I am often asked what parents can do to teach their child to read. Many are surprised by my simple response: Help them develop a love of reading!
I first encourage parents to reflect on their child’s temperament (how they approach the world) before committing to one approach. For example, a child who is highly distractible or active may not sit to read multiple books with you, but listening to a story while playing allows a child to hear language and reap the benefits of reading.
A child with a short attention span will love reading familiar books, because they can start and stop while still knowing the main ideas of the story. Children with a structured temperament value a predictable bedtime routine, including reading favorite stories. Children with high intensity temperaments benefit from reading specific kinds of books such as “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst.
These types of books help them realize they are not the only one who feels intense emotions. Children who struggle with adapting to new situations can hold and read their “old favorites” to ease their stress. Children who are easily overstimulated benefit from bringing books to read in store checkout lines.
In addition to knowing a child’s temperament, Dr. Lillian Katz highlights four categories of learning: knowledge, such as identifying letters, sounds, skills like handwriting, cutting, dispositions like ‘habits of the mind’, and feelings of confidence, security.
Our efforts are often focused on teaching the knowledge and skills of reading in order to ensure they learn how to read. This can lead to giving a child worksheets or flash cards, because the rote skill and drill is thought to help them better remember the sounds and letters. These strategies are effective for those children whose temperament thrive with these tools. Some children, however, need a less structured approach as they learn to love reading first, which will naturally lead them to develop the knowledge and skills later.
For many kids, the play impulse is as strong as their desire for food or sleep. When reading is built into their play, it helps children develop that positive disposition for reading. Reading a book about a topic they are interested in also helps them see the purpose of books as well as how it can enhance their play. For example, reading about construction vehicles and then building one out of cardboard boxes will encourage children to find other topics they can research and extend their play. As children cook with you, finding recipes often leads to writing or dictating grocery lists which again reinforces the fun of reading.
As parents identify their child’s temperament and foster the creation of positive dispositions or habits in their children, they discover that their children are actually reading long before they know how to identify letters and words. Actively creating literacy-rich opportunities will help children see how reading is enjoyable, relevant, and applicable to their lives.
The views expressed in this column are my own and do not represent the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University, or its sponsoring institution.
For more information and resources, visit www.everydaylearners.org.