At Aulexic, we love books. We love reading. And we love sharing stories with others. We are strong advocates for providing emergent readers with a solid foundation in the love of story, because we feel from that comes the ability for anyone to learn to read for themselves. Children are born with innate curiosity and an instinct for play. Making books a part of that in their developmental years lays the foundation for their success as readers.
So many parents and teachers expect children to pick up books and learn to read but don’t necessarily start with a foundation that begins long before a child is ready to decode words. It begins even before they start to identify the alphabet. That foundation? Associating books with love. It starts when you lead by example and flourishes with scaffolding when you support every step of their literacy development.
Literacy Is More Than Just Words On A Page
From birth, a parent can model this behaviour. Not just when reading picture books to your baby, but also, simply, by choosing to read books yourself. Read aloud and read often. When you are reading to your child, fill the experience with fun. Make it relaxed and comfortable.
And be aware that in these early years you’re teaching more than words on a page. Literacy is more than understanding that letters form words. Children must learn that books have a right way up. That pages turn, one at a time, in a certain direction. That words are read left to right and lines are read from top to bottom. Left page then right page. Beginning to end.
And, even in these early stories, they begin to learn the structure of language. That it’s formed of words that connect in sentences. Start with capital letters. End with full-stops. That sentences create paragraphs. And paragraphs create chapters. And chapters create story arcs. They learn that characters grow, and change, and develop. They learn that cause has effect and action reaction. Deeper still, they learn moral and social stories. They learn how to live in the world and who they want to become in it.
Children Mirror What They Witness
In an environment where books are a way of life, children begin to learn all of this well before they ever set foot in a classroom. Well before they ever decode their first word. Thats’s why it’s so important for homes, schools, and libraries to encourage a culture of shared reading experience. Anyone with a child can tell you that children mirror what they witness. If they see adults reading, then they’ll want to read. If you read to them, they’ll want to read to you. And precious bonds can be forged by sharing the joy of books together. Positive shared experiences foster a love of books and language that will last a lifetime.
Even the most reluctant or challenged reader can come to love reading if the approach and environment in which reading is encouraged is fun and engaging. Studies found that some of those most at risk for reading disabilities come from homes devoid of books. So in Western Australia, the State Library adopted the approach recommended by America’s ‘Every Child Ready to Read’ program, and began the Better Beginnings initiative which is committed to ensuring every child born in Western Australia is given a book at birth. That means there’s at least one book in every home. Because access to books is just the beginning.
The Hazards Of Levelled Readers
One of the sharpest declines in reading progress tends to happen when children are forced to read books that might be written to their reading level but are devoid of the vital interest elements that engage and invite readers to enjoy the story. Most commonly found in first, second, and third grade classrooms, these levelled readers pit students not just against their own ability but the perception of intelligence on a classroom level. When children begin to weigh their self-worth against their level of reading success, actual success and motivation to learn understandably takes a dive. Confidence is key! And levelled readers often give children with reading difficulties a heavy battering to their confidence. Not to mention being increasingly boring as age and interest increases faster than ability.
This is especially true when the introduction of these books coincide with the expectation for independent reading. After all, if the book is the right level then the child should not need help. But these children are still learning, and the way they strive ahead is with careful support and scaffolding that gives them help to reach just ahead of their actual level all the time. Struggling readers in particular need careful scaffolding rather than being pushed too hard to read alone.
Some Families Need More Scaffolding And Support
Because these levelled readers are often coupled with ‘at home’ reading challenges, it’s important to make sure parents understand that their child is not expected to read the books independently. Home reading needs to be a shared experience. It needs to be an experience where the parent is an active part in helping the child learn to read. Modelling, mirroring, and assisting in the decoding and comprehension process. And filling the entire experience with patience, love, and joy rather than discipline, frustration, and a harried approach. Yes, we live busy lives, but we can’t be too busy to make time for our child’s ongoing literacy.
In homes where true challenges exist, such as those where parent literacy is low or socioeconomic challenges hinder harmonious reading opportunities, it’s vital schools and teachers be prepared to offer greater support. And that support does not need to be limited to classrooms. Introducing adult literacy programs, affordable after school programs, and mixed-age mentor programs can make a vast difference in the literacy and lives of children most at risk for ongoing illiteracy.
Pleasure First. Learning Second
Reading should always be done for pleasure first, and learning second. Make reading something you all enjoy rather than considering it a laborious homework assignment. If you’re not having fun, stop. Ask yourself and your child what would make it more fun. Find books that are fun to read and come back to reading purely for pleasure. A child who loves discovering stories will learn to read for themselves and to themselves eventually, if given the opportunity to read with you often.