Advice Column, Child, Education, Parenting, Tween & Teen

The importance of reading at home

Of all the important learning activities we can do with young children, reading probably trumps the rest. The importance of elementary literacy skill development has been well documented. In reality, early literacy influences every aspect of learning and thinking. As the organization, ProLiteracy states, “Every important social issue is impacted by low literacy.” Decades of research shows the direct correlation between early literacy skills and long term student success. Shockingly it is said that “students not reading well in third grade are four times more likely to drop out” (Students First, Statistics about Education in America). In most curricula, children learn to read and receive reading instruction in the foundation phase. Hereafter they are expected to read to learn. Therefore, it is imperative that children be afforded every possible support to ensure early reading success.

With this in mind, elementary school teachers make reading-to-children, listening-to-children read, and teaching-reading-to-children integral strategies in their daily routine.  Parents are the third vital component in the role-player triangle to ensure success in reading. Access to books and them read to children in the home environment, even before the commencement of formal schooling, is critical to reading acquisition. Later, after formal schooling starts, parents should continue to read to their children but mindful of their responsibility to help their children with reading homework.

Beginner readers often laboriously try to decode words and phrases. This could leave most adults frustrated and overwhelmed when they recall and revert to those reading strategies they learnt at school. Rebounding into past practices and simply reading a word to a child is often the path of least resistance. Conversely, it is well worth the effort for a parent to ask a child’s teacher which decoding strategies are being taught and then to pursue the same strategies at home. 

Furthermore, a parent or caregiver could assist a child to improve her/his reading skill and comprehension by exploring the book and questioning the reader before, during and after the exercise.

Perusing the book, interrogating the illustrations and establishing links even before starting to read, can benefit the child in predicting the intent and content of the book. Simultaneously, even before attempting to decode the reading task, some new vocabulary is acquired. The novice reader may be encouraged to talk about the pictures and attempt predictions.

Many children spend much energy on decoding words and then lose the gist of the text. When a child reads, the adult can smoothly interrupt at the end of a section and aid the child to check the level of understanding. Ask some suitable questions that will enhance a reader’s grasp of the text. (1) What is going on in this story? (2) What do you think is happening next? (3) Do you know the meaning of all the words? On occasion, a child could be encouraged to retrace and re-read a section to check his/her comprehension.

Also, raise some questions at the end of the story. (1) Why did the author write this story? (2) What is the lesson of the story? Or (3) Could the story have ended any other way? (4) What new words do you remember?  Gentle questioning and discussion will encourage children to think about what they know and relate this to the text. Allowing children to make connections throughout the reading process is essential. If the text reminds a child of something in his/her own life, let him make that link before continuing the reading. Text-to-self and text-to-text connections are integral to any reading strategy. This will ensure a deeper understanding of the of the text; establish a personal relationship with the story, and inculcate a love for reading.

The importance of reading to and with children cannot be over-emphasized. Parents should realise that they are paramount collaborators with teachers to cement newly taught reading strategies.

If we concur with an initial quote stated above, “Every important social issue is impacted by low literacy,” parents are implored to acknowledge their duties, here regarding the importance of reading at home. This will counter the cycle of low literacy showing “the direct correlation between early literacy skills and long term student success.” The impediment to success, without any doubt, impacts well beyond the success of students and plagues every aspect of the wellbeing that all South Africans desire. Failure to ensure successful reading by young children as a learning activity fringes on abuse which thwarts and shatters the hope for a brighter future.

By Deirdre Niehaus, Trinityhouse Northriding

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