Many families honoring stay-at-home or safer-at-home orders during the current pandemic (and in times when we’re not homebound) are doing their best to keep their kiddos engaged in literacy through reading, writing and art. That single goal is a natural as these are the very top capabilities that children need throughout their lives. Indeed, it’s a lifelong process to learn these literacies.
Many teachers have received advanced training in optimal ways to develop proficiency in reading and writing. These professionals work hard to select literacy experiences not just for children to DO every aspect of reading and writing, but to LOVE reading and writing and art.
Generally, parents without advanced training in literacy pedagogy do whatever they can think of to support their children’s growth in literacy (e.g., read with their kids, talk about what they read, visit the local library or bookstore, participate in story times, etc.). Nearly all families can make a positive difference to nurture literacy growth in these small, but important ways.
Yet parents often feel unqualified and will ask things like, “What about phonics? Shouldn’t I be helping my child sound out words?”
A common misconception is that mastering phonics (or being able to sound out words) equates to mastering reading. While learning phonics is a necessary part of actual reading and writing, too much emphasis on phonics can actually cloud the immense value and enjoyment of literacy, especially for beginners.
Correctly used, phonics is a set of understandings about how to say letters and the speech sounds that letters cue for us as we engage with sentences and paragraphs and illustrations and all the rest, creating a personal understanding of the rich messages of authors. So, in actual reading, kids must work with their understandings of word meanings within a longer text. They must use phonics in spelling while writing texts for others to read.
Literacy for children includes many important dynamics, such as: using their basic understandings of the existing (or planned) communication’s intentions and content; understanding how to create and make sense of powerful sentences; and adopting and using new words and meanings they encounter.
There’s no need for families to be concerned or shy about doing things just right when supporting their children in their growing love for literacy. The love of reading, writing and books can be created by engaging with and discussing each of the above literacy dynamics during the joyful shared reading of books.
If parents do nothing else but cultivate children who are self-motivated, lovers of reading and writing, they can consider themselves successful teachers of literacy.