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Jul 10, 2019 |
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The following is part of a series of guest posts by leaders in the field of literacy and family learning. This post is authored by Timothy Shanahan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Professor Shanahan will deliver a pre-conference workshop and concurrent session at the 2019 Families Learning Conference.

Parents often ask how they can help their children learn to read. No wonder. In 21st century America, it is an essential skill.

Reading plays an important role in later school success. One study even found that how well 7-year-olds read predicts their income 35 years later!

What can parents do to help? Here are 11 practical recommendations for helping young children learn to read. 1

1. Teaching reading helps.

Sometimes, parents are told early teaching is harmful, but it isn’t true. You simply can’t introduce literacy too early. I started reading to my own children on the days they were each born! The “dangers of early teaching” has been a topic of study for more than 100 years, and no one has ever found any convincing evidence of harm. Moreover, there are hundreds of studies showing the benefits of reading with your children when they are young.

2. Teaching literacy is the same as teaching other skills.

You don’t need a Ph.D. to raise a happy, healthy, smart child. Parents have been doing it for thousands of years. Mothers and fathers successfully teach their kids to eat with a spoon, use a potty, keep their fingers out of their noses, and say “please.” These things can be taught pleasantly, or they can be made into a painful chore. Being unpleasant (e.g. yelling, punishing, pressuring) doesn’t work, and it can be frustrating for everyone.

This notion applies to teaching literacy, too. If you show your 18-month-old a book and he or she shows no interest, then put it away and come back later. If your child tries to write his or her name and ends up with a backwards “D,” no problem. No pressure. No hassle. You should enjoy the journey, and so should your child.

3. Talk to your kids (a lot).

Last year, I spent lots of time with our brand-new granddaughter, Emily. I drowned her in language. Although “just a baby,” I talked — and sang — to her about everything. I talked about her eyes, nose, ears, mouth, and fingers. I told her all about her family — her mom, dad, and older brother. I talked to her about whatever she did (yawning, sleeping, eating, burping). I talked to her so much that her parents thought I was nuts; she couldn’t possibly understand me. But reading is a language activity, and if you want to learn language, you need to hear it, and eventually, speak it. Too many moms and dads feel a bit dopey talking to a baby or young child, but studies show that exposing kids to a variety of words improves language development.

4. Read to your kids.

I know everyone says this, but it really is a good idea — at least with preschoolers. One of my colleagues refers to this advice as the “chicken soup” of reading education. We prescribe it for everything. (Does it help? It couldn’t hurt.)

If a parent or caregiver can’t read or can’t read English, there are alternatives, such as using audiobooks; but for those who can, reading a book or story to a child is a great, easy way to advance literacy skills.

 Research shows benefits for kids as young as 9-months-old, and it could be effective even earlier than that. Reading to kids exposes them to richer vocabulary than they usually hear from the adults who speak to them, and can have positive impacts on their language, intelligence, and later literacy achievement.

What should you read to your kids? There are so many wonderful children’s books. Visit your local library, and you can get an armful of adventure. You can find recommendations from kids at the Children’s Book Council website or free books online at other websites like Unite for Literacy.

5. Have them tell you a “story.”

One great way to introduce kids to literacy is to take their dictation. Have them recount an experience or make up a story. We’re not talking “Moby Dick” here. A typical first story may be something like, “I like fish. I like my sister. I like grandpa.” Write it as it is being told, and then read it aloud. Point at the words when you read them or point at them when your child is trying to read the story. Over time, with lots of rereading, don’t be surprised if your child starts to recognize words such as “I” or “like.” (As children learn some of the words, you can write them on cards and keep them in a “word bank” for your child, using them to review later.)

6. Teach phonemic awareness.

Young children don’t hear the sounds within words. Thus, they hear “dog,” but not the “duh”-“aw”- “guh.” To become readers, they have to learn to hear these sounds (or phonemes). Play language games with your child. For instance, say a word, perhaps her name, and then change it by one phoneme: Jen-Pen, Jen-Hen, Jen-Men. Or, just break a word apart: chair… ch-ch-ch-air.

