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Dr. J. Richard Gentry, author of "Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write - from Baby to Age Seven," offers parents tips on how to help their child be a confident reader, establishing literacy skills in childhood that are fundamental for lifelong success.
Confident readers are not born, but they can be made - naturally, lovingly, and joyfully - by a child's first reading teacher: you. March is National March into Literacy Month, time to celebrate the love of reading among children and promote awareness of literacy as a fundamental skill for success.
"Well before your child can speak or read, he is absorbing language at a phenomenal pace," notes educational expert J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D., author of the book from which the following practical advice is excerpted. "In the first year of life, his brain will triple in size; by the time he enters kindergarten, it will be almost as big as yours." That is why, he says, as a parent and your child's first reading teacher, it is so crucial for you to make the most of the critical years from birth to age 6. And because the brain's ability to absorb new language patterns diminishes steadily from the age of 7 until puberty, and capacities such as overcoming spelling disabilities or overcoming dyslexia are virtually gone in early adulthood, he adds: "The opportunity will not come again." Help make learning to read both easy and fun for your child.
Yes, you should read to young babies!
Reading almost anything will help your baby get familiar with your voice. I think it's best to read something you've chosen especially for the baby and give him your full attention. While you are reading, have a "conversation" that makes the experience personal and intimate.
In the first six months, reading aloud focuses on modeling sounds. Choose a book that is delightful for you and one that you would love for your child to read to you someday. It should also be one that can help create an intimate experience between you and your baby. The language in the book should be simple, clear, and happy. Since repetition is important for laying down the neural tracks of language, choose a book that you will enjoy reading over and over again. Your child may want you to read his favorites to him literally hundreds of times in the years ahead and will read them from memory himself after he starts speaking. Because sound categorizations are being wired into your baby's brain, nursery rhyme books and books that can be chanted or sung are good choices. Their simplicity and repetition of sounds is perfect for young babies.
Not all children read before school, but they should be prepared.
Children do not have to be reading independently before entering school, but they do have to be prepared for success with reading. Children who enter kindergarten without a cultural heritage enlightened by literature or with no exposure to the tools of literacy - books, paper, pens, and, in the twenty-first century, even digital literacy apparatus - are not well prepared. Children who have no appreciation for storytelling, no knowledge of the letters of the alphabet, and no beginning awareness of the sounds in words are not well prepared for learning to read through formal instruction in school. These children are at risk for failure with reading, and that failure can impact the rest of their lives.
All children need literacy before school. Language is a uniquely human gift, and exposure to reading and writing at home before entering school enriches a child's early language learning and intellectual development. Preschool literacy contributes to a child's self-motivated quest to make meaning in life, to discover his or her world, to create new possibilities, to enjoy his or her highest potential, and to achieve understanding, insight, and self-fulfillment. Every parent should raise a confident reader.
Parents greatly enhance a child's ability and motivation to read.
Instilling children with an enthusiasm for reading is not always easy. Start by embracing literacy at home and making time for reading. Provide a responsive environment for your child, and think of it as fostering your child's search for meaning. If your child is struggling in school, don't wait. Intervene to get help now. Choose to go to the library even when your child is very young, and make it a habit. Give him choices when selecting books or literacy activities. Value your child's opinions and interests. Give him as many intellectually stimulating experiences as possible, including picnics, trips to the zoo, and family vacations to interesting destinations. But if you can't afford Hawaii, be assured that it's the everyday things that matter most: Take him with you on errands to the post office, the grocery store, and so on, and talk to him about everything in those surroundings, even if he is a baby and is not yet talking to you. Knowledge of the world is directly related to reading comprehension.
Literate parents certainly are more apt to raise confident readers than parents in a home where literacy is neither practiced nor valued. In any case, you must make time for literacy in your child's life and value literacy learning. If you truly feel you cannot provide the experience yourself, make sure that some other caregiver does.
Beyond these recommendations, celebrate and encourage your child's early attempts at writing. Recognize that writing is a key to early reading and that writing is one of the deepest modes of thinking - for beginners and adults alike. Remember that learning to write like an adult is much like learning to speak like an adult: It happens gradually over a long period of time with a lot of hypothesis testing and error making before perfect production. Respond positively, compliment often, and think before you insist upon adult-like correctness.
You won't build good literacy habits by putting your child down. We all learn from failure as much as we learn from success. In the words of Samuel Beckett, "Fail again. Fail better." This certainly applies to early spelling attempts. Encourage thinking, not error-free sentences. Remember that children who engage in writing before entering school are engaging in logical thinking, and the thinking and deep analysis they do with printed language during early writing will lead to their ability to read. The learning effects are cumulative - the more your child knows, the easier it is to learn more. Your child is learning how to learn.
Excerpted from Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write - from Baby to Age Seven, by J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D., a former elementary school teacher and a nationally acclaimed expert on childhood literacy and reading.
Also see: Author Katherine Paterson Gives Advice on Children's Books
How to Encourage Good Writing Skills in Your Child
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J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D.
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