This week is Children’s Book Week in Australia. Excited children all over the country are participating in wonderful literature and literacy activities, comparing their own choices with the actual winners of the CBCA Book of the Year, and generally celebrating books and reading.
Not all kids love reading. A while back, a parent wrote to me, concerned that her daughter hated to do the Phonics Work Books that Mum had bought. She wanted to give her child a head start on reading before she began school. The books were colourful, with cute clip art and asked kids to practise making and writing sounds/letters as the building blocks of reading. But the little girl actively resisted taking part in the lessons.
You know, I think giving kids a head start on reading is a wonderful idea. I think we should begin when children are babies. BUT, the very best way to do this is read aloud to them regularly from great children’s literature. If you want some suggestions for books to try, there are wonderful blogs all over the kidlitosphere that offer reviews, and list books suitable for various ages. Or check The Book Chook blog archives for children’s books I’ve reviewed and loved.
The great thing about sharing quality books like this with your kids, is that it teaches them almost unconsciously. They learn to love stories. They absorb the rhythms and rhymes of language. They learn to predict, use contextual clues to find meaning, and delight in repetition and surprise. Read aloud time is an opportunity to have a beloved parent close and all to oneself, while being entertained by the magic of reading. There’s little whining or dragging of feet.
Phonics is a system we can use for helping readers work out words. Once kids understand that the squiggles on a page are letters, and those letters correspond with various sounds, they are beginning to build one method of decoding or ‘reading’ an unknown word. It helps kids with writing and spelling, too. When children are ready to start reading independently, parents and teachers help them by referring to letters and the sounds they make. If a child wants to work out a word, sometimes identifying the sound/letter combinations can help eg with the word “catapult”, “Oh look, there’s ‘cat’ at the start of that word, then ‘a’, then ‘p-u-l-t’.”
However, because we want kids to love reading, and be motivated to read, I am very reluctant to advocate any explicit teaching of reading before a child shows readiness. Surround your child in print, sure. Literacy activities in the form of games and fun activities are fine. Reading aloud and modelling reading yourself are just wonderful. But buying workbooks for your child who doesn’t want to do them seems to me fraught with the danger of turning a child away from reading.
And that would be a tragedy.