Letters & Opinion

The Open School: On Helping Children to Read

By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E

LET me welcome my Open School students to the second lesson on Helping to read to Read. The school is open to parents, guardians, teachers, students and members of the public. This is the second in a series of lessons which will be done in the Open school every two weeks. It is my hope that students will acquire knowledge and skills which will enable them to help children and students to be fluent readers.

At the end of the lesson, students will be able to (a) explain, in simple sentence, the meaning of reading. (b) will be able to list four ways in which parents, guardians and teachers could help children to read.

Whether we want to believe it or not, the home is the first school and parents the first teachers of their children. Children do not come to school as empty vessels. When they present themselves at school, they would have learnt quite bit from home. Therefore, a lot of emphasis will be placed on parental involvement in reading.

At the end of the lesson, we will reflect on how much we have learnt through a simple evaluation.

Now what is reading? Very simply, reading is a process of making meaning from print. Whether it from a printed page, a poster, a signboard or a placard. The children will create meaning depending on his or her background, the reason why he or she reads and the material that the children read.

As I have already stated, a parent is the child’s first teacher. Parents, teachers, childcare workers or babysitters can help by reading daily to the child. Each child needs to hear at least four stories daily. Now that could be a heavy task for many parents. However, the stories could be very short and interesting. If you can’t read four. Then choose the number you can manage for the day.

Hearing stories read to them helps children expand their vocabulary and language skills. By expanding their vocabulary, I mean they would learn new words and understand how the words are used in the sentences that they hear in the story that you read. They will then be able to use these words in sentences of their own.

Now parents and teachers should choose stories and information books. Posters, newsletters and newspapers could provide information.

You can talk about the story you have read with you child or children, and encourage them to read as a free time activity. Now children observe parents very closely. Do not keep them busy to read and they do not see you read yourselves. Be a model to your child since they imitate you quit a bit.

Language is the foundation for reading. That is why talking with your child is very important. The foundation for reading which you set for them starts from the first time your child hears spoken language, The foundation continues to grow when your child notices writings on signs, packages and stores. Talk with your child, work and play together. Do not tell me that you do not have time to talk and play with your child. That that should be left for the teacher. You must always remember that you are the first teacher. The child spends more time with you at home than in school!

Listening is very important in reading. Listen to your child and answer questions in a language that he or she can understand.

Encourage your child to talk by asking him or questions. And listen to their responses. Encourage your child to use the correct word for objects, instead of saying “that” or “that thing.”

Read and write with your child because it will: help your child read better at school; it will give a lifelong love for reading and writing and it would give the important one to one time that your child needs.

It is a natural behaviour for some children to be reluctant to read. But how can you help your child who is reluctant to read?

The following guidelines could help you become positive in helping your reluctant child:

(a) Accept where your child is in the reading process. Do not compare him or her with your child’s brother or sister, since we all learn at different rates.

(b) Do not apply pressure on your child when he or she makes a mistake. It’s alright to make a mistake. Mistakes are part of the learning process.

(c) Praise your child for making attempts or for seeking help. Even though the attempt is not what you want. In fact, you could show support by saying “Good try” or “Good job”.

(d) Keep the books simple. Provide books your child can read. As he or she improves, more challenging books could be chosen for him or her.

(e) Allow time for thinking. Your child needs time to decode the message in the print. By decode I mean the child needs time to discover the meaning from the words he or she is reading. We should not be too quick to give the answer,

(f) Relax! Stop and go on to do something else. Do you get frustrated or are you to tired mentally. At that point, you may read to your child instead. By so doing, you are still helping your child to gain meaning and language, learning more about books and the world around him or her.

Soon the child would want to put some of the words encountered into real world situations. Let your child help you make grocery lists, invitations, greeting cards and taking telephone messages.

By now you should realise that in teaching your child to read other reading skills emerge. For example, listening, speaking and writing, which are important reading skills.

Now, two questions for you.

(1) What is reading?
(2) List five ways in which you can help your child to read.

Hope you enjoyed the lesson. I will be here with another lesson in two weeks from today.

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