Reading: It's Not Just Books
by Susan Stephenson
Reading: It's Not Just Books is part of the Share a Story - Shape a Future Blog Tour. Link up to more participants in Day 5 of the tour - Look Mom, I Can Read (age 5) - via Family Bookshelf.
Grandpa Bob used to blame his dog for everything. When he couldn't find his newspaper or his slippers, he'd scold Deefer and the poor old basset hound would hang her head, looking the picture of doggy guilt. When Grandpa Bob found the paper where he'd left it, or his slippers under his arm chair, he'd scold Deefer again for not telling him where the lost things were. Sometimes we used to wonder if Deefer acted her part just to keep Grandpa happy. But then one day, Grandpa lost his teeth…
What does that oft-told family tale have to do with reading? Has the Book Chook lost the plot at last? Read on...
Sharing stories with kids is one of the most powerful things we can do for them. However, not all stories are fiction or found between the pages of a book. Some stories will be told to children verbally, precious memories handed down through the generations, and re-told over the dinner table. These factual stories can be formalised and turned into home-made books, giving kids the opportunity to practise "reading" with a well-known tale. Don't be fooled into thinking kids are "just" remembering - memorising stories in this way is a crucial step on the journey to reading. Four and five-year-olds love anecdotes about family members, and equally love listening to these created books as we read them aloud.
Let me hasten to add: vitally important stories are shared in daily read-alouds, usually via a print book. Fact or fiction, these stories within books are often read over and over, helping children to develop many of the skills they need for reading. By watching and listening as a book is read aloud, kids not only get to memorise, they also internalize language and develop their imaginations. Parents who start reading aloud from birth notice that kids love books, include stories in their games, and develop an understanding and appreciation of literature.
But parents can find stories for kids outside the pages of a book too. Children can read online at websites that introduce them to new stories, and help them develop reading skills. Many will have text that lights up as a voice reads the words. When a child follows with her eyes, while listening to words read aloud, it reinforces word recognition. Another useful way to do this is to turn on the subtitle feature in your TV. One great website for kids to find stories is Storyline Online. You'll also find a gallery of Websites That Help Make Reading Fun at my website.
When we link writing with reading, we help kids make connections between the words in their heads and the printed word. From when they're tiny, we can encourage them to get their ideas down on paper. Childish drawings become scribbles with a recognizable letter or two, then invented spellings, until one day, kids are writing sentences we can read. One great way to do this is to include book-making as a regular family activity. With four and five-year-olds I suggest creating books about loved people and things. A book of extended family members could include photos captioned with names. Kids might like to set up photos for their favourite toys, and captions can be added digitally with an online image editor like Ribbet. Some children will want to dictate short sentence stories about art work - again, this is wonderful fodder for a family book project. Find out more in Book Chook Ideas for Making Books with Kids.
Many kids enjoy reading ebooks and book apps on iDevices and e-readers. While I truly believe that print books are the very best for a shared read-aloud, I know that an interactive book stored on Mum's iPhone can make a wonderful diversion when waiting or queuing occurs. Audio books are another format for kids to become familiar with, one that helps reading but should never replace a snuggly read-aloud. Kids need to learn to recognize different types of texts and their features for school, so it makes sense to vary their reading diet as much as we can.
Functional reading is often taught to kids unconsciously at home, and again without children's books. When Mum or Dad is following a recipe, it's great to read snippets aloud and chat about the process. Catching a bus? We point to the important part of the timetable, and show kids how to find times and routes. Under fives love to shop by "reading" a catalogue or flyer and discussing the toys. Following maps, discovering prices at the shops, searching for street signs, scanning a newspaper or magazine for a cartoon, and recognising letters and words in the environment all contribute to the development of functional literacy skills. We do our kids a great favour by staying alert to such opportunities.
Playing word games with kids, chanting rhymes, singing songs, playing rhyming games - all these and more help develop children's reading skills. Rhymers are readers, that's a fact, so sing and chant and fool around with words as much as you can. Your kids will think it's fun, and you'll have the satisfaction of knowing these are more steps along the pathway to reading. I love to extend the literature experience by discussing, re-telling, acting out, painting etc. And don't forget theatre performances and movies that show a different interpretation of a book you love - anything that ties in with a book enriches it in my opinion.
Children's books are the major, the magnificent part of a parent's tool box. Sharing quality children's literature with kids is absolutely the very BEST way to lead them to a love of reading. The stories we find in children's books help kids imagine and help them dream - and kids need dreams. But a varied reading diet exposes children to a range of formats and helps them make connections with the real world. That's important too.
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