Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
Raising a Reader
We don’t expect incoming kindergarten students to be reading when they arrive in September. But we do know, and research bears this out, that when children grow up in what we call a print-rich environment where pre-literacy activities abound, they will be more successful students. Furthermore, if a child has grown up with these advantages, and has difficulty in reading in early years, it is possible to identify learning challenges in order to remediate before these issues later cause challenges to the child’s sense of self. The advantages of early literacy experiences holds beyond kindergarten as well.
Reading is a complicated process that includes understanding the relationship of symbols to sounds (phonemic awareness), awareness of the target language’s underlying grammatical rules, the ability to make meaning from a series of sentences (comprehension), and the ability to produce written work using this symbol system. Young children who have been exposed to enjoyable experiences with language and literature will be generally eager readers and writers.
Children also have thir own timetable by which they assimilate all these aspects of reading so that they can begin to read on their own. Generally speaking, reading facility is attained between the ages of five and seven. Siblings who have had similar print-rich activities at home and in school may begin reading actively at very different times.
Children who come from multi-lingual homes have an initial disadvantage in learning the school’s target language, but they have a long-term advantage in understanding multiple systems of meaning. Because of this advantage, it is important that multi-lingual homes provide their children with rich literacy experiences in the home-language. The experiences of talking and reading the home language helps the child understand the symbol system that is foundational for a child to learn the school’s target language.
The most important, and easiest, early literacy experiences for very young children is that of speaking to and putting books in the hands of very young children. The importance of speaking to infants is so critical that research has born out that by three years of age, there is already a very large gap in vocabulary (several million words difference) between children who come from homes where they are spoken to and those whose parents assume that the child won’t understand so they don’t need to speak to them. Reading picture books with infants and toddlers, and making time for doing this regularly creates a positive connection to reading for children. Additionally, it models the activity that the child will ultimately want to imitate.
Young pre-literate children should also be encouraged to pick up books and “read” the story themselves. This means that they turn pages, look at pictures and “tell” the story that they think the page is “saying”. Similarly, a pre-literate child can “write” a shopping list or “read” a shopping list when going to the supermarket.
There are so many ways in which parents can partner with schools in helping grow their children’s literacy skills. Please join us on Thursday evening, February 2 at 7:30 p.m. as we learn from a panel of literacy experts about how “to raise a reader”.
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