My favorite college course was Child Development. Not that, at twenty-three, I planned on having children any time soon but as a Teacher at the local Head Start Program the insight into my students and their families was beyond measure. Language and literacy were top priority and incorporated into every area of our lesson plans.
A large part of the literacy program required sending home a weekly packet for each family to do together. The packet included a book, art pages, and a list of suggestions for making it a fun family project. I was so excited the first week we sent it home. I knew this was going to really expand the future for these kids by showing them how important literacy is from the very beginning.
The day after the packet went home I got a reality check. A mom asked to speak with me privately. She told me she hated the new packets because her reading skills were so bad she was embarrassed to read to her child. I was astounded. I assured her that her child wasn’t judging her skills. Her child was just enjoying their time reading together and didn’t even notice that there was a problem. She was emphatic. She would not use the packets.
Over the course of the day four more parents approached me with the same concerns. I quickly (and quietly) surveyed the rest of the parents. To my dismay, only four of the eighteen were enjoying the packets. The rest felt uncomfortable reading to their child due to being illiterate or near illiterate. With three of my families, the parents learned English as a second language as adults and couldn’t read or write the language. They were the easy ones, books and material could be sent home in their native language. The other eleven required a more creative approach.
Together with rest of the staff and other professionals in our area we brainstormed some ideas to help not only the students, but the whole family to enjoy the literacy packets. Here are several of the ideas we used.
*It’s important that someone read to/with your child. If you cannot, enlist the help of another family member, older sibling, grandparent, babysitter, or friend.
*Use a picture book (no text) and create a story of your own to tell your child. Give the book to your child and allow him or her to tell you a story.
*Take a walk. Point out signs and read what they say. If you see a sign over and over again like a stop sign, have your child tell you what it says. Reinforce the connection by spelling then saying the word. Example: s- t- o- p spells stop.
*Use index cards to label things around the house. Say the words to your child then have him/her tape it to the object.
*Create a picture/label shopping list on index cards. Tape a picture (or label) of a needed item on the index card. Write what it is underneath. Give two or three cards to your child at a time while you are shopping. Let him/her find the objects for you. Yes this does mean you’ll spend more time in the store but you child will be engaged in helping you shop thus fewer tantrums. Won’t that be nice?
*Have your child draw a picture then tell you a story about it. Write down what they say. Keep all the stories for later when he/she can read them on their own. Have him/her read them to you.
*Board games are a great choice. For very young children Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and memory games build pre-reading skills. For children who are learning the alphabet and beginning to understand that letters aren’t just lines and squiggles but form sounds and words, try Scrabble Jr., Clue Jr., and other games that reinforce that connection. You may even be brave enough to create a game or two of your own! Classification, patterning, memory, and identification are your goals for building a strong foundation for your reader.
I now have a family of my own and this list, while not exhaustive, was a great start toward introducing my children to reading. I think often of those parents from my teaching days. Most of them loved the new packets and we continued to offer them every week of each school year.
I want to mention here that it is never too early to start reading to your child. While pregnant, try reading aloud while rubbing your stomach. Remember to keep your voice pleasant no matter the reading material. Read to your baby using tactile books with simple texts. Try black and white pattern books as well as brightly colored books. Your baby will let you know which he/she prefers. Also, let your child decide when he (or she) is too old to read with you. My two youngest are now nine and eleven. We still read together often. Sometimes my teenager even listens in.