Library day is the best day of school for five-and-a-half-year-old Victoria Lin of Montclair, New Jersey. She searches for books by her favorite author, Dr. Seuss. Her mom has read The Cat in the Hat to her so many times that she can read some of it on her own, with a little help from her memory. She also chooses books she and her dad like to read and talk about, such as nonfiction about firefighters or marine animals. Her family plans to visit an aquarium soon, so the librarian suggests a book on dolphins. Victoria adds it to her stack, along with one about manatees — they fascinate her.
1. Good readers start out ahead. Reading scores in first grade are a key indicator of school success in 11th grade. Meaning that what happens in the very early years has a lasting effect on learning. So try these tips with young children:
2. Good readers have better vocabularies. Think about the conversations you’ve had with your child today. There’s a good chance that — because of the hectic lives parents lead — most of the words you used were simple, immediate and directive. For example, “It’s time to go now!” Especially on our busiest days, it’s easy for parents to forget that kids look to us for varied and rich conversations. One study showed that when teachers used more complex speech, very young children learned to create more complex sentences themselves. From third grade on, kids need to learn about 3,000 new words a year — that’s eight new words a day. And it takes at least four exposures to make a word their own. To enrich your child’s word power, try these ideas:
3. Good readers preview and summarize. As you begin a new book, spend a little time with the cover, suggests Francie Alexander of Scholastic Education. Read the title, look at the illustration and ask your child what she thinks the book is about. Research shows that prediction triggers the deeper thinking that improves comprehension. Every few pages or so, ask your child to retell what’s happened; ask what might happen next.
4. Good readers picture a story in the mind. Children who do this are better at remembering details and are much more interested in reading for pleasure. Encourage your child to notice a character’s features or clothing, for example.
5. Good readers connect to what they’re reading. Comments from you help create engaged readers: “This story reminds me of the time…” or “I wonder if that character…” Soon your child will be eager to make his or her own links.
Preparing your child to be a good reader is one of the greatest gifts you can give as a parent. Kids who struggle over words and have trouble understanding text find little enjoyment in the process. They avoid reading, and it shows. In a study of middle-class fifth-graders in east-central Illinois, the most avid readers spent more than 50 times as many minutes a day reading for pleasure as less fluent readers. By year’s end, the better readers had read more than two million more words, creating an even wider gap of proficiency and knowledge.
Academic achievement certainly isn’t the only reason to nurture reading skills. For one thing, there’s the pure joy of reading. As Jennie Nash, author of Raising a Reader, says in her book, “You can find companionship in books, counsel, solace and delight. You can spend hours alone in a room listening to the quiet music of the written word.” Reading can give your child those magic moments and much more.