Why reading to children is so important


Why good reading skills are important

It's no secret that children who read well, do well at school.

Children need to be able to read, in order to absorb the information given to them in the classroom. If they can't read or write adequately, they won't be able to research or write answers to assignments.

Not only this, but there is also research to show that children who read or write poorly can also have lowered self esteem.

Of course, if students have trouble reading they are also deprived of a wealth of information, and the potential pleasures, gained from reading a range of media, including fiction books and accessing the internet.

Fostering literacy in young children

Most children do not learn to read until they start school.

Quite simply, reading is a very complicated process, and most children are not ready prior to school age to undertake reading tasks.

However, there are lots of things that parents can do to help children obtain skills that will help them develop literacy when they do commence school.

Most reading experts and teachers recommend that the best thing parents and families can do to encourage children to read, is to read themselves. Then read some more.

Read, read, read. The more a child is read to, or exposed to the way language works, the better off they will be in terms of becoming literate.

Why is this?

Because before children can read words they need to be familiar with the spoken language.

Children need to have the necessary language skills in order to make sense of reading. If they can't understand the words that are spoken to them every day, then they are going to have trouble learning to read those same written words.

Likewise, being read to and spoken to a lot, helps children to learn the structure of language. This allows children to learn to predict what words should logically come next in a spoken or written context.

For example, a child would recognise that the sentence: "The dog barked loudly" makes sense. Likewise, they would immediately see that "The dog ball loudly" is incorrect.

It follows then, that children who have a solid grasp of language structure, will have an advantage when it comes to reading.

This is because good readers are able to predict what words should come next in a sentence, and self correct. If something does not make sense because they have misread a word, they are able to recognise this and try again.

The experts recommend that to maximise language development and literacy, children should be read to from a young age. This includes reciting nursery rhymes, singing songs, and reading stories with repetitive language, such as "The Three Little Pigs" or "Chicken Licken".

This helps children to understand the "rhythm" of language.

Children are also more likely to develop good reading skills if they are shown that reading is fun. Parents should model reading themselves, as well as reading a variety of stories to their children. A variety of media can be used to show children how important and useful reading words are in our every day lives. For example, when cooking with your child, make sure you also read the recipe to them. Point out individual letters and numbers on the page. Read junk mail with them. Read magazines. Read story books. Search the internet for interesting facts, to name a few ideas. Ideally, children should be read to every day.

Just find something in everyday life that the child can relate to, and read it with them.

There are also plenty of informal ways to incorporate learning to read in daily routines. Put labels on items and things round the house. This way children can become familiar with the written words. For example put the name of your child on their bedroom door.

Use every day activities as an opportunity to expand their literacy. When in the supermarket, get young children to find letters or numbers for you. When you are travelling, help children read road and shop signs.


Flash cards and other DIY reading programs

There are many commercial reading programs around aimed at young children and even infants. Many of these involve learning to sight read, where children learn the entire word by memory. Often these programs employ flash cards, or have a word show up on a screen continuously. These programs have been shown to be effective in developing many children's ability to recognise words at a young age.

However, there is an important difference between being able to sight read and genuine literacy. True literacy implies that there is a level of understanding and critical thinking in the reading.

Sight word programs, do not teach phonemic awareness. In other words, they do not teach children that each word is made up of a group of letters, and each of these letters represents a specific sound. Children who learn to sight read may experience difficulties in school later on, when they have difficulty sounding out words.

Schools will generally teach children phonemic awareness, and may also supplement this teaching with lists of commonly used words. The children will be encouraged to learn to sight read and spell these common words. The important thing to note here, is that the school system incorporates both methods, so that children will have a greater understanding of the mechanics of language and words.

Reading with your child

The golden rule is to read to your child, often. Make sure that the experience is fun for everyone involved. Children learn best when they are not pressured. They will also want to keep doing it.

Parents are sometimes tempted to cover up pictures in order to make a child spell out a word. Try and avoid doing this.

For one thing it destroys the pleasure of the book for the child. It also places pressure on them. You want them to enjoy reading, so that they will do it again the next day.

Covering up the pictures is not a natural part of the reading process. Adults look at pictures to gain information when reading articles and books. We need to give children the same opportunity and pleasure.

Pictures will also assist children in their confidence, as it helps them predict what the words they are about to read are. This is valuable practice and confidence building for them. It also allows them to build an important skill of good readers: the ability to self correct. By looking at the picture they may realise they have made a mistake with a word and be able to guess the right one.

Praise children often when they get the words right or they make a big effort. Reading is a hugely complex task, so they need all the encouragement they can get.

Also, think long term. The more fun it is for both parent and child, the more likely the child will want to continue doing it.

Rule out problems

If your child does not seem to make appropriate progress at school then it is important to rule out physical problems.

Ensure your child can hear and see properly. Children may have had tests for correct vision and hearing, but keep in mind that auditory or visual processing disorders are different.

A child may pass a normal optometrist's eye test with no problems picked up. Normally further testing is required to determine if there is an actual visual processing problem going on. For example, their eyes may be able to see details accurately, but instead the problem might be tracking information across a page. This might mean they have trouble moving their eyes to the next line of a sentence and accidentally skip to a different line, meaning the text does not make sense.

Alternatively accurately hearing noise is different to actually processing and absorbing information. Some children can hear normally but struggle to understand when there is background noise, such as chatter in a classroom. This is an auditory processing skill.

Often schools can recommend a specialist to see regarding this. Otherwise, a behavioural optometrist or an audiologist should be able to help.

Also, parents should consult with the school regarding assessments for any suspected learning disabilities or disorders.

Useful books about literacy

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

This book contains 100 stuctured lessons for parents to teach their child. It includes steps to understanding the sounds that letters and letter combinations make.


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