(Do to the dramatically shifting landscape of education and schools I am gearing my posts for awhile towards parents, many of whom are now thrust into the role of being teacher as well as parent with millions of children now in the home instead of in a school setting. On a good note - ANY parent, no matter their circumstances, economic or otherwise, can be an effective teacher to their child, given the proper guidance and intellectual tools. I aim to provide some guidance in the upcoming months. (For comprehensive guidance and insights, please view one of my "Bill Hoatson Voice of Experience Teaching Seminar" videos, based on my 40 years of teaching experience aimed at parents and teachers. They are perfect for times like these, making effective parenting and teaching easily accessible to anybody in the privacy of your own home and priced as to practically give the knowledge away. Parents, if you need guidance at the home right now, check the videos out. Thanks - Bill Hoatson)
If there is one academic skill that rises above all others in importance, it is reading, especially in today’s modern world. If a child can read well, which includes comprehension, they can teach themselves all kinds of things without outside help. Without the ability to read, one is lost in a literate society and becomes very dependent on others for almost everything. Reading is simply the power and freedom to control one’s life, sorting through information to make sense of the outer world. Since reading is so important, it begs the question, what can be done to help insure that a child can read up to the maximum ability that their brain will allow? How do you foster reading ability?
Parents, these questions are directed directly at you, because a tremendous amount of brain development happens between birth and three years old. What happens in a child’s mind before they are four years old can have an enormous impact, positive or negative, for the rest of the child’s life. Besides being scary, the implications of this are that parents have a lot of influence over their child’s future reading ability. This is good news, especially if the parent does a few simple, but critical things early in a child’s life.
First of all, start early. I mean from week one type of early. Read to that child every single night, whether or not they understand anything or can hardly even focus their eyes yet. This puts reading front and center in a child’s life, making reading as normal and natural as eating. It becomes as normal as speaking. Just as an infant’s brain is hard-wired to make sense out of abstractness, such as language, repeated reading allows the brain to make sense of the printed page, including left to right, top to bottom, and eventually decoding the sounds that a letter makes corresponding to speech. And all of this is happening without the parent having to do any real “teaching.” On top of this is the pure enjoyment gotten from the bonding time while reading.
The word “enjoyment” is critical here, and is probably the single most important component of teaching reading. Always, always, make the experience enjoyable. As the child gets older and is asking questions about letters and words, make sure that the child is having fun. Never try to force anything. It is counterproductive, like trying to force a child to speak before they are ready. Encouragement is great, demanding is not. If reading is a pleasant experience, the child will learn how to read quickly, because that is how the brain works. If reading becomes a chore, unpleasant or punitive, avoidance kicks in and the child will go “Huckleberry Finn” on you, escaping to a mental safe place.
Another way to foster reading is to make sure that books are a natural part of the household. Have them around, lots of them. They make cloth books for infants. They can chew on them and play with them while they try to “read” them. They make waterproof, plastic books for the bathtub. Keep books in the child’s bedroom as well as around the house, so that books become a natural part of the child’s life. Even better, give books as gifts and start early. When a child receives a book for a birthday, etc., it adds a special meaning to them. It raises the value of a book in the child’s eyes because an adult is giving it to them. If an adult values books, the child will also.
This leads directly to modeling, which all parents do, like it or not. A child’s biggest wish is to be an adult, and will copy whatever adult behavior they are surrounded by. This is not always a good thing, but can be if an adult intentionally models certain good behaviors – such as reading. As a parent, you don’t have to constantly cluck your tongue about how important reading is; you just have to read. Read a book for at least fifteen minutes a day and have the child see you do it. If reading is part of your day, it will become part of their day.
Everything that I have said is really simple, but a parent has to be conscious of purposely creating reading ability in a child. Unfortunately, a lot of parents are overworked (and underpaid) and are exhausted, and fall into the trap of allowing TV to act as babysitter. Just always keep in mind that the first three years of life only come once, and if a parent is able to establish reading as an important part of life for that child, it will last that child a lifetime. It is one of the best gifts that any parent can give a child, and is open to anybody willing to take the time to do so. My praise and tip of the hat to parents, everywhere.