I’m originally from Missouri, the Show Me! state. I bring this up today because of my observation of how many parents and teachers, dedicated to helping children learn something, don’t really show their children how, why, when and where, to do things—from riding a bicycle to reading books.
They may explain things, tell things and expect things, but they don’t show things, not the way most children need to be shown, that models how to communicate what they see, feel and need.
Let’s take riding a bicycle. Children can watch folks riding a bicycle, but not really understand what they are supposed to notice that will help them ride a bicycle, like balancing, initiating a turn by leaning and stopping in a controlled way.
A new, popular way to teach children (and adults) how to ride a bike is to use a balance bike—a simple machine with only two wheels, a seat and a handlebar. No pedals or brakes. Such a bike allows a child’s feet to touch the ground, push off and glide. In about an hour, even tiny children can learn to ride. In my own neighborhood, I’ve seen 3 year olds zooming down our quiet little street on one of these while their parents ride their BIG bikes alongside demonstrating and shouting out rules of the road and more: “Stay to the right side.” “Stop at the red STOP sign.” “Wait for me!”
Watching these bike riding lessons illustrate that good teaching is both Show and Tell. So, how might this work with teaching children to read and enjoy books? Parents, teachers, older siblings and other caring adults can:
- Show children beginner books that may offer some challenges, while still allowing their reading “feet” to touch the ground, helping them feel safe while still trying to read all on their own. Tell them a “just right” book is very personal, having nothing necessarily to do with age or grade level.
- Show them you read and do so for fun. Tell them about why reading is fun for you. Read with expression and emotion. Laugh out loud as you read to yourself. Oooo! and Ahhhh! when you are surprised or excited. Let tears well up in your eyes and roll down your cheeks when you read something sad.
- Show them how to read a picture book. Tell them about where to start reading the words, and how to use the words and pictures together. Use phrases like, “In this word/sentence/part the author says to me/us….” Or “See what the illustrator/photographer shows us here? That’s what the author meant when she said, …”
- Show them how to process an author’s words and ideas. Tell them when you are thinking about what those words and ideas mean to you.
- Show them where to go when they want to find a certain kind of book. Tell them how you make your way through a library or bookstore. Enlist them in the search for the next perfect book.
Once children learn about books with this type of support, reading will be just like riding a bicycle. They’ll never forget.