I’ve been thinking lately about what it takes to raise a successful reader. My oldest daughter, now 12, was reading Boxcar Children when she entered Kindergarten. The reading specialist who tested her reading level was amazed at her ability to read with expression.
My middle child, also a girl, was reading before she entered school, but not at the same level as her big sister. Her reading abilities took off in 3rd grade and now (in 4th grade), she is clearly an advanced reader.
My youngest, an 8 year old boy, wasn’t reading when he entered school. Now in 2nd grade, he is making quick gains and has just recently started reading for long periods of time without being prompted by mom. Watching him read for fun and learning brings much joy to this mama’s heart!
The difference? Of course, genetics and individualized personalities, but I’m also convinced that the main thing that made a tremendous impact on my oldest daughter’s development was this: 2 books and 2 songs at every single naptime and bedtime. Our tradition was for us each to choose a song and a book.
I read and sang with all of my children, but not with the consistency that I did with my oldest. This is what it takes to raise a reader: consistent modeling by a fluent reader, the resulting discussions that build comprehension and schema, and the fun of playing with language throughout the day (rhyming, alliteration, and more). That “playing with language” bit — which results in phonological awareness — is easy to accomplish for most children by simply reading high quality books and by singing with your child!
The “secret” ingredient for reading success isn’t really a secret at all. It’s the development of phonological awareness.
[box] Phonological awareness is the understanding that spoken words are made up of individual sounds. These sounds can be pulled apart and blended back together again or manipulated to create new words.[/box]
For approximately two-thirds of all children, phonological awareness and the ability to read develops by osmosis. Kids are exposed to books, modeling of fluent reading, lots of rhyming and “word play” and they start to read, almost as if by magic — or so it seems.
But, what about those kids who won’t sit still while a parent or caregiver reads a book? What about those kids who have frequent ear infections and are not hearing a clear signal? What about kids on the autism spectrum who are often so focused on the visual images that their brains don’t process the auditory input.
In many situations, kids that will not sit still for a book to be read out loud to them will sit for the duration of a book that is put to music. Start with a recording as these kids will often respond to the consistent structure of a defined beginning and end.
After this becomes part of your daily routine, try the same book sung without the recording. Introduce more music-based books, some with recorded music and some sung a cappella. This is a HUGE step in the right direction, but is often not enough for development of phonological awareness.
For these reluctant readers, the skill of phonological awareness often needs to be explicitly taught in a step-by-step concrete manner. That is the topic of Alphabet Stew and Chocolate Too: Songs for Developing Literacy, Phonological Awareness, and Communication Skills available here. This book includes 70 songs, intervention ideas, and visuals for teaching the following skills:
- left to right directionality
- sound matching
- segmentation and blending
- sight words
- reading comprehension
If you have a child or client who is a struggling reader, the interventions in this book may be the “secret ingredient” you need to give the gift of literacy to all children.