Today is Read Across Jamaica Day, where hundreds of volunteers from corporate Jamaica, the sports and entertainment industries and the halls of Parliament go into early childhood and primary schools and read aloud to the students. Unfortunately, for many of these students, this is a rare opportunity, as they are not read to at home.
Many of us adults love to read, and if we were asked to trace the roots of our love for the written word, we would probably recount the times when Mommy, Daddy, Grandma or Grandpa read to us as children. This practice, often relegated to bedtime stories, has been shown to be vital to a child’s mental and emotional development. A 2014 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that reading daily to young children, starting in infancy, stimulates early brain development and helps build key language, literacy and social skills.
Dr Rebecca Tortello, Special Advisor on Early Childhood Education and Parenting in the Ministry of Education, local research has shown that the overwhelming majority of our children do not enter grade one as emergent readers – able to “demonstrate alphabet knowledge, a concept of what a word is, a sense of story (beginning, middle, end), listening and retelling skills, phonemic awareness, and verbal expression.” Babies learn language through social literacy experiences – parents interacting with them using books. These experiences also serve to associate books with parental affection, attention and approval. If this crucial link is missing, it makes the process of learning to read harder for children.
While reading to babies and small children in vital, it is also necessary for parents to make the experience as interactive as possible, so that as they get older, you’re actually reading with them – they are active participants, too. Here are some tips from licensed early childhood educator, Eleasia Charles BSc, MSc, MEd:
- Practise the sounds of language by reading books with rhymes; teach children short poems and songs.
- Help your child hear and say the first sound in words (like “c” in cat), and notice when different words start with the same sound (like “cat” and “can”).
- Help your child hear words that rhyme (like fish, dish, and wish). When reading a familiar rhyme, stop before a rhyming word and ask your child to provide the word.
- Practise the alphabet by pointing out letters wherever you see them and highlighting the letters while reading. Point to signs and labels that have letters, like street signs and foods in the grocery store.
- Make reading a pleasure. Encourage your child to find the joy in reading. Read to your child in a comfortable place such as your lap or beside you so that she can see and point to the print and pictures. Allow your child to choose the books you read together. Show enthusiasm as you read together. Make it more interesting by talking like the characters, make sound effects and expressions with your face and hands.
- Let your child pretend to read parts of the book when you read together. Talk about the stories and make connections to things that happen in your own lives.
- When you read together, ask “what”, “when”, “where”, “why” and “how” questions to help him follow and understand the stories.
- Practise separating words and putting them together by listening for beginning and ending sounds and putting the separate sounds together. Write notes or make books (like an alphabet book), even if his writing only looks like scribbles or marks.
The US Department of Education notes that “even after children learn to read by themselves, it’s still important for you to read aloud together. By reading stories that are on their interest level, but beyond their reading level, you can stretch young readers’ understanding and motivate them to improve their skills.”