Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Learning to Read

It is vitally important that children be taught to read, and to read well.  There is shocking evidence that 60 million individuals in the United States, or one-third of the entire population, cannot read.  This high rate of illiteracy prevents individuals from reaching their full potential in life and in the job market.  It is a frightening reality, especially for parents of school-age children.  As a home educator, the teacher-parent may find that teaching reading is one of the most daunting tasks that takes place in a homeschool.  It takes time to give children the building blocks necessary to teach them to read.  For most children the ability to read does not happen overnight, but rather is a process that takes place in stages as they are offered tools for learning and time to internalize and apply what they have learned.  This ability is the foundation of all future learning.  It is possible that children can read and read extremely well!

It becomes the responsibility of the parent to teach their children to read. Some key elements in teaching reading are:

* Talk to the child a lot from birth and as they develop and grow. This provides the foundation of linguistic information. By listening, a child absorbs the language, accent, and grammar of those who surround him.

* Preparation for reading starts at a very young age. Sensory stimulation is important. Whether it be in the form of a red, black, and white mobile that hangs over a child's crib, or something as simple as turning a light off and on to stimulate the pupillary reflex, activities that encourage development assist in developing overall intelligence and ability. Geometric shapes and the contrast of black and white are some of the first visual items that an infant recognizes. Studies also show that crawling is very important for babies. An infant should be allowed to be on his stomach, on the floor, as much as possible. Crawling helps a child develop neurologically, and it is instrumental in the development of visual pathways to the brain. As children grow, other forms of physical activity, like swinging, climbing, bouncing, jumping, rolling, and gymnastics also assist in neurological development. The development of gross motor skills is vital for youngsters. Strong neural pathways assist the child in becoming a good reader.

* Make sure that words are visible to children of all ages. Small words on a book are not always easy for a developing youngster, so care should be taken to provide opportunity for children to see words in large print and in bright colors. Expose children to written words in their daily life at an early age, just as as you surround them with verbal information. Point out signs, words on cereal boxes, notes on the fridge, and so on. Make them aware that words exist and that they are a valuable part of life.

* Read to your child, starting from infancy. Books can be either commercial or those that you write yourself (large, colorful words). Make reading a daily routine. This establishes value and importance on the task.  This example teaches your child what books are for. Read to them with enthusiasm, changing your voice to express the personality of each character in the book. Use your finger to underline the words as you read out loud, as this teaches the child that words flow in a certain pattern, going from left to right, and from top to bottom of the page. Read frequently and for as long as you keep a child's attention. Reading is one of the foundations of an intelligent individual. Reading to your child is a key component in creating a good reader.

* Tie together the importance of sounds (language) and reading (words) by teaching children phonics.  Instead of teaching the alphabet, skip that task and instead teach the child the letter sounds. You can go with the same sequence of A,B,C. But, instead of saying the name of the letters, model the sounds of the words instead.  If a letter has more than one sound, give them both in sequence. For example, say the sound for soft-sound A then long-sound A, then the sound for the letter B, and sound for soft-sound C and then long-sound C.  Continue through the alphabet. This is an activity that can be set to the music of a favorite song and it should be a routine that is established daily and from a young age. As children grow and you prepare them for more formal reading, the phonetic foundation will have been established. After the alphabet sounds are learned, move on to the more advanced phonograms and teach them with their phonics rules.

* Encourage initial reading experiences using books that are phonetically based and have been written so that the child recognizes the phonograms learned. A phonics reading program such as this free, online reading resource helps the child flow naturally into putting sounds together into words, sentences, and paragraphs. Reading becomes a natural process with this approach.

* Give the child opportunities each day to read out loud to you! Short periods of time throughout the day will be more productive than one longer period of time. For the best in productive learning, always quit the activity before your child is ready to quit! Diminished interest on the child's part is never productive. The key to a pleasurable reading experience is to keep the child motivated and eager. Taking turns with the parent in reading a story is a great way to teach a child to read.

* Pace the learning experience according to your child's needs. If a child was interested in learning, and then you see a diminished interest, it is a cue that the child is experiencing boredom and that it is time to quicken the pace and teach him new concepts. Boredom can indicate that the child already knows the information.  But be aware that there are other reasons for boredom, making it clear that you need to keep in-tune with your child and their needs. Boredom can also result when a child doesn't understand the information being presented. It can also mean that your child sees no useful application for the information being taught. Thus, it is important to clarify concepts as you go along and to help the child see their importance and how it applies to daily life. Interest in a subject goes a long way in helping a child focus their attention.

* Remember that all words a child is being taught to read should have meaning to him. If a child doesn't know that Istanbul is the name of a city in Turkey, it will have no meaning to him. Explain the meaning of words they may not understand. Make reading meaningful. Start out with familiar words and move on from their. Words don't have to be simple to be meaningful and read at an early age. If the child has a dog named Liberated, that becomes a good reading word even though it is not generally a word the beginning reader uses, because the child can associate the word with something that is meaningful to him. Introduce new words at a pace that prevents boredom but that does not overwhelm.

* Games and drills can be fun for a child learning to read! Phonogram flashcards can be laid flat on a counter top with pennies, nickles, quarters, and dimes underneath. Take turns with the child in selecting a card and verbalizing the sound of the letter or letters being presented. If the sound given is correct, the child gets to keep the coin below the card.  See who can collect the most money (teacher-parent, child, or sibling).  If you don't want to use actual money, school tokens could be made instead. Other games like Go-Fish, flashcard games, or pocket games can all be used in teaching phonics and/or sight-see words.  Reading game ideas can be found online if you have trouble coming up with ideas on your own.

*  Practice, practice, practice. Reading aloud to your child is as important as having your child read back to you. Read throughout the day, not just from books but from signs, packages, posters, and more. Make reading fun for both you and your child. Make reading a delight! Not only will you be creating happy memories with your child, but you will be establishing a foundation of learning that will serve your child well for years to come.

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