Vol. 8, No. 6
February 10-16, 2000
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On the Front Lines of Literacy
Talk to Your Children to Prevent Reading Problems
by Lori L. Sikorski

Passing through my child’s school, I noticed a young boy sitting in the hallway, hunched over a book. Squinting his eyes, he used his finger as a reading guide.

I watched, trying not to be noticed, as he struggled with a sentence. He leaned back, looking frustrated and disappointed. He was not enjoying his reading.

Not everyone loves reading or, in this case, learning to read. For some it is not the magic key that I fondly wrote of in an earlier column. For many reading is a struggle.

Most children learn the art of skilled reading in their first few grades of school. But some need more than they get from classroom work to overcome whatever stumbling blocks are decreasing their motivation to read.

The most likely blocks over which very young children stumble are three, according to The National Research Council for Reading Success:

1. Failure to understand or use the alphabetic principle of translating sight to sound;

2. Inability to acquire and use comprehension skills to get the meaning of the text; and

3. Lack of fluency.

Because reading truly is a complex activity, children this age need support and special learning tools to develop their literacy skills. Simple conversation is one of the best.

You can go a long way to increasing your child’s vocabulary by talking together. “Heavy exposure to more than just baby talk or answering questions is vital to a child learning to read,” says Pediatrician Ellen Moore of Kaiser Permanente. “Talk to them about what is going on in your life. Ask them questions about what they did today. Just the sounds they hear from you can have such an impact.”

Listening in works wonders, too. When children hear us tell a friend “Did I tell you about what happened at work?” they learn that they must listen to find out what did happen. And they learn that stories — with their beginnings, middles and ends — are exciting.

You may read to your children regularly, but are they really listening? Do they understand the words? So they comprehend what you’re reading?

Since we can’t be with our children 24 hours a day, we must trust our school systems and teachers to do their part while our children are in their care. But schools are not responsible for a child’s entire development. As parents, grandparents or guardians, we have that responsibility.

If you feel that your child struggles with reading, there could be a problem. Speak with your child’s teacher to learn where the problem might be. In many cases, Moore says, communication is the problem. “Some parents today are just busy. They pick the child up from day care or school, head home to make dinner, do laundry and give baths. They are wonderful loving parents, but they do not carry on conversations with the little people in their lives.”

Turn off the car radio on the way home. Sit down with your child and watch their favorite television program, then discuss what you both saw. Better yet, turn the television off and make up your own silly stories or songs.

“The more adult-like a conversation, the better,” says Moore. ‘Would you like bubbles in your bath tonight?’ That’s a better question to help your child’s vocabulary grow than ‘Would you like some bubbly wubbly in your tubby tub?’

Speak clearly and distinctively. Three- to five-year-olds will sometimes confuse words that sound alike, such as dog and dug or coat and goat. Reading will come a lot easier as school approaches when your child can tell the difference between similar sounding words.

Communication is basic to good reading. Talk with your children. You both will benefit.

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in our monthly series on learning to read in Chesapeake Country.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly