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I want to help my child read

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Julie Loe

Question

What can I do to make my child a better reader?

Catherine Snow on
Helping Your Child Develop Language

PARENT & CHILD: What do you believe children need to know in order to become good readers?

CATHERINE SNOW: The three crucial sets of skills good readers have are an understanding of how the alphabet works, an awareness that reading is about meaning, and sufficient fluency in reading.

P&C: And what’s the best way to help children gain these skills?

SNOW: Some children develop man of these skills quickly. But in other cases, children need to be taught about the relationship between letters, that letters represent small sounds in words, and about the relationship of specific letters to specific sounds. Often, parents and teachers need to help children understand that the reason they read is to uncover a message. The most important way to teach this is to provide children with a language-rich environment.

P&C: What can we do to create a language-rich environment?

SNOW: In this kind of environment, everyday activities get talked about. Parents and teachers ensure that children are involved in one-on-one conversations about things they are interested in. This environment is a place in which children have many opportunities to see how printed words are used for many purposes. They become familiar with print. And it’s a place where language and print are incorporated in playful ways into everyday activities.

P&C: How else can parents get children to think about language?

SNOW: It’s very important to ask children lots of questions, and the kinds of questions we ask make a big difference. For example, if you read a book aloud to your child and ask a question such as "What is that hiding behind the tree?" Or "Where did the little girl go?" you’re asking for specific, closed answers. But if you ask a question such as, "What do you think is going to happen next?" or "What do you like best about the book?" then you’re asking for discussion that is inspired, but not totally determined, by the book. Whenever you ask children how or why questions, you’re helping them learn to use and to explore language in ways they never would if you ask only questions that have predetermined answers.

P&C: What are specific things parents can do to help children make connections between language and print and start identifying letters and words?

SNOW: If you point out some of the printed words that a child sees all around her, you give her opportunities to recognize those words. Of course, you shouldn’t expect very young children to learn them without a lot of repetition. But certainly you should use print as part of what you’re talking about together.

P&C: When should parents start introducing print to children?

SNOW: When children are approximately age two or three, you can label belongings with their names and label important containers or items they use. This helps children come to understand all of the many ways that print can be used meaningfully. Also, let children see you write things down and make lists; this helps them realize that print is useful.

P&C: When a child enters kindergarten, do her needs change?

SNOW: To some extent, yes. Of course, as children get older, they know more words and can understand more words. So parents and teachers of kindergartners need to expose children to an even greater wealth of vocabulary. You can do so by having conversations with children about lots and lots of different topics.

P&C: Will children be learning phonics in kindergarten?

SNOW: It makes sense to engage children in analyzing words they know if they’ve come to kindergarten with a pretty good ability to speak and a lot of words. In that case, children will make up rhymes and play games such as "Let’s think of all the things you can eat that begin with the bu sound." It makes perfect sense for the teacher to then write a b on the board and say, "Look, all of the things on our list are made of things that begin with the bu sound. They all start with this letter."

P&C: We know that adults play an extremely important role in encouraging literacy. What role do children’s peers play?

SNOW: There is some evidence that children who spend time in preschool learn how to be sociable through language, so their social talk develops more quickly. Children who are at home tend to be better at things like telling stories-talk that is more descriptive or analytic.

P&C: Are there differences in language development and skills between firstborn children and those born later on?

SNOW: Firstborn children tend to talk sooner and are likely to be focused on naming things. Children born later are more likely to be social or expressive in the style of language they use. None of this is always true, of course, but it is a reasonable generalization.

P&C: What would be the most important advice you’d give to parents on encouraging their children’s language skills?

SNOW: Parents’ contribution to their children’s language development is crucial. You help just by talking to your child, by listening to him, and by developing the expectation that there will be real conversations going on during the course of your day together. You help in a way that no one else can. For instance, let children know that the dinner table will be a place where they will have an opportunity to talk about what they’ve done during the day. You can make that something to look forward to. And you will talk about what you’ve done also. After all, kids want to listen to stories as well as tell them.

Scholastic Parent & Child
August/September1998

From Coos to Conversation

Language begins the day we’re born - and with encouragement, develops every day after that! From infancy on, children cry, laugh, coo, and smile - reaching out to the world for a response. They experiment first with sounds and then with words. Children learn that words represent familiar people and things and that communication is a two-way street.

