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Suggestions for Helping Your Child Get Started....
by Istar Schwager, Ph.D.

Can I read my story to you?” five-year-old Benjie asked. He stood up from the table where he’d been working for several minutes with markers and crayons. In has hand, he held sheets of construction paper folded into a “book.” Benjie climbed onto his mother’s lap and intently “read” her the story he’d written about how his dog was lost and then found in the: neighbor’s yard. On the pages of his book, he had drawn pictures of the dog, himself and several renditions of the letter D.

When Benjie finished, his mother gave him a big hug. Then she asked him why the dog had gone to the neighbor’s yard. Benjie’s face lit up. He scrambled off her lap and added a page with a picture of the dog chasing a ball.

By encouraging Benjie to express himself on paper, listening to him read his story, and asking supportive, thought-provoking questions, Benjie’s mom conveyed to him the attitude that reading is interesting, fun, and relevant.

According to many educators, this encouragement is the greatest contribution parents can make to their children’s interest in, and enjoyment of reading.

Children who are read to have a much easier time learning to read


Children are most likely to see something as enjoyable when it involves their active participation and draws upon their experience. How can parents make reading an active experience? By pointing out how written words are used in the environment, and by encouraging their children to express themselves verbally and in writing.

Children develop reading skills at different rates, but the love of sounds, words, and communication can start in infancy. Below, we suggest a number of ways in which parents can help their children learn to love reading. These ideas are based on the research of reading specialists and our years of experience developing materials for children. They set the stage so your children will learn to read joyfully when they are ready.

Read aloud. We all know that reading aloud is important for children, but perhaps not everyone is aware of how important it can be. Studies suggest that chidren who are read to have a much easier time learning to read.
It’s important to make reading together an experience that is not restricted to any one time. Bedtime stories are great, but there’s a lot to be gained from reading together at other times, too.

While bedtime stories are (ideally) followed by quiet and shut-eye, books read at other times can be followed by more lively conversations. Ask your child who her favorite character was, or what she things happened after the story ended. Point out the names of the author and illustrator to give your children a sense that stories are created by people like themselves. Encourage your children to participate in reading the book – whether by pointing to particular pictures or filling in words that have become familiar after the umpteenth repetition.

It’s generally best to read together during relaxed moments, but such moments can be few and far between in a household with young kids. So take advantage of the few quiet times that occur naturally – even if only for a few moments, during the day.

1. Read to your children while you’re in the kitchen waiting for the spaghetti water to boil.

2. Take a book to the doctor’s office to read with your child in the waiting room. and sentences.

3. Tuck a book in your purse to read together during other waits: at the shoe store, at the train station, the airport, or anywhere else where you end up in line.

And if your quiet time is interrupted, it need not mean the end of your reading. Have your child make a bookmark to use when a story is interrupted by a phone call or a sibling’s cry.

The love of sounds, words and communication can start in infancy

Ask Specific Questions. It is a good idea to ask your child about things he has done and seen, and to have him retell his experiences. While this may not seem directly related to reading, the process of organizing ideas and information that occurs when you converse is related.

It’s important, however that your questions be specific. If you ask “What happened at school today?” it may be hard for a young child to remember and formulate the answer. Questions like “Whom did you sit next to at lunch” “Which story did the teacher read? And “Who fed the rabbit” will probably get more detailed answers.

Be sure to ask for opinions. “What did you think of that store?” or “Do the twins in your class like to play together? Why?” Asking these questions gives a child practice thinking in terms of who, what, when, and why – mainstays in the written world. And asking what happened next helps exercise sequencing skills necessary to follow a story.

Listen. Be sure to give your child time to complete her thoughts and sentences. Young children may ramble, but no matter how convoluted, the point they’re making is important to them. It requires patience, but you’ll learn more by paying attention—and your child will know and appreciate it.

Write with your child. Thank-you notes, birthday cards, and letters to Grandma are all opportunities for self-expression. Whether it’s writing her name or even a first letter, being on the creative side of reading helps children understand the writing-reading relationship better.

Feeling proud of herself as an author, thinking through what to say and how to say it, and putting the marks on paper all contribute to an appreciation of reading.

Encourage your child to draw. For children, drawing is a form of storytelling. Encourage your children to use different media – paint, crayons, markers and to tell you about their pictures. Remember, though that saying “What is it?” can put a child on the spot and make him think that he has to identify all the lines and shapes.

The more open-ended “Do you want to tell me about your story?” gives him more leeway to describe, fabricate, elaborate and imagine.

Use your local library. In most places, children can get library cards as soon as they can write their names somewhat legibly. Librarians are happy to recommend age-appropriate books on topics of interest. Libraries frequently have story-hours for young children and other activities for older ones. And why not take out a book at the same time and set a good example?

Show that you value reading, too. While it may be hard to find quiet time to read while your child is awake, demonstrating that you like to read helps convey the message that reading is an enjoyable thing to do. Even grown-ups do it! Look at your book while your child is looking at hers.

Play word games. Playing with words is a source of great enjoyment for young children. It’s also part of how they learn to read. Making up a sentence in which many of the words begin with the same letter (perhaps the first letter in the child’s name) can be a lot of fun for him. “Benjie saw the beetle climb on the banana so he put the banana on the boa” may not sound hilarious to you, but your child will find it, or phrases like it, hysterically funny.

There are also many children’s songs that play with sound changes and variations. A good example is the singer Raft i tune “Willoughby, Wallaby, Woo’ in which the letter W is substituted for the first letter in people’s names.

Play with letter shapes. Concrete letters, whether in the form of blocks or magnets, give children a chance to become familiar with letter shapes in a playful situation. A child building a tower of letter blocks may put all the Es on the roof or may use the letters from her name to make a tower. Magnetic letters, which stick to the refrigerator, are great to use while you’re in the kitchen. The child can make up “nonsense” words that you sound out, can substitute H for C in cat and create a whole new word.

Read everything. When with your child, read labels. Read signs. Read clouds. Point out the letter made when your child takes a bite of a piece of bread.

Ask your child to find all the words that begin with the letter M when you’re taking a walk together. Or go through the alphabet together: Find objects beginning with A. then B, down to Z. (It’s a good way to keep moving on a walk, but one warning: Hardly anything begins with Q).

Point out reading materials wherever you find them: Newspapers. signs, menus, record album covers. Children get a sense of how useful reading is by seeing you learn from different sources. Reading, a big part of an adult’s environment, can be a meaningful part of a child’s world, too—if it’s seen as an activity connected to the things children value and care about.

The Object Is to Have Fun

The activities above are intended to be fun and engaging for your child, but they are only guidelines. Adapt them to suit your child’s interests and skills. Try them out. See which activities your child responds to.

By sharing these activities with your children, you will be helping them see reading as an integral part of their lives. In this way, you will raise a child who knows how to read and likes to read.

1985 Sesame Workshop (New York, New York) All Rights Reserved.

How is your child learning to read? -- let us know.

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