Reading is important. Reading is essential. Reading is critical to success in school and life. So how can we ensure that our toddlers will become readers? Good readers- not reluctant readers who will have to take remedial reading lessons.
The answer is frustratingly simple: READ! Read books, magazines, pamphlets, billboards, traffic signs, and television ads. Anything and everything. Tell them what you are doing. Show them what you are doing. If you are cooking with a recipe, make sure they see it. If you are assembling a new purchase from the instruction sheet, make sure they know this.
Reading is what I call seeing with understanding. You see the maple tree. You see the funny looking maple keys flying through the air. When you understand that the little key is the beginning of a new tree, you have read.
Next, read to them. Show them the words you are reading. Teach them the alphabet- first the song and then the letters. Print their name on as many things as you can. Have them read their name and identify their letters. When you are driving, have them look for their letters. As soon as they can colour, put their name on every work of art. When they can, let them put the letters on the page. Teach them rhymes and songs, then show them the words.
And a hundred other activities.
It has been said that one of the greatest feats of childhood is learning one’s language. The irony is we cannot explain how it is done. How many words do parents speak before they get that first precious one back?
Reading is no different. My research and experience has taught me that there is no single correct method of teaching reading that works for all children. However, patience and constant enjoyable reading experiences work for all children. The nature of those exposures to language differ infinitely.
My first born son learned to read in predictable progressive stages. He would point at words as he was read the bedtime stories. He would call out letters from the back seat of the car. Soon he was pointing out words he recognized from those books that we read over and over. “One more story, please” was his bedtime mantra.
Son number two seemingly had little interest in the words and sometimes the stories. He would be doing calisthenics during bedtime stories. Skip a page however, and he would make you go back. The games and activities that fascinated his brother had little interest for him.
Half way through his year in kindergarten (that is senior kindergarten now- it was the only one at the time) he announced at the dinner table that he could now read. Amused, we gave him one of his favourite Robert Munsch books and he read it cover to cover by himself. I then gave him another book by the same author that he had never seen. He read that one too!
Two sons, same genes, two divergent reading and learning styles. The only commonality was the amount of time their mother and I had invested in reading to them. They knew that reading was important to mom and dad. So they accepted that it was important for them.
Brian Barron is a retired teacher/administrator. He taught for 36 years before retiring to take care of his grandchildren. When not with the kids he is still teaching occasionally and is deeply involved in Mad Science (teaching Science wonder to young children). His career spanned 15 years in the elementary system and 21 in the secondary. He has two sons and a daughter-in-law who are all teachers.