Recent research shows that one-on-one interaction and conversation are crucial to brain development. What we say to children-and how we say it-builds language skills.

Here’s a look at how your child acquires language-and how you can participate.

Age 0 - 2, A child may

Coo and gurgle for fun. By the third month, he may put his lips together to produce some consonant sounds.
Learn to respond to some sounds and language around him.
Begin to combine consonant and vowel sounds (at five to six months).
Communicate first with gestures and expressions, then with simple sounds and words.
Enter the "babbling" phase after six months, with strings of sounds taking on characteristics of conversation.
Begin to use certain sounds as labels for special people and things.
Learn to talk and respond to others for the pleasure of interaction and play.

What you can do with a child who is working on these skills:

Talk with him constantly!
Use a higher pitch and long, drawn-out vowels. (Brain research shows that exaggerated speech helps babies hear distinct sounds.)
Respond to the baby’s coos with your own high-pitched cooing.
Give simple explanations of what is happening and what will happen next.
Read aloud and sing for the pleasure of the sound of the words.

What you can do with a child who is practicing these skills: all of the above, plus

Respond to his feelings, ideas, and wishes with words as well as actions.

What you can do with a child with mastery of these skills: all of the above, plus

Use words he isn’t familiar with, and explain what they mean.
Play language games.

Age 2 - 3, A child may

Recognize more spoken words and continue to learn the meaning of words used by people around her.
Enjoy listening to stories, rhymes, and songs, and participating in fingerplays and language games.
Follow simple directions.
Use language to explain what she wants, ask questions, and express her ideas and feelings.
Put together short sentences, use pronouns, make plurals, and begin learning the names of colors and body parts.

What you can do with a child who is working on these skills:

Keep talking to her- all the time and about everything!
Ask open-ended questions that encourage her to discuss what she’s doing, feeling, and thinking.
Suggest words when she seems unable to find the right ones to express herself.
Share rhymes and poems.

What you can do with a child who is practicing these skills: all of the above, plus

Repeat what she says to offer confirmation, and add new words.
Explain in simple steps the tasks you want her to perform.
Offer words to help her as she tries to express her feelings.

What you can do with a child with mastery of these skills: all of the above, plus

Continue to offer her books, songs, and new experiences that expose her to new words in meaningful context.
Play more complex language games and engage in in-depth conversations about the things she is interested in.

Age 4 -5, A child may

Continue to expand his vocabulary by listening to increasingly complex stories and engaging in advanced conversations with adults.
Enjoy making up and telling stories.
Understand that we read the print in stories, not just look at the pictures.
Recognize and read aloud the words in the environment around him.
Try to write whole words and enjoy dictating them.

What you can do with a child who is working on these skills:

Continue to expose him to a variety of new words related to topics of interest to him.
Play more complex language games.
Write down him spoken works and dictate his stories.
Play rhyming games and games in which he matches words that begin or end with the same letter sound.

What you can do with a child who is practicing these skills: all the above, plus

Offer him books on interesting topics that include unfamiliar words, and explain their meaning.

What you can do with a child with mastery of these skills: all the above, plus

Encourage him to write his name and the words he knows.
Provide books and resource information related to his interests that contain specialized vocabulary words.
Continue to expand his vocabulary by listening to more complex stories and engaging in advanced conversations.

Ages 5 - 6, A child may

Recognize and identify the sounds letters stand for.
Be able to blend letters and letter patterns to sound out words.
Enjoy writing and giving written messages to others, concentrating on the content of the messages and the formation of letters.
Enjoy looking at favorite books or books he has written.
Begin to read simple books with predictable text.

What you can do with a child who is working on these skills:

Offer books on interesting topics that include simple unfamiliar words, and explain their meaning.
Encourage him to write his name and the words he knows.
Provide books and resource information that contain specialized vocabulary words.

What you can do with a child who is practicing these skills: all of the above, plus

Support his love of language and books by reading together and sharing your favorite stories.

What you can do with a child with mastery of these skills: all of the above, plus

Involve him in reading signs, recipes, maps, and the other print he sees and uses every day.
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Last modified: January 26, 2013