Research has shown that the level of a child’s vocabulary in the home before heading off to school is an important indicator for school-readiness as well as predicting later academic achievement. Of course, this is not set in stone BUT, if we as parents want to ensure the best start possible we can’t go past reading together. The research confirms it.
The tips in this post are based on 4 recent journal articles that I have listed below.
1) Have Fun
This is the most important tip and if you can only remember one point it should be this one. Children who love reading with a parent not only have the opportunity to develop stronger relationships but attach that feeling of warmth and comfort with reading. This gives them a positive attitude towards the whole process of learning to read and write and instills the desire to read for the simple pleasure of it.
2) Follow Your Child’s Interests
While it’s good to introduce our children to a wide variety of books there’s no doubt that they have their favourites. Cars…. princesses…. animals…. space… and if our aim is to engage them in conversation during reading time they’ll be more enthusiastic when we follow their lead. Also, if their imagination takes them further than the book does (for eg, the book gives the pig a pancake but your child wants to know what kind of pancake) just go with it and use it as an opportunity for more discussion.
3) Discuss the Title
What might the book be about? Will it be a happy, sad or silly book? After reading it, go back to the title and talk about whether your predictions were correct.
4) What? Where? When? Who? The Questions to Ask
While reading ask your child questions, for eg, Why is the boy lonely? When are you lonely? Such transitions change the focus from the book to your child and back to the book. The aim is to encourage conversation as research shows that children use a greater variety of words while reading with their parents.
5) Repeat and Expand on a Child’s Comments
Repeating what they say tells them you’ve heard them and their opinions have value. If you then question them further about their comment it again lengthens the conversation and shows them you’re genuinely interested. For eg, if they say the monster would like to eat cookies we can ask what kind or how many or will he bake them himself?
6) Use Rhyming Books
While all books are helpful, researchers have found that rhyming books increase children’s ability to predict what’s coming and to remember vocabulary more easily. They can also recount the story more accurately and understand the ideas more clearly.
7) Point to the Words
Parents should point to words when they’re talking about them, and also move their finger along under the text as they read. This makes a firm connection between the spoken and written word and helps maintain the focus on the story.
8) Talk about Words and Letters
When appropriate talk about the letters and their sounds, ask your child about the letters and sounds and where they have seen these letters before (for eg, in their name or on a sign). As they progress, talk about whole words. For eg, can they guess which word says ‘cat’? Why do the two rhyming words look nearly the same?
9) Starting and Ending Sounds
Recognising the sounds at the beginning and ends of words is critical when learning to read. For children to be able to focus on this task while in a safe and happy home environment will give them confidence at school and a head start in picking up an important skill.
10) Praise and Encourage
While doing all of the above (or just having fun if you stick with no.1) remember to be positive. Praise your child for the progress they make and for their engaging conversation. If some of the tips above stress your child just skip them for the time being. Learning to read is not a race, it’s a journey, and one that should be full of wonder and comfort.
Farrant, Brad and Zubrick, Stephen. Early vocabulary development: The importance of joint attention and parent-child book reading. First Language, Vol. 32, No. 3, Aug 2012: 343-364. doi:10.1177/0142723711422626
Farrant, Brad and Zubrick, Stephen. Parent-child book reading across early childhood and child vocabulary in the early school years: Findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. First Language, Vol 33, No. 3, June 2013: 280-293. doi: 10.1177/0142723713487617
Read, Kirsten, Macauley, Megan and Furay, Erin. The Seuss boost: Rhyme helps children retain words from shared storybook reading. First Language, Vol. 34, No. 4, Aug 2014: 354-371. doi: 10.1177/0142723714544410
Sim, Susan and Berthelsen, Donna. Shared book reading by parents with young children: Evidence-based practice [online]. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 39, No. 1, Mar 2014: 50-55.