7. Teach phonics (letter names and their sounds).

You can’t sound out words or write them without knowing the letter sounds. Most kindergartens teach the letters, and parents can teach them, too. I just checked a toy store website and found 282 products based on letter names and another 88 on letter sounds, including ABC books, charts, cards, blocks, magnet letters, floor mats, puzzles, lampshades, bed sheets, and programs for tablets and computers. You don’t need all of that (a pencil and paper are sufficient), but there is lots of support out there for parents to help kids learn these skills. Keep the lessons brief and fun, no more than 5–10 minutes for young’uns.

8. Listen to your child read.

When your child starts bringing books home from school, have him or her read to you. If it doesn’t sound good (mistakes, choppy reading), have him/her read it again. Or you read it, and then have your child try again. Studies show that this kind of repeated oral reading makes students better readers, even when it is done at home.

9. Promote writing.

Literacy involves reading and writing. Having books and magazines available for your child is a good idea, but it’s also helpful to have pencils, crayons, markers, and paper. Encourage your child to write. One way to do this is to write notes or short letters to your child. It won’t be long before he or she is trying to write back to you.

10. Ask questions.

When your child reads, get her to retell the story or information. If it’s a story, ask who it was about and what happened. If it’s an informational text, have your child explain what it was about and how it worked, or what its parts were. Reading involves not just sounding out words but thinking about and remembering ideas and events. 

11. Make reading a regular activity in your home.

Make reading a part of your daily life, and kids will learn to love it. When I was nine years old, my mom made me stay in for a half-hour after lunch to read. She took me to the library to get books to kick off this new part of my life. It made me a lifelong reader. Set aside some time when we turn off the TV and do nothing but read. Make it fun, too. When my children finished reading a book that had been made into a film, we’d make popcorn and watch the movie together. The point is to make reading a regular enjoyable part of your family routine.

Happy reading.


1 Based on http://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/how-parents-can-instill-reading#sthash.n10KCxye.dpbs



ABOUT THIS POST

Timothy Shanahan is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he was Founding Director of the UIC Center for Literacy. Previously, he was the director of reading for the Chicago Public Schools, and is the author or editor of more than 200 publications on literacy education. Professor Shanahan will present a pre-conference workshop at the 2019 Families Learning Conference on Sunday, Nov. 3 entitled "How to Improve Reading Achievement." He will also present a concurrent session on Monday entitled "The Language-Experience Approach." You can find more information on his pre-conference workshop here.

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Toyota Family Learning Program

Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

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Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to reach the 35.7 million adults ages 18-64 who do not have a high school diploma by guiding them to better-paying, more stable jobs.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

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PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994 to advance early literacy and learning resources for vulnerable families. Current efforts supported by PNC include a collaborative initiative in two at-risk Detroit communities that engages families to support vocabulary development for children under age 5.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

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W.K. Kellogg Foundation

NCFL has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation since January 2016. The Foundation is currently supporting a dynamic two-generation family engagement initiative that expands NCFL's Family Learning model into select Head Start programs nationwide. NCFL's model presents an innovative way to support Head Start programs in meeting outcomes aligned with the Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework.

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Better World Books

Better World Books selected NCFL as its domestic literacy partner in 2005 and has raised more than $1 million to support NCFL’s work and donated more than $15 million to support literacy and education efforts worldwide. Better World Books is a triple-bottom-line online bookstore, working equally for people, planet and profit. Each book purchased powers literacy across the world.

Better World Books’ support of NCFL has provided books and workshops to families after Hurricane Katrina, donated large book donations to literacy programs and families nationwide and fueled innovative family literacy and learning programs and resources in libraries, schools and community-based organizations. In addition to their work for literacy and education, Better World Books diverts books from landfills and offers carbon-balanced shipping.

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NCFL has partnered with the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University since 2001, working collaboratively to further research, professional development, and policy efforts for family literacy and intergenerational learning.

The work of this partnership includes, but is not limited to, a strong research strand at NCFL's national annual convening, the Families Learning Summit; advocacy for family literacy and learning to further support for and inclusion of family-focused education in new and ongoing legislation; and dissemination of the latest research, resources, information, and professional development opportunities for literacy and learning practitioners and advocates, including the Certificate in Family Literacy provided by the Goodling Institute.

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