Do you remember the first book you ever read? For me, it was the “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” a famous Norwegian fairy tale complete with fattened goats, a troll, and the quest for greener pastures. I would ask my mom to read me this story almost every night as I would gaze on, listening, absorbing, and connecting the syllables and sounds. Eventually, I made it a habit, spending countless hours reading books and expanding my vocabulary.
As it happens, the whole basis of literacy at home is to encourage and foster children’s building of vocabulary and to instill a sense of joy for both writing and reading. This can be done by first considering what kinds of materials to have on hand and then arranging those materials so that your child has easy access to them. But how does setting up a bookshelf translate into literacy? These four tips can help you discover some ways to get your child leafing through books at home.
Focus on Vocabulary
Just as with learning any language, building vocabulary is the most important aspect of literacy. Help your child make an effort to learn new words. You can do this by encouraging her to look up big words as you are reading together instead of skipping over them. Be sure to give your child concise definitions that are easily understood at his level of comprehension. Focus on technical words that children need in order to understand a concept they are currently learning about, such as sonar mapping of the ocean floor for her second-grade science project. Try to find concrete examples of new words when you are out in the community so your child can make connections and reinforce learned vocabulary.
Model Good Habits
It’s no secret that children will mimic what they see others around them doing. When children see the adults in their lives using reading and writing, they’re more likely to become readers and writers themselves. Keep a bookshelf of books that you actively engage with. Read literature in magazines and the local newspaper. Read suitable graphic novels together on your child’s iPad. Simply reading or journaling alongside your child as he does his school work emphasizes the importance that these tasks serve in everyday life and will reinforce good habits.
Looking for some specific tips on what you can do to instill in your child a passion for reading and writing? Dr. Timothy Shanahan is an internationally-recognized professor of urban education and reading researcher who shared his best practices with Reading Rockets, and these were some of my personal favorites:
- Talk to your kids (a lot).
You may be hesitant to use complex words with your youngster, but this actually helps in her development of literacy skills. Research suggests that exposing your child to a variety of words helps to stretch his capabilities and builds up a reservoir for conceptual understanding.
- Teach phonics and phonemic awareness.
Play language games so children begin to recognize sounds and their associations to letters.
- Have your child tell you a story.
Write it down as a dictation, and read it aloud to them. Then, read together what you’ve written. Keep the words your child begins to recognize in a word bank for later review.
To Dr. Shanahan’s list I would add some of my own points:
- Bargain bins at bookstores offer a great way to save on bringing new books into your home.
- Have children read the books which go along with a favorite movie, such as Bridge to Terabithia.
- Watch movies or TV shows with the subtitles switched on.
- Encourage your child to re-read favorite books and poems. Re-reading helps kids read more quickly and accurately.
- Help your child to correct his own reading errors through re-reading and asking guided questions.
Don’t Forget About Writing!
When discussing literacy, writing can often be overlooked but is just as essential to practice as reading at home. Have them practice writing by asking your child to help you write out the grocery list, a thank you note to Grandma, or to keep a journal of special things that happen at home. When writing, encourage your child to use the letter and sound patterns he is learning at school.
Providing an array of materials, modeling good behavior, and a willingness to devote time every day to practicing reading and writing are bound to cultivate a natural appreciation of these skills. It all starts with one great book. One great book about three billy goats, in my case.