses your child in meaningful, rich and varied language.
Before a child can read, she must know the sounds, words,
meanings and syntax of a language. The more she knows,
the more complexity she commands, the easier it is to
connect her knowledge in oral language to the decoding
process she engages in with written language.
Best of all, talking needs no special time or equipment.
Anytime, anyplace is good for talking.
" Using imagination in responding to books and
Follow the leader
and the leader in this case
should be your child.
The more books become a source of play and imagination,
the stronger the motivation to read. Follow your child's
lead in exploring books imaginatively so that they come
alive and are part of the world she actively experiences.
Play games based on books, dress up as her favourite
character from a book, create meals that a favourite
character might enjoy, draw places and characters from
her favourite stories.
" Physical ability and print convention awareness
Reading is a unique physical activity. No where else
(except in the related act of writing) does one engage
in the kind of focusing reading calls for. Words and
pictures demand fine focusing, control of eye movement
in scanning print, as well as concentration on the activity
for a period of time. Print material follows conventions.
A child must come to understand that words and sentences
go from left to right, how books open, that stories
flow from page to page.
What a lot there is to master and understand - and
this, before the actual cognitive act of decoding written
What can you do at home? Simple. The easiest way to
develop these skills is immersion in active, motivating,
print-rich settings that give them opportunities to
develop these physical skills and understand how print
Surround your child with books, paper, pencils, crayons;
all the things that make print come alive. Books must
be linked to fun and play rather than work and difficulty.
They shouldn't only make appearances at reading time;
they must be within easy reach, as much a part of your
child's normal environment as the toys and furniture
she explores. Being able to pick up and explore books
freely is critical in developing familiarity and love
for the world of print. Once a child has this familiarity
she takes on the complex reading process with eagerness
Let art & craft be your ally. Children love mazes,
collage work, finding hidden objects and words and tracing
or creating patterns. These print based activities require
concentration on task, scanning and focusing with the
eyes. The added bonus of some of these activities is
hand eye coordination which engages the child in practising
developing fine motor control, essential for writing.
" Phonemic awareness through rhythms and rhymes
Research tells us - phonemic awareness helps develop
good reading skills.
But what is it?
Phonemic awareness includes awareness that words are
made of syllables, that individual letters have different
sounds and they can be combined in many different ways
to make different words, and that changing one letter
/ sound in a word can make it a different word. Obviously
to be able to use this in reading, a child also needs
to understand how letters symbolize sounds.
Interestingly, this seemingly technical aspect of language
development is strongly approached through play.
Phonemic awareness actually begins well before children
are aware of print. It is discovered and explored in
play and communication settings as children naturally
explore words and sounds, enjoying their dynamic nature
and discovering their properties.
All we need do to enhance this development is to take
advantage of something all children enjoy - the sound
play in the rhythms and rhymes of poetry and songs.
Poetry connects the imagination to the concrete language
properties, making it a powerful medium for learning
language patterns. Exploring rhythms develops a sensitivity
to the intonation patterns of language. Sound patterns
in rhymes help children become aware of words as groups
of sounds rather than as single objects. It is no accident
that every culture in the world has rhythmic play, rhymes
and songs for children.
" Reading as joy not work
The kind of reading that severely clips the wings of
motivation is making your child read and correcting
her as she does. This makes reading a chore, focusing
her on difficulties and problems. However, if you make
every reading experience joyful and safe, motivation
soars. Praise your child's efforts at reading, whether
she is pointing out words she knows or reading entire
lines. Make book buying an occasion and a real treat;
give books as presents. Books must be seen as that part
of life that brings joy if you want your child to reach
for reading naturally and eagerly.
Three Terrific Things to Try
If you are really busy and want to know just 3 things
you could do, here's what we recommend:
Read to your child - you don't needs buckets of time.
Just a little precious pailful - to explore a book or
poem, to read it together, talk a little and enjoy the
warmth and joy of sharing an imaginative experience
with your child. 15 minutes a day isn't much, but what
a difference it makes!
Immerse your child in print - Let there be books...
and magazines, comics, newspapers. All within reach.
Never mind if your child can't read the stuff. Let her
explore the world of print any way she wants - pointing
out pictures, this week's favourite letter, cutting
out all the words with two 'tt's, or just turning pages
over and over. Immersion is the name of the game. And
yes, it may be messy
but it is easy to do and
the pay-offs are enormous.
Make reading fun not work. The things we remember for
life are the things we experience in a joyful context.
This is the easiest thing of all - don't waste precious
time 'testing' or 'teaching'. Just have a great time
sharing books, stories and poetry with your child. It
will make a positive difference to her reading motivation.
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