By Chrissy Khachane, Head of Lower School
There are some powerful moments that arise out of relationships children have with adults over the course of a lifetime. Fostering a love of reading is something that transcends generations and is one of our core values at Foote School.
Earlier this fall I had the pleasure of presenting to some of our visitors on Grandparents & Special Friends Day about the power of connecting around reading. Our conversation began with an overview of the elements we define as integral to helping our youngest learners begin the reading process. Elements such as phonemic awareness (the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds-phonemes—in spoken words); phonics (the relationship between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language); decoding (the process of translating print into speech by rapidly matching a letter or groups of letters to their sounds); and fluency (the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and expression) are explicitly taught to students in a way that supports individual development and provides consistency in the delivery of all skills across the curriculum.
We then explored how these key elements serve as a launching pad for other important areas of reading development, including comprehension, and how fluency impacts a child’s ability to understand a text. We know that when children read fluently, it means that instead of using brain power for decoding, they can turn their attention to the meaning of the text. Reading comprehension is the ability to process text, understand its meaning, and to integrate what the reader already knows. Comprehension is strengthened through strong vocabulary development, background knowledge, and working memory and attention.
There are a number of different strategies we teach that can (and should) be utilized at home and this is where we spent the bulk of our conversation.
- Read Alouds: Children are never too old to be read to. Reading aloud provides modeling for fluency, pacing, intonation, and builds vocabulary. Read alouds also provide an opportunity for discussing difficult issues and is a wonderful way to bond.
- Questioning: Questioning is a strategy readers use to engage with the text. As partners with children, adults can use questioning in order to activate prior knowledge, invite children to make inferences or predictions, summarize, and check for understanding.
- Selecting Appropriate Texts: Helping children select an appropriate text can be made easier at home by using two strategies:
- Consider the age of the protagonist - The simplest way to determine if the content is appropriate for a child is to look at the age of the main character. Once you know the age of the protagonist you can generally assume the content is appropriate for a child that age, one year younger, and one year older (for example, a book with a protagonist who is 7 would likely have content that is appropriate for a 6- to 8-year-old).
- 5-Finger Rule - The best way to determine if a text is the appropriate reading level for a child is to listen to them read a single (random) page from the book and count the number of miscues, or errors. If there are three or fewer errors the text is likely appropriate for them to read independently; however, if there are four errors the text is likely challenging for them to read without adult support. Five or more errors and the child should select a different book
Lastly, here are a few ideas for connecting and supporting a love of reading across generations:
- Start a Book Club
- Use FaceTime/Skype/Duo if distance is a factor
- Journal/email about reading (either reading the same story or simply sharing a reading experience)
- Read a series together
- Start a book swap amongst the entire family
- Read the “classics” together/share your favorite childhood stories
At the end of the day, any exchange that invites conversation and an opportunity to celebrate the experiences that come with reading make for an important part of nurturing and maintaining a love of reading.