Helping your child learn (and love) to read

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  October 8, 2009 02:13 PM

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In spite of certain lawmakers who liken universal preschool to government-funded "babysitting," there's no denying that there's a real need for solid early education in the US.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 35 percent of children enter kindergarten without the skills they need to learn how to read. Those language skills -- things like phonological awareness and knowledge of the alphabet -- are the building blocks of reading, and the best way to teach your children about them is to spend time reading to them.

In "The Science of Early Childhood Development," a report by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, studies show that future school success is impacted by the learning foundation set in place in a child's early years. And the long-term effects of an early literacy crisis are chilling. As Ben Russell, assistant director of early childhood education for the Boston Public Schools, ,told reporter Patti Hartigan, when they calculate the number of kids who are not reading at the third-grade level, “We use those numbers to create prisons. And that is a tragedy.”

Jumpstart is a national not-for-profit trying to bridge the early education gap between high- and low-income students. According to Susan Werley, Executive Director of Jumpstart's Northeast region, 61 percent of families from low-income communities lack age-appropriate books for their children; a lack of access to books and of being read to before age 5 are key reasons why this early literacy crisis exists.

Jumpstart provides books to these families and pairs children with trained volunteers who provide one-on-one story time and attention. To bring attention to their cause, they've launched "Read for the Record Day" today (Oct. 8) in Boston. You can support the effort without even opening your wallet by reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to your child today; volunteers are reading it to thousands of children in various places around the city in support of early childhood literacy.

Here are some of the AAP's suggestions for helping your child learn to read (you can find all of their recommendations on their website):

1.) Run your finger under the words as you read to show your child that the print carries the story.

2.) Be animated! Use funny voices, ham it up, and get your child excited about the story.

3.) Pay attention to the pictures. Stop to look at them, ask your child to name things she sees in them, and talk about how they relate to the story.

4.) Invite your child to join in whenever there is a repeated phrase in the text.

5.) Keep reading to your child even after she learns to read. A child can listen and understand more difficult stories than she can read on her own.

6.) Set aside time every day to read together.

7.) Leave books in your child's room for her to enjoy on her own.

How are you helping your children learn to read? Parents of older kids: Do your kids like to read, or do they think that reading is a chore?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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4 comments so far...
  1. My little guy (6) thinks reading is a chore - but he loves books and to be read to. We've been reading to him since he was a tiny baby and he not only has a has a voracious appetite for stories, but also a tremendous ability to sit still for chapter books. But he doesn't love to read to me - I think the work decoding the words gets in the way of his enjoyment of the story.

    We're plugging away for our 15 minutes a day of oral reading, but I can tell he thinks this is something we "have to get through to get to the good stuff." I am hopeful that we move past this as he gets better. He's right where he should be in terms of ability for first grade, but he's a little on the lazy side. Not a great thing to say about your child, but unfortunately in our case, true. ;)

    His little sister (2) seems to be following in his footsteps. She loves books and to be read to.

    Great post, Lylah.

    Posted by RH October 8, 09 05:15 PM
  1. Government preschool would be like goverment kindergarten - teaching to the mean - class sizes too large, etc. It would be a horrible idea. Kids need parents and lots of love at that early age. Making it the norm for them to spend large quantities of time away from that loving relationship is just wrong for our society. There are more important things than letters to be taught to a 3-4 year old. If there is a loving parent - he can learn his letters and those important ideas at the same time. When I do send my 3-4 year old away from home for the short time that he goes, I want to know that I am sending him to a place with a small class size and with parents with similar values - involvement level. I'm sorry, but the public arena doesn't cut it in that respect - especially if you don't live in one of the educationally advantaged zip codes. We already have the head start program for disadvantaged children, and other parents who work are making money while at work. I'm not 100% certain the taxpayers should be backing them. I know this post is going to be unpopular....however, I don't know how else to say it....

