Sunday, November 24, 2013

Better Literacy? An Age Old Question

As parents and educators, we ask ourselves the question throughout our adult lives.  And if we had literacy problems as kids, we were highly aware of the problem but probably couldn't put a name to it.

When I was a new teacher of young children, my emphasis was on the ‘how-to’ part of the reading process.  It was more prescriptive driven that holistic.  By that I mean my aim was to make sure that my students could technically read, and I taught them the way I was schooled to do it.  And mercifully, most of them achieved.

But as I grew older and became a parent, a paradigm shift occurred within me. Teaching reading is not only a technical thing.  What I was neglecting was the heart of the matter.  Literacy is about love.  Love of the printed word.  Wonder at what happens when one opens a book.  Anticipation at what lies ahead.  How can we achieve that magic today?

Modeling the love of reading to our young ones is the most powerful emotional literacy tool we have. It’s good to have a group of age appropriate books readily available.  Try to locate them in a place of importance, by a sofa in the family room, in the bedroom or the kitchen.  That ‘pride of place’ will rub off on the kids!

When I taught pre-service teachers, I emphasized ‘reading the room.’  Do the same for your little ones.  Label their belongings, not just in their rooms but all over the house.  Alphabet magnets are wonderful, particularly at their reaching level.  Make your home one of written words.  The safety children (should) find there, coupled with the richness of words wherever they look will do wonders for making reading a skill, a skill that exudes warmth and coziness.  No room for failure in such an environment.

Let’s not forget the tools for writing and drawing.  Manipulating crayons, pencils and waterproof markers is crucial in learning to hold the tool properly.  Those squiggles soon turn into primitive letters which lead to the magic of words.  Their imaginations and creativity will take over, leading the way to literacy.

Illinois Reading Council Conference Logo
Be a teller of stories.  Nothing fascinates a child more than hearing their adult loved one talk about a time when s/he was not there.  Or a world the story teller is spinning.  Or an animal that talks.  Or…whatever.  Listening is part of literacy, and listening to a person they love and respect is the cherry on top!

These are but a few suggestions for turning your child’s fertile mind into a blooming garden.  It’s so easy, so nurturing, so crucial.  If we can put as much importance on the love of all things literacy as we do on sports, video games, and television, our children will be the winners.  And we will have been the ones to take them to such achievements.  That, of course, is the best gift we as caregivers and teachers can give to any youngster.  It will change their lives forever.

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