Reading Matters

Reading - first impressions and beyond by Fay Prideaux.

We live in a world of words. Every day we process print; newspapers, recipes, product information, accounts or emails. As adults we rely on our reading skills to understand the wealth of information crossing our paths.

On the school front reading underpins every subject in the curriculum. It plays a pivotal role in building confidence and self esteem. Children who are independent readers can easily process information and fully engage in the learning activities.

To give your children the best possible start arm yourself with tips that have been ‘tried and tested' and you'll be on track for progress in this vital area of the curriculum.

Bedtime Stories

Begin by reading to them from an early age. Nothing beats the bedtime story for an opportunity to develop positive experiences with words. These early reading activities demand nothing in the way of reading skills from a child, but deliver considerable advantages; hearing new words, seeing beautiful pictures and going on fantastic journeys, all the while snuggled up to the most important person in their world- you!

Role Models

A child's first impressions about reading come from the home, long before they step into a classroom. Being a good role model is a great start for developing enthusiasm and interest in the written word. It is harder to convince a child that reading is a valuable and enjoyable experience if neither parent is seen to be reading anything at all. Even if your reading is limited to flicking through a magazine while downing a much needed coffee, or having forty winks behind the weekend papers, parents who have an interest in reading themselves send positive messages to their children about its importance.

Vocabulary

Vocabulary development is a powerful pre-reading tool. Enrich your child's vocabulary at every opportunity, so that when they begin to read they have an understanding of what words mean. Everyday experiences like time at the beach, a Sunday drive, a bushwalk or a trip to the airport are fantastic opportunities for introducing your child to new words in a meaningful environment. Children find it easier to read and understand words that they have frequently heard or used themselves. Extend their vocabulary at every opportunity.

Comprehension

The whole purpose of reading is to understand the words. It is important to check that your child's comprehension is sound when they read to you or with you. When they come to a word they don't know, try asking them "What would make sense?" It is a valid strategy for decoding, equal to sounding out a word and often faster. It instills the notion in a child that reading is about getting a message from the words. This practice will promote self- correction, where a child recognizes that their pronunciation doesn't make sense and has another try. It also curtails the tendency to ‘guess' at individual words without considering context.

Practice

It is important in early years of school that your child reads to you regularly. It gives them a chance to show you what they can do, and to receive praise and appreciation for their efforts. Short, regular oral reading sessions are preferable to lengthy endeavours. Asking a question about what they have read, or their favourite part of the story, is an easy way to check on comprehension. Try to hear your child read at their most productive time of the day. This may be before school when they are relaxed with fresh minds or after school when they have had half an hour in the backyard doing physical exercise. By choosing a time that is conducive to learning you will reinforce positive attitudes to reading.

Oral Reading

While oral reading is important, it should not be overvalued. Balance your reading time with silent reading opportunities as well. Reading aloud demands more of the reader in that they have to concentrate on their use of expression, punctuation and pronunciation as well as understanding the meaning. Young readers should be allowed to read a passage silently before orally, to give them confidence and the best chance of accuracy. Oral reading is a valuable tool for teachers and parents to diagnose difficulties, but silent reading opportunities, are less stressful and therefore more enjoyable. After all, we are seldom asked to read aloud in real life, and many adults would struggle accordingly if they were.

Variety

Vary the type of reading experiences that you give your children. Introduce them to fiction, non-fiction, picture books, cartoons, jokes and real life reading experiences such as recipes. Not all children are going to be lovers of novels, so it makes sense to show them how reading is an important part of everyday life. Your local library is a great place for browsing and borrowing - for the whole family. Holiday times often witness libraries hosting ‘meet the author sessions' and other activities to engage children in the literary world. Borrow something for yourself and enjoy getting back to books or getting into them for the first time in a long while.

Reluctant Readers

Not all children take to reading readily and boys are more likely than girls to be reluctant readers. If this is the case, try high interest, low demand reading activities like cartoons or capitalize on their interests by starting with stories on their favourite sports and hobbies. Stories with matching tapes where the reader can listen to the story being read are a great support. They enable children to access books that they might find too challenging, while simultaneously providing a model of fluent, accurate reading. Boys have a tendency to be interested in reading for real life experiences. You may have a better chance of getting them interested in reading instructions on ‘how to mend a bike puncture,' or doing a science experiment than a story. Any reading is good reading.

Contracts

If completing home reading tasks becomes a battlefield, try a contract system. Have your child agree to a given amount of nightly reading over a 10 -week period (approximately a school term). Print out a contract outlining the expectation and a reward for abiding by the rules. They sign it. You sign it. Display it on the fridge and don't deliver if they don't keep up their end of the bargain. It is amazing how powerful a contract can become when a child has agreed to it in the first instance.

Final tip

When readers are sent home from school for shared reading, set the scene for success. Spend the first night just looking at the cover, noting the picture, the title, the author and illustrator. Walk your child through the book just looking at the pictures. Discuss what you think the story is going to be about from the illustrations. Prediction is a great precursor to sound comprehension skills.

Look at the character's faces. Discuss the possible emotions they are feeling. Introduce relevant vocabulary that you think your child will meet in the text, before they start reading. This heightens interest in the book and maximizes the chances of the shared reading being an enriching experience.

Beyond the classroom, reading will enrich your children's knowledge of the world and help them make informed choices. It will also introduce them to one of life's simplest pleasures - curling up on the lounge with a good book. Priceless.
 
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