“Learning to read and write are the two most crucial skills a young learner needs to master. Their entire education depends on them being skilled and confident readers and writers.”
From Einstein Never Used Flashcards, Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff (2003)
According to studies on early literacy, young children who develop a “love of stories” by the age of seven, particularly children who regularly have quality stories read to them in an engaging manner, are highly likely to become active and skilled readers and writers for life.
Research also shows that children who come from homes where parents have dedicated time to give them regular, enriching reading and writing experiences have significant academic advantage over children who have not had these experiences (Cunningham 2009).
It’s important to point out here that some parents believe that making their children memorise letters and isolated words (or ‘phonics’) is the way to introduce reading to their children. Research tells us that this is exactly the wrong way to introduce reading. This is boring to the child and they only engage in the activity because their parents make them.
In addition, this kind of learning simply makes children ‘decoders’ of letters and words, not ‘readers’ who understand what they are reading or are at all excited about reading.
“Research does in fact show that preschoolers who have better letter naming and recognition skills tend to become better readers later on, but that these skills are best developed through ‘natural literacy activities’ – not drill and memorisation. There is no evidence that memorising alphabet letters out of context predicts later reading skills”
Raver & Zigler (2004)
Here are the top natural literacy activities that create the best readers and writers:
1. Read to your children every day – This exposes them to multiple language structures, a wide vocabulary and the sheer joy of language.
2. Engage in conversation with your child frequently – This expands their spoken vocabulary. Research shows that strong verbal skills are linked to strong reading skills.
3. Point out written language in your environment – For example, point out writing on things such as street and traffic signs, packaging and posters. This connects the written word with useful and important information.
4. Arrange play dates with friends – This encourages social interaction and will expand your child’s vocabulary through negotiation, discussion and role play.
5. Play letter, sound and word games – Games such as Scrabble, Memory and Snap increase exposure to letters, sounds and common words in a fun and playful way.
6. Ensure your child observes you reading – When you read in front of your children you are being a strong role model, communicating that you value reading.
7. Make your home a ‘literacy-rich environment’ – Ensure you have plenty of reading materials available at home such as a bookshelf of age-appropriate books, in addition to other forms of reading materials such as magazines, newspapers, brochures and e-books.
8. Engage in activities with your child that involve reading – For example, read and make recipes together and create shopping lists and go shopping together.
9. Have a set of magnetic letters on your fridge – This encourages your child to spontaneously manipulate letters and begin forming words.
10. Take your child to the library and bookshops– Make trips to the library a regular exciting outing with your child and trips to the bookshop a special activity to buy gifts for your child or their friends.
Parents who engage in natural literacy activities find that their children spontaneously recognise letters, sound and words, and sometimes report that their child seemed to start reading independently!
Reading is about actively understanding the written text and activating the child’s thinking processes. By thinking through the narrative (the thoughts being expressed by the author), the child’s emotions and intellect are engaged, deepening comprehension of what is read – what we call at MindChamps, Active Understanding. This is a critical requirement for a child’s success at school in any subject.
Giving young children language and reading enrichment leads to them doing better than their peers when they start school and keeps them ahead of their class right through to secondary school (Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff 2003).
Article contributed by Brian Caswell, Dean of Research & Programme Development, MindChamps.