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Children and Reading
Reading is a basic building block for success in school, at work and throughout life. In recent years, educators, psychologists and brain researchers have pooled their knowledge to forge new understandings about how children develop both physically and mentally, how they learn, and what parents, teachers, caregivers, and librarians can do to help children succeed.

Reading with your child

The single most important thing families can do to help children become readers is to read to them every day, starting as young as possible. (source: ReadingRockets) Sharing books with adults gives children many benefits — from new vocabulary words to an understanding of what the printed word is all about. By enjoying books with their families, children learn to know the purposes and pleasures of reading. Reading is a skill — like riding a bicycle! The more your child reads, the better at reading he or she will become.

Reading to young children promotes language acquisition and correlates with literacy development and, later on, with achievement in reading comprehension and overall success in school. The percentage of young children read aloud to daily by a family member is one indicator of how well young children are prepared for school.

Pre-school age children do not necessarily learn to read at an early age when families read to them. Instead, they learn important "pre-literacy skills" (sometimes referred to as "emergent literacy skills") that will help them learn to read when they go to school. They learn what a book is and how it works. They learn that printed letters stand for sounds and words. They learn concepts (like up/down, big/little, colors, shapes, etc.) Children who read with family members also learn to regard the act of reading as a loving, sharing opportunity to form close bonds with a parent, relative, or caregiver. Even babies benefit, since babies love the sound of a human voice, especially the familiar voices of Mom and Dad.

Children become readers when their parents read to them.

It really is as simple as that. And here's the good news: It's easy to do and it's great fun. With youngsters, remember that reading is a physical act, as well as a mental one. It involves hand-eye coordination. So, when you read, involve your child by:

  • pointing out objects in the pictures;

  • following the words with your finger (so your child develops a sense that the words go from left to right on the page); and 

  • having your child help turn the pages (to learn that the pages turn from right to left). 

Growing a reading habit along with your child

When your child is still a baby, make your reading sessions short but frequent.

  • Start out by singing lullabies and simple songs to your baby. At around 6 months, look for books with brightly colored, simple pictures and lots of rhythm. (Mother Goose is perfect.) At around 9 months, include books that feature pictures and names of familiar objects. 

  • As you read, point out objects in the pictures and make sure your baby sees all the things that are fun to do with books. (Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt is a classic touch-and-feel book for babies.) 

  • Vary the tone of your voice, sing nursery rhymes, bounce your knee, make funny faces, do whatever special effects you can to stimulate your baby's interest. 

  • Allow your child to touch and hold cloth and sturdy cardboard books. 

As your child grows older, begin to read books with a lot of repetition and rhyme. Repetition makes books predictable, and young readers love knowing what comes next. Rhyming helps children learn to say sounds and develop basic language skills.

  • Pick a story with repeated phrases or a poem you and your child like. For example, read:
    Wolf Voice: Little pig, little pig, Let me come in.
    Little Pig Voice: Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin.
    Wolf Voice: Then I'll huff and I'll puff, And I'll blow your house in!
    After the wolf has blown down the first pig's house, your child will soon join in with the refrain.
  • Read slowly, and with a smile or a nod, let your children know you that you like it when they join in. 

  • As children grow more familiar with the story, pause and give them the chance to "fill in the blanks." 

  • Encourage your children to pretend to read, especially books that contain repetition and rhyme. Most children who enjoy reading will eventually memorize all or parts of a book and imitate your reading. 

As your children begin to read on their own, it's important to continue to read to them, but equally important to listen to them read to you. Children thrive on having someone appreciate their developing skills.

  • Choose books at your child's reading level (ask your child's teacher or a librarian for suggestions). Listen attentively and patiently as your child reads. 

  • Take turns. You read a sentence or paragraph, then have your child read the next one. As your child becomes more at ease with reading aloud, take turns reading a full page. Keep in mind that your child may be focusing on how to read and may stumble a bit over hard words. Your reading helps to keep the story alive. 

  • If your children have trouble reading words, you can help in several ways: 
    • tell them to skip over the word, read the rest of the sentence, and ask what word would make sense in the story; 
    • help them use what they know about letters and sounds to "sound out" the unknown word; 
    • supply the correct word. Talk about what the word means. Look at the different parts of the word (separate syllables) to see how they join up to create the whole word. 

  • Tell children how proud you are of their efforts and skills. Positive feedback will help make your child want to read.

Listening to your children read aloud gives you a chance to praise their new skills and gives them the chance to practice their reading. Most importantly, it's another way to enjoy reading together.

Eye-opening Factoid!

When you read aloud to your child 20 minutes a day,
your child will hear 1 million more words a year!
(source: Children's Literacy Initiative)

Here are some websites where you can find out more about children and reading:

The Role of Public Libraries in Children's Literacy Development: a research study conducted by Dr. Donna Celano of Temple University and Dr. Susan B. Neuman of the University of Michigan, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Library Association and funded by a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant administered by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, PA Department of Education.

ReadingRockets: Teaching Kids to Read - At Home: Copyright 2003. Reading Rockets is a service of WETA (Washington DC Educational Television), funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

Children's Literacy Initiative - "For Parents" resource page: Reading to children is important! CLI's website offers tips for reading alond, lists of good books, and links to other helpful websites.

Starfall.com: "Where Children have fun learning to read." Physicist Dr. Stephen Schutz and his wife, poet Susan Polis Schutz, created this website to help children learn to read and practice early reading skills.

The National Reading Panel: In 1997, Congress asked the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the Secretary of Education to convene a national panel to assess the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children to read. The National Reading Panel completed the research assessment of reading instruction approaches. It's mission now is to disseminate and implement research-based reading practices.

Between the Lions: a PBS television series for children which premiered April 3, 2000 that combines puppetry, animation, live action, and music to make learning to read an entertaining adventure for children ages 4 to 7 and their families.

The Children's Book Council: a non-profit trade organization dedicated to encouraging literacy and the use and enjoyment of children’s books. It is the official sponsor of Young People’s Poetry Week and Children’s Book Week each year.

Trelease-On-Reading.Com: the website of Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook "covers all of Jim Trelease's efforts in helping children make books into friends, not enemies".

Author Rosemary Wells' website featuring "the most important twenty minutes of your day": the time spent reading with your children.

Guys Read: a literacy initiative by author Jon Scieszka, to connect boys with books they will want to read.

The International Literacy Association: the largest organization of reading professionals in the world.

National Center for Family Literacy: established in 1989 with a grant from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust. NCFL's mission is to help parents and children achieve their greatest potential together through quality literacy programs.

Get Ready To Read: a program of the national Center for Learning Disabilities.

Learning Disabilities Information & Resources OnLine: Much of what a parent or teacher needs to know about learning disabilities, including the latest research findings on a wide variety of disabilities.

Read Across America. Started in 1998 as a way to get kids excited about reading, the National Education Association's "Read Across America" has become the nation's largest reading event. The year-round program culminates each year on or near Dr. Seuss's birthday (March 2).

Reach Out and Read: makes literacy promotion a standard part of pediatric primary care, so that children grow up with books and a love of reading. Reach Out and Read trains doctors and nurses to advise parents about the importance of reading aloud.

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