I am a high school teacher, so by the time students get to my level, they come with various reading levels and diverse comprehension skills. Although I am mostly concerned with the way I teach at the high school level, I am also interested in learning about the beginnings of reading. Why are some students readers and others not? Why can some students make inferences and others struggle with just the literal text? Where did our experience as readers begin?
This brings me to early literacy. Not only am I interested in this topic out of curiosity, but I have come face-to-face with it, now that I have a young son of my own. I am trying to figure out best practices to train a child to become a lover of books and an avid reader.
I believe the reason I love books so much is that I come from a household of two book lovers. My mother loves romance and studied English in college; my father loves history and studied Journalism. During my childhood, they were always reading. Best of all, they were always reading to me! I remember from a very early age enjoying Dr. Seuss, The Tales of Peter Rabbit, and nursery rhyme books. My parents would read to me during the day, before bed, and in the car. We would often visit bookstores on weekends as family, made frequent trips to the library, and would spend some nights reading rather than watching movies or television. My childhood was a culture of books.
Growing up, this love for reading continued. I read all the time and read anything I could get my hands on. As I grew, Junie B. Jones turned into R.L. Stine. Anne of Green Gables turned into the Sweet Valley Twins. I would read as I walked (sometimes into walls). If I got into trouble, which was rarely, my parents would ground me from reading. I read as I laid in the sun. I read in backyard trees. My childhood was reading; my upbringing was literacy.
Obviously, I am now an English teacher and the greatest lover of books. So when I see research on early literacy, and how to turn a child into a reader, I agree with the fact that books and enjoyment of reading must be a part of everyday life. I think not only reading books, but talking about them, playing with them, and making them valued early is what increases comprehension and births book-lovers. There is definitely a difference between enjoying reading with your child and forcing your child to read with you. I think they breed very different results. So while I would encourage reading to your six month old before bed, allowing your two year old to stack books, and taking your three year old to the library, I would in no way encourage reading book after book and “forcing” your child to sit and read with you.
Now, I thought I had this whole early literacy thing figured out. I had spent time researching it, and felt confident the way I approached reading with my child would rear positive results. However, when talking with parents of teenagers at parent-teacher conferences, I feel like this isn’t always the case. Many parents talk to me about how they read to their child frequently and built the culture of literacy aforementioned, yet their child never really found joy in reading, or have still become a struggling reader. There are clearly factors between early literacy and the teen years that can alter how people read and feel about reading, but that is for another blog. Today, I am inquiring as to what parents are doing (or aren’t doing) to encourage reading at the youngest age, and how that translates to a later age.
Thus, when I came upon this article done by researchers at my alma mater, The Ohio State University, I felt like some unanswered questions fell into place. This article basically lays out that there is a difference between just reading to a child and reading and making references to text. Apparently, the latter leads to the higher comprehension skills later in life. So, for all the parents reading to preschoolers, there could be something to give them a leg-up. The research says that by making a small change, referencing the text, teachers and parents can “provide a big boost” to their child’s later literacy skills. Making specific references include “pointing out letters and words on a page, showing capital letters, and showing how you read from left to right and top to bottom on a page.” The article can be found at:
I highly recommend that any parent or teacher interested in increasing literacy beginning at an early age read this article and further investigate this current research. As for me, I will continue in my inquiry into best practices for teaching my son to read, and more importantly, to love reading.