“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr Seuss
Dr Seuss was, of course, absolutely correct when he shared this pearl of wisdom with the world! Whether reading for pleasure or reading for knowledge (are the two not synonymous) there is no doubt that the world became a much more manageable environment when our ancestors became literate and were able to share in some of the profound ideas of the Renaissance philosophers!
Over the next two weeks, I shall share some ideas on the importance reading has on the development of our children from young pre-schoolers, through their primary education journey and finally their high school years. What can we do as parents and teachers to instil a passion for reading and how do we overcome the worldwide challenge of our children losing interest in reading for pleasure as they progress through the higher grades?
Educationalists agree that there is one single factor that indicates how well a child will do with reading when they start school – the involvement of parents. Undoubtedly, the most important assistance you can provide your preschool child to develop pre-reading skills is reading aloud to your child every day. One should begin even before the child can talk. Reading to or with a child is an act of love. As a parent, you already have the most important ingredient to infect your child with the reading bug – LOVE. When you read to your child there are so many unspoken messages which are transmitted – without words, you are saying, ‘I am enjoying sitting here next to you sharing this special story; this is a special time and right now you are the center of my world.’ What you have started is a lifelong love affair between a child and reading!
We need to instil a love of books from a very young age if our children are to be lifelong readers. Reading should be nothing but fun. Our aim in these early years is not to teach decoding or sounding out or recognising words – it is to instil a love, an attitude, a passion – right from the very beginning.
We need to create an environment in our homes in which reading will occur naturally – books and magazines and calendars and charts and summaries and pictures and stories everywhere. We need to read ourselves to set an example. This modelling is such an important part of developing a passion for reading in our children. Ensure that your children are surrounded by their own books. Provide them with their own bookshelves and fill these with the books which they own and books from the public library, their classroom libraries, and from the outstanding Highlands and Weizmann School libraries.
The language of books is learnt not taught. This is one of the reasons why we ask our Gr R parents to treat the Paired and Shared Reading Programme seriously and ensure that they read to their children daily. If you read to children they will know about grammar techniques such as tense consistency which will help them to predict when they read by themselves; they will learn about punctuation; they will come to understand the different genres – that recipe books have a different style to storybooks or poetry books or instruction manuals. Question them in an unthreatening way about what you are reading and help them improve their listening comprehension. This is all so important for your child’s breakthrough to more formal literacy. The child who has not been read to has missed out on internalising the various language forms of print and is less able to predict what a passage is about. This ability is learnt, not taught. That is why it is impossible to do too much reading aloud to children.
We have all been amazed at times by very small children with incredible vocabularies who read before they go to school. These are children who have learnt to love books from a very young age. It is essential that children are exposed to the language of books before they go to school. Through reading books children learn the rules of language without special help.
Your children are part of Generation Z, a generation literally born with a computer device in their hand, a cellphone attached to their ear, and a knowledge of technology we can only aspire to. We cannot fight that and physically dragging children away from the television or confiscating their devices will only lead to bitterness and resentment and will certainly not encourage your child to read or instil a love of books in them. Everything in moderation should be the key here – set times for technology during the week and over weekends so everyone understands the rules and ensure that reading is used as a carrot and never a stick. Never use story time as a replacement for technology – both need their specific time slots in the domestic programme. Of course, a wonderful way of marrying the two is to go on to your child’s favourite author’s website and show him the information. There are some superb interactive children’s book sites on the web. However, do not think that these books are a replacement for reading with Mom and Dad – they are fine for a bit of variety but cannot replace the warmth of cuddling up next to a parent for a story.
There is no set answer for when one stops reading aloud to our children. Your child will let you know when they are ready. However, many people enjoy listening to a good story and a family story circle time around the fire in winter can be therapeutic and enjoyable for every age.
Finally, the socialisation impact books have on children should never be underestimated. There are many acts of love that turn children into caring adults – reading them stories is one of them. Stories help make us honourable members of the human family and they tell us that dreams can come true. Good stories help us become good people. There are many children’s books aimed at 2-7 year-olds that teach good values in a way that is not over-moralising. Our very own series of Jewish stories in the Foundation Phase – PJ Library – teaches wonderful Jewish values but also encourages parents to spend time reading and discussing these values with their children.
Please feel free to comment on what has been suggested in the above article by mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be sure to read next week’s follow up which will deal more specifically with reading in the primary and high school years.
UHS Curriculum Head