Reading specialists want parents to prepare their children for school by sharing a love for reading, the attitude that reading is important, and the expectation that all children can become successful readers. How to do this? Read to your child daily. For clarification, this activity, the read-aloud, is simply defined as adults reading aloud to children. Reading aloud just 20 to 30 minutes a day will go a long, long way towards reading success. When children are read to, they develop a love for reading, see that reading is important, and see that learning to read is something for all to achieve. They also hear new words, are introduced to new literature, and learn that books are read for both pleasure and information.
Listen to this. Parents take their children to the grocery store, the shopping mall, the movies, sporting events, or friends’ houses, more often than they take them to the library. Perhaps the first suggestion would be that during the next trip, stop at the library and check out a few read-aloud books, or as an alternative, stop at the grocery store book aisle or the mall bookstore and purchase a few of those read-aloud books. A trip to the library takes less and less time the more you learn where your favorite books are located. It can also become a big event and obviously costs no money. A stop at the grocery store book aisle or the mall bookstore takes even less time. That stop can break up the rest of the shopping excursion, can also provide some excitement, and the costs can be minimal, all the while the benefits precious, and well worth the extra effort.
Start with these read-aloud sessions as soon as possible. Try to set aside the same time every day. This turns the read-aloud session into a routine. Not only will your child look forward to this time of day, and look forward to the extra attention, but this habit will ensure continued follow through. You can start with as little as 10 or 15 minutes a day and increase to 20 to 30 minutes a day as appropriate.
Consider starting by reciting Mother Goose rhymes, which stimulates language development. Also consider some of the Dr. Seuss books for the introduction of rhyme, rhythm, and silliness. Eventually include some alphabet books which become preview for pre-readers and reinforcement for beginning readers. The more alphabet books read during the read-aloud sessions, the more success your child will have learning letters and letter sounds.
Need additional book suggestions? Take a look at the Caldecott Medal–winning books. These are the best children’s picture books of the year. Check out the updated list at the American Library Association website. The International Literacy Association (formerly the International Reading Association) and the Children’s Book Council also provide lists of recommended books. Finally, choose some of your own childhood favorites to read. This will make the reading sessions more pleasurable for you, too.
Is your child a beginning reader wishing to extend the read-aloud into reading together or independently? Your child will make it known when it is time to make a change towards transition books. She will start to pick up the books and pretend to read, or she will start to fill in known words. At this time, continue the read-aloud and continue reading together, but encourage your child to do some of the reading. Check out the I Can Read series, the We Read Phonics series, the We Both Read series, the Step Into Reading series, or the Stepping Stone series, which are all appropriate here.
Is your child already into chapter books? There is still the need for the read-aloud. Start a new series or a favorite author. You can read the first book together, and your child can follow through with the other books in the series or by the same author independently. Find additional chapter books that are a year or two above your child’s reading level. Reading these books aloud will help to introduce higher level vocabulary and concepts. Ready for more substantial chapter books? Take a look at the Newbery Medal–winning books. Want to go right to the source? Go to the children and teens themselves. Check out the children’s and teen’s book lists at the International Literacy Association website.
Continue reading to, and with, your child for as long as possible. Even successful readers will oftentimes enjoy a good read-aloud. It is true, however, that there may come a time when a child may say “no” to this. What to do? No need to lament at the loss of the time together. Instead, pop a bag of popcorn, grab that best-seller you enjoy, and settle down for a few minutes of quiet reading beside your child. Children who see their parents reading are more likely to pick up books and read along. The goal is to increase daily reading time as much as possible.
Reading specialists also want parents to know that practice is vital. Reading is a skill similar to other skills that require training. Infants become more stable with walking by practice. Children become better at piano playing by practice. Teens become better soccer players by practice. Likewise, readers become better readers by practice too. Plainly put, readers who spend 20 to 30 minutes a day reading books, magazines, and newspapers, are more likely to become successful readers than those who do not read every day.
Reading specialists around the world are unified on this message: one of the best gifts parents can give their children is the gift of reading. This begins with parents reading to their children and continues with children reading on their own. Those children who have been read to since their first years often do better in reading and school than their peers who haven’t been read to. This advantage continues through the middle school years, the high school years, and beyond. Those children who read on their own become successful readers who continue to learn and grow throughout their lives.
Read to your children every day.
Use Mother Goose to stimulate language development.
Use Dr. Seuss books to introduce and reinforce rhymes.
Choose alphabet books for beginning readers.
Read stories you and your children enjoy.
Discontinue reading books that are not being enjoyed.
Reread old favorites as often as requested.
Read slowly and with expression.
Stop when frustration hits.
Invite your child to read to you.
Transition to sustained silent reading.
Bruce Johnson is an educator, reading specialist at the Merrimack Valley School District in New Hampshire, member of CLiF’s Advisory Board, and author of Helping Your Child Become a Successful Reader: A Guide for Parents. Learn more at www.guidesforparents.wordpress.com.