I was fortunate enough to be in the midst of a Foundations of Literacy course when my kids were in JK and Grade 1. It meant I had built-in test subjects, and I probably drove them a bit crazy, benchmarking their reading levels constantly and trying out different reading strategies with them. As a student teacher candidate, I was learning practical skills to bring into the classroom.
As a parent, I had never been more excited. There were so many ways beyond the 'sound it out' strategy we all remember from our youth. So many different ways to approach early literacy and to enjoy books and reading with children. So, I thought I'd share a few of these with our momstown readers - so many of you are reading books every day with your kids - and hopefully there will be a few nuggets here that help you enjoy and appreciate the experience even more.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and these ideas mostly come from early literacy texts sourced below, as well as from my own personal experience with young readers.
1. Preview the book first
Don't just read the title and dive into reading (whether you or your child is reading). 'Preview' it first - together! Take a look at the cover picture. Ask questions - what could the story be about? Flip through the pages. Look for familiar words and interesting images. Get your child excited and engaged in the book before you begin reading.
2. Model proper reading 'mechanics'
With very young children, we often assume they know how books 'work'. But this is something they learn by seeing you do it. Even something like flipping pages right to left may need to be shown. Use your finger to show your child left to right scrolling while reading. Point out that you always start on the left hand side of the book, then move to the right hand side.
3. ‘Plant’ words during the ‘preview’
I love this technique because I've seen it work so many times. As you're preparing a child to read a book to you, during the preview you'll probably spot some words that your child may be unfamiliar with. So 'plant it' in his or her head as you look through the book. You don't need to actually point to the word and explain or read it, you just need to plant it.
For example 'Oh, I see on this page it looks like someone is running', or 'I think they go into the kitchen on this page'. Try to anticipate the words your child might stumble on. Then, when she arrives at this new or more challenging word when she's reading, she'll have the word in her head and you'll be amazed how she remembers with just a few cues.
If you see a lot of words that will be challenging, you're probably at the wrong level book (see #8 below).
4. Practice high-frequency words (sight words)
Many kindergartens are filled with kids learning the 'popcorn' or 'sight words' (also known as Dolch). These high frequency words occur often in text. So if your child can recognize them on 'sight', he or she doesn't have to sound them out or use another decoding strategy, she will just recognize it. This builds confidence and fluency - and addresses the fact that many words can't be sounded out. Some examples are: the, said, I, am, at, with, went.
Here's a great resource for Sight Words. If you google 'Popcorn Words' you'll find many lists and songs to accompany (my son's class sung them to Mary Had a Little Lamb). If you want to try a fun activity with your child for popcorn words, click here.
5. Build stamina
I think a big misconception (one that I certainly had) is that it's not really 'reading' when a child memorizes a book and reads it over and over. In fact, he is practicing many skills when he does this. He's building stamina and fluency, and practicing those reading 'mechanics' in #2 above. It makes him feel confident, and that will help instill a love of reading. Introduce new and more challenging texts, sure, but don't worry if he wants to go back to a favourite again and again.
6. Use picture cues
Here's another way of 'reading' that many parents might not realize is part of a reading strategy - using the picture cues. It's not 'cheating' if you don't know a word but you use the picture to figure it out. It's using a different strategy to decode a word. For example, if your reader is sounding out 'c-c-c' and not getting to 'cat' - point to the picture (most early texts have great picture cues) and say 'what is that?'. It will help him to 'read' using not only words but also the picture cues. Builds confidence and skills in looking not just at text but at the whole book.
7. You read, then I read
When a text is difficult but your child want to try, give them a break by doing a ‘you read, then I read’ strategy. This often works too when your eager reader becomes tired halfway through the book, but wants to continue and finish. You read one page, they read the next (or alternate sentences). It gives them a mental break, and helps to build confidence.
8. Choose the ‘right’ level of book
I found this hard for both my children in the early reading days. If you have access to educational texts like the Sails Literacy Series, lucky you! But these are expensive and hard to find in libraries and bookstores. BOB books are another popular series for early readers. Fountas & Pinnell has a website dedicated to levelling books - a great resource to determine what level a book fits into.
You want to look for texts that are both 'independent' (books your child can read without any help), and 'instructional' (books your child can read and comprehend (see #8) with some help from you). Research shows that children learn best in the zone of proximal development - basically meaning at a level just slightly out of their reach - and that's when you as a parent come in to be that support to help them succeed.
9. Reading is not all about decoding
We often assume that just because a child can decode (read the words on the page correctly and fluently), that they are successfully reading at a certain level. However, comprehension is just as important in the reading process. You can check for comprehension by asking your child questions during and after the book. "Retelling" the story is another way that a child can demonstrate comprehension. Don't ask questions on every page, but check in and make sure your child understands what he or she is reading.
Often a child can decode at a higher level than he can comprehend, and we don't realize it as we move them to harder texts. Make sure he's getting to read texts at a level that he can both decode and comprehend.
10. Make connections
The next level of thinking beyond decoding/comprehension is making connections to what we read. Book clubs are ways that adults do this all the time! For children, it can be a simple connection 'I read another book about bikes once' (text to text), a personal connection 'I fell off my bike once too' (text to self), or a larger connection 'I bet there are a lot of people who are learning to ride bikes. I wonder if they should build a school just for riding bikes' (text to world).
Start simple, and then challenge your child to make deeper connections - it's part of enjoying books, developing critical thinking skills, and having a broader perspective.
We'd love to hear what tips and tricks have worked with you and your early readers! It's a great week to have this chat, with Family Literacy Day around the corner on January 27!
The Continuum of Literacy Learning, Fountas & Pinnell
Guided Reading, Fountas & Pinnell