For Parents

Read This! “Appropriate” books?

May 27, 2015

Recently, I’ve had many conversations with people about whether or not children should be reading books written for an older audience. Authors and publishing houses categorize children’s books into several age groups: Board books (0–2), picture books (2–6), early readers and chapter books (6–9), middle grade (8–12), and young adult (13–19). Books in each category differ in several important ways, including reading difficulty, length of text, sophistication of vocabulary, and, most important, the content or subject matter. This last one, I believe, is where the real conversation lies.

I’ve been teaching K-12 children for more than two decades, and in that time I have seen the type of books available to children change perceptibly. Media in general has changed significantly. Children are being exposed to more graphic and mature visuals, language, and subject matter than they were in the past century (“past century”? That makes me sound really old), and it is having an effect on them; what kind of effect is for you to decide. When I heard a few years back that parents were taking their 6- and 7-year-old children to see The Hunger Games (based on the book written for young adults about a society in which the government has forced teenagers to fight each other to the death), I realized something seriously strange and disturbing was going on.

What happened to childhood? Remember that time when all the world was magical and good and safe, and imagination was the name of the game? Doesn’t that sound to you like what you want for your child? Do we really want our 6-year-olds watching movies and rearing books about kids who purposefully and violently kill each other?

One argument I have heard in favor of allowing children to read anything they want, regardless of the intended audience, is that they will inherently know what they can handle and what they cannot; that they will skip over disturbing parts, put the book down, or simply read on and not fully understand the content. I can respect that school of thought for some children and for some books. However, not all children can do this. And the maturity level of some books is not immediately obvious to a child. This is where free rein on reading concerns me.

Children like limits. This is one of the golden rules a rookie teacher eventually learns. It feels counterintuitive, especially to young teachers, but limits keep children feeling safe and cared-for. In spite of our very best intentions of wanting them to have choice in their lives and to be able to make their own decisions, children’s brains are not fully developed, and many of those decisions are beyond their ability developmentally. Imagine expecting a toddler to tell you exactly what he’d like to eat for dinner, how he’d like it prepared, and what time he’d like it served: Not very realistic.

Parents and teachers are guides. We are here to help children navigate their world in a safe and loving way, encouraging curiosity and learning while being careful not to expose them to so much in the world at once that it will cause undue stress, fear, and discomfort.

Here’s my bottom line. There are hundreds of thousands of wonderful books in the world written with your child in mind, for his age, for her developmental stage, and for his interests. Please consider offering those books to your child. Here’s the other important part. The other books — the ones intended for an older audience — will always be there. They’re not going anywhere, and there is absolutely no rush for children to read them until they (and you) are ready. Once they’ve read books beyond their years, it gets harder and harder for them to maintain interest in books written for them. Do we really want our children to grow up that fast? Enjoy every moment, because once childhood is over, there’s no going back.

Ultimately, as parents, we need to decide what is best for our own children. And it’s always good to have as much information as we can before making those decisions. Whatever you decide, conversation with your children about reading material is a wonderful way to build a relationship, trust, and lifelong learning. Read on!

Read This! Celebrate Poetry Month

April 30, 2015

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Anyone can write poetry

You, and your kids, too!

She sells seashells at the seashore, and Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, There was an old woman from Nantucket, and What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. What do these all have in common? They are fun, and beautiful to say. And oh, by the way, they are poetry. Quite a variety.

Poetry is one of those things that conjure myriad reactions from young and old — groans to swoons and everything in between. Children and adults alike may want to run far, far away when they hear the word poetry. They may be lulled into a peaceful, pensive place, or they may roll over laughing. I like to think it’s one part exposure, one part attitude, and one part knowing which poets to read. Being told they’re going to study poetry for a month doesn’t necessarily invite oohs and ahhs from kids, but making poetry a regular part of your life might get them to perk up when they hear the word poetry. By introducing children (and adults) to a wide variety of poetry, you increase your chances of them hearing something that they can glom onto and then, voilà — they’re hooked. You never know until you try, right?

Have you ever been to an art gallery and seen a patron deep in thought as they look at (what to the untrained eye is) a blank canvas with a dot in the middle or a stripe brushed across, and thought, “Huh? I don’t get it. Looks like a dot to me.” My apologies to the visual artists out there. The point is, visual and word art (i.e. poetry) is subjective. Anyone can do it, and anyone can appreciate what has been created. Poems are expressions of ourselves, of how we see the world, and can be playful, serious, thought-provoking, or downright odd.

I see poetry as a painting with words. It captures the beautiful, strange, ridiculous, and poignant. There are as many forms of poetry as there are color combinations in a painter’s palette, from seemingly simple haiku (three lines of five, seven, and five syllables) to Shakespearean sonnets to Shel Silverstein’s romping poems.