    Posted by jemifa October 9, 09 10:14 PM
  1. I read to my oldest literally since birth, was myself an early reader and am still a voracious reader, so I was surprised when it didn't click for him. He has struggled with a language-based learning disability in which the process of decoding text is so laborious that the meaning of what he reads is lost. Despite that, he has a rich vocabulary and great oral communication skills, which his teachers and learning specialists attribute at least in part to having been exposed to books and language early on. Without early reading, he may have been farther behind than he is now, so it's worth the effort no matter what the child's ability level is. He is in 6th grade now - will he ever voluntarily read for pleasure? I doubt it, but as long as he manages to get to a point where he can sufficiently read to learn, that'll be good enough.

    Posted by Jen October 11, 09 11:15 PM
  1. Hi everyone, I just wanted to share a link with you. There is a video web-a-thon running at StreamThatCause.com to raise money for the "Kids Need To Read Foundation". This is such a great cause that helps gets books in the hands of under-privilaged kids. This woman has made a really touching video for her web-a-thon. Check it out and donate if you can. If you can't donate maybe you can leave her a message of encouragement on her blog, follow her cause, or just help spread the word by sharing her cause with your friends. It's a really cool video. Here is the link: http://www.streamthatcause.com/causes

    Posted by Kim Kerfoot November 8, 09 10:16 PM
 
4 comments so far...
  1. My little guy (6) thinks reading is a chore - but he loves books and to be read to. We've been reading to him since he was a tiny baby and he not only has a has a voracious appetite for stories, but also a tremendous ability to sit still for chapter books. But he doesn't love to read to me - I think the work decoding the words gets in the way of his enjoyment of the story.

    We're plugging away for our 15 minutes a day of oral reading, but I can tell he thinks this is something we "have to get through to get to the good stuff." I am hopeful that we move past this as he gets better. He's right where he should be in terms of ability for first grade, but he's a little on the lazy side. Not a great thing to say about your child, but unfortunately in our case, true. ;)

    His little sister (2) seems to be following in his footsteps. She loves books and to be read to.

    Great post, Lylah.

    Posted by RH October 8, 09 05:15 PM
  1. Government preschool would be like goverment kindergarten - teaching to the mean - class sizes too large, etc. It would be a horrible idea. Kids need parents and lots of love at that early age. Making it the norm for them to spend large quantities of time away from that loving relationship is just wrong for our society. There are more important things than letters to be taught to a 3-4 year old. If there is a loving parent - he can learn his letters and those important ideas at the same time. When I do send my 3-4 year old away from home for the short time that he goes, I want to know that I am sending him to a place with a small class size and with parents with similar values - involvement level. I'm sorry, but the public arena doesn't cut it in that respect - especially if you don't live in one of the educationally advantaged zip codes. We already have the head start program for disadvantaged children, and other parents who work are making money while at work. I'm not 100% certain the taxpayers should be backing them. I know this post is going to be unpopular....however, I don't know how else to say it....

    Posted by jemifa October 9, 09 10:14 PM
  1. I read to my oldest literally since birth, was myself an early reader and am still a voracious reader, so I was surprised when it didn't click for him. He has struggled with a language-based learning disability in which the process of decoding text is so laborious that the meaning of what he reads is lost. Despite that, he has a rich vocabulary and great oral communication skills, which his teachers and learning specialists attribute at least in part to having been exposed to books and language early on. Without early reading, he may have been farther behind than he is now, so it's worth the effort no matter what the child's ability level is. He is in 6th grade now - will he ever voluntarily read for pleasure? I doubt it, but as long as he manages to get to a point where he can sufficiently read to learn, that'll be good enough.

    Posted by Jen October 11, 09 11:15 PM
  1. Hi everyone, I just wanted to share a link with you. There is a video web-a-thon running at StreamThatCause.com to raise money for the "Kids Need To Read Foundation". This is such a great cause that helps gets books in the hands of under-privilaged kids. This woman has made a really touching video for her web-a-thon. Check it out and donate if you can. If you can't donate maybe you can leave her a message of encouragement on her blog, follow her cause, or just help spread the word by sharing her cause with your friends. It's a really cool video. Here is the link: http://www.streamthatcause.com/causes

    Posted by Kim Kerfoot November 8, 09 10:16 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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