Daily reading with children ensures that they develop a full and delightful culture of reading, setting the stage for them to become lifelong learners. But long-term learning is not just about reading. It is about all of literacy, reading and writing.
As adults, we can stimulate children’s interests, but kids are the ones who ultimately decide what to play with and how to play with it. Literacy development reflects this type of gentle collaboration between humans.
It is ideal for children entering pre-school or kindergarten to have begun taking the reins of their own educations by seeing adults as learning resources. Toddlers and preschoolers usually can’t read or write yet. Reading with young children offers them a vision of books and their wonders. Writing with them germinates creative communication. A first literacy lesson is to teach them that when they ask, we will read whatever they hand to us and write whatever they want to say. We thereby establish ourselves as resources in their journey into literacy.
But what should we do when a four year old brings us his older sister’s third-in-the-series Harry Potter book (or any other advanced-reader book) to read with him? After explaining that the book is part of a very, VERY long story, we should go ahead and read it with him until he decides he has had enough, then perhaps go back and read a more age-appropriate favorite.
This kind of ongoing interaction with youngsters helps establish that books come in all lengths and that there are just-right books for them to read on their own, AND that “just right” advances every day. In addition, it helps them begin to discriminate good book choices by looking at picture detail and text density to see what challenges each book offers.
The same is true for kids who are not ready to write yet. Family members should be prepared to act as children’s on-demand scribes. Of course, they will need to regularly see parents intently writing reminder notes to stick on the fridge, notes to teachers, sweet messages to put in older kids’ packed lunches and such…or better even, penning a note addressed to their preschooler. Something simple, “Daddy loves you!” would be a good choice.
From that they will learn that writing is, at its core, speech written down, just as they will learn from reading books that text converts to speech. Children also should be invited to communicate in both ways on their own—reading and writing, the bedrock concepts of literacy.
For these types of authentic lessons to sink in, all a child requires is a loved one’s commitment to showing them the awesome power of literacy, much encouragement and then celebrating her first steps toward mastery.
Teaching literacy is such a simple process and well worth the effort.