Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher. Interacting and reading with a child is crucial to development of many skills used throughout life.
Children are amazing. They are born with the innate capacity to learn from everything they feel, see and hear around them. Much like a tiny seed has the ability to become a beautiful plant if given the right conditions, children have unlimited potential if a solid foundation of literacy is laid– the earlier, the better.
For children to become successful in today’s society, they must be literate– able to read, comprehend and write. Children are ready to learn from the moment they are born with the first five years of life as the most crucial for establishing a foundation for future literacy. To achieve and develop fundamental language skills, children need interactions with adults, including being talked to and read to. Children naturally crave this contact. It is also during this time children become familiar with the connection between the spoken and written word. Family literacy activities are a primary part of the process, which optimally begins long before a child enters the formal educational system. Until the time children are old enough to enter the school system, usually around age five, their parents are the first and most influential teacher in their life. Children model themselves after the examples of what they see around them so that if their parents are readers who enjoy books and value education, the child will be a reader and have a more positive attitude toward school as well. Studies indicate the literacy level of parents especially that of the mother’s, directly influences a child’s literacy level and eventual educational attainment.
‘Three decades of research have shown that parental participation improves student learning. This is true whether the child is in preschool or the upper grades, whether the family is rich or poor, whether the parents finished high school.’ –Strong Families, Strong Schools, US Department of Education, 1994.
It is not difficult to encourage children to become readers. The natural curiosity of children will lead them in the right direction with the addition of a good parental example and by having reading materials readily available. By spending just a few minutes a day engaged in literacy-based activities, parents can instill a love of books and learning as well as create a time for bonding with their children. It doesn’t take specialized training or education for parents to begin the process of raising a reader.
Storytelling is a great way to interest younger children in reading and is one of the simplest activities to start with. Many believe that it takes a special talent to tell a story but by breaking the process down into the basic parts, storytelling can be done without expensive learning toys or any equipment for that matter. It only takes a bit of imagination and a dash of silliness and can be done anywhere and anytime a parent has a few moments to share. Telling and sharing stories with children will certainly entertain them but can also teach them traditions and values, facilitate healing, and give a sense of caring and security.
There are three basic parts to telling a story:
- Who is the main character? The hero or heroine can be a person or even an inanimate object.
- What is the situation or conflict? This can be funny or serious.
- How will the story end or the situation be resolved?
There are a couple of other types of stories that are simple to use as early literacy activities, building upon the three basic story parts. Family stories, usually about family gatherings, odd relatives and family foibles, can fascinate children especially when they describe funny moments when they were children or their parents were children. For example, stories can be told about the crazy things grandpa did to decorate the house for the holidays. This is a great way to relate family history to children.
Moral stories or parables are great ways to communicate family values, traditions and virtues while opening a dialogue with the child about caring, sharing, celebrating differences and a host of other values.
Some important points to remember about early literacy activities:
- Read to or with your child at least ten minutes per day. Reading aloud develops listening skills and provides bonding time for parent and child.
- Encourage curiosity. Discuss what you read with your child. Help your child understand the story. Ask him questions about the story. Answer questions.
- Give your child your undivided attention during this time. Turn off TV, radio and other distractions. Let the answering machine answer the telephone.
- If your child gets fussy, limit the reading time or pick another book. The idea is to keep the experience a pleasant one.
- Reinforce the value of your child and of reading. Let your child see you reading and writing. Give your child books as gifts. Reward reading-give stickers, incentives, commend your child for reading.
- Visit the library frequently with your family. Make an event out of it. Get your child his own library card. It’s free!
According to literacy experts, children exposed to a rich variety of literacy experiences at home are more likely to enter school ready to learn, read and write. Parents who have books in the home and read to their children raise children who are good readers and better students. Well-developed reading and writing skills are critical elements to a child’s future success in school and in life because they are the foundation upon which all other skills depend. Parents do not need to have years of schooling or specialized knowledge to contribute to the successful development of their child through simple literacy activities. All parents have something to contribute to the process and can make a positive difference in their child’s academic readiness and future success by instilling a love of reading and learning.