How might this look like in your home? For young children, rhyming and humor are usually a big hit. Say a silly sentence, and have your child add another, rhyming with the first. For the nature lovers and scientists, take turns making haikus. For the older and spirited, try an (appropriate) limerick. My husband and all of his family members seem to have a gene for the latter type of poetry, and you can be sure that someone will have written a limerick for every birthday, wedding, anniversary, or other milestone celebration.

Read a poem a night at dinner. Invite your kids to share their favorite. Make this easier by getting poetry books from the library in a variety of styles. A few modern-day poets for children of all ages that I recommend include Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Robert Frost, Nikki Giovanni, Nikki Grimes, Sharon Creech (one of many authors that have written novels in verse that even the most reluctant readers love), Lee Bennett Hopkins, Bruce Lansky, Walter Dean Myers, Linda Sue Park, and Billy Collins, and don’t leave out “Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carroll — talk about fun to read and hear. This is far from being an inclusive list, but it’s a good place to start. Who knows? Maybe your child will be the one requesting particular poets.

Spring is the perfect time to embrace something new and different. Life is blooming and growing all around us. Grab a poem, and feel the fresh air.

Read this! Dads this one’s for you.

March 26, 2015

–Drawing by Heather Goff/Daily Sketches

Are you a dad who reads with your child? If so, three cheers! If not, today is the day to start. Don’t delay any longer. And if you think there are plenty of other people to read with your child, that your role isn’t important, or you don’t know what to do … please, read this column.

Some men are less likely to read with their children because of work issues, cultural expectations, a perception that women are better at it, a lack of enjoyment reading, or not knowing what they can do. If more men knew how much impact their interactions with their children had on their children’s development, I might not be writing this article.

Fathers who are active in their child’s literacy experiences are giving their children a huge leg up in life. A few of the many benefits for children include higher cognitive skills, stronger peer relationships, greater self-confidence and self-esteem, more proficient reading, and commendable behavior at school. All of this from you reading with them? You bet.

There are certainly plenty of men who get involved in their children’s literacy, and I’m happy to know many. Jonah Maidoff is one. Teacher, actor, and dad to a teenager and college student, he says, “We talk about what we’re reading. We listen to NPR together when cooking and driving to school. There’s a strong language component there, so the level of discussion is more nuanced, and they’ve always asked about the meanings of words heard.”

Calder Martin is another. A calculus teacher and dad of a first grader, he says, “I need books to be more interesting than easy stories, otherwise I get bored. I read more advanced books to my daughter, like Greek mythology, where I can animate the reading because the words make an impression on your mind.” These men, and many others, can serve as role models and supports to male friends who are reading this and wondering how in the world to get involved. Hear that, reader dads? Talk to your buddies. Invite them and their kids on a weekly or monthly library trip with you and your kids. Camp out in your backyard and tell stories while the kids huddle around the fire. Invite a friend and his kids to make a movie with you and your kids.

If you’re a dad with teen children, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s too late to get involved. As much as their words and actions can say otherwise, teenagers are seeking your guidance in much of what they do and how they are as individuals in the world. They need you in all aspects of their life, including literacy. What might that look like with teens? Find out what they’re reading. Get the same book (audiobooks are a great option, too, especially if you don’t love to read), and talk about it at dinner or in the car. While discussing literature, you’re also showing your children that what they are interested in matters to you and has value. Tell them stories about your childhood. Choose a project to make together (e.g. a robot, go-cart, trebuchet), and read a manual or tips online about it. Create a Jeopardy game on a topic you both enjoy — sports, movies, art, etc. Design a web site or blog together.

Choose your ideal time — early morning, evenings, or weekends — and set it aside each day or week to get involved. If you’re not with your child every day, consider a weekly phone call, Skype or FaceTime for reading aloud, or record yourself on a podcast and send the link. Choose joke books, the sports page, magazines, poetry, road signs, ingredients lists, web sites, science fiction, and more. Our children are only young once. This is our chance to make the biggest impact.

Check out Jim Trelease’s well-known Read-Aloud Handbook, now in its seventh edition, and, both terrific resources, chock-full of ideas and book lists.

Let’s hear it for the men!

Read this! The worth of words

February 2, 2015

When I read that Merriam-Webster decided to print its next edition online and not in print, I felt a tragic loss. My dictionary is irreplaceable. Lara O’Brien, local children’s author, concurs: “My most important book in the house is the dictionary. [My children] see me use it every day. That is the tool to capture the most beautiful of words, and discover something new every time. Just opening that book creates imaginative and magical thoughts, and then ideas begin to sprout.”

Choosing the right word for any situation cannot be pooh-poohed. Mark Twain famously wrote, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

On a whole, it seems our society has lost a love of words and the nuances of language. In my childhood, words like “crap” and “sucks” were profanity, yet today they’re used ad nauseam. Even typing them now makes me cringe. I once heard a group facilitator remind everyone to “choose your finest words.” Wiser words were never spoken.

In spite of the onslaught of technological ways to “connect” with people, the success of communication (in writing and speaking) rests on the speaker’s ability to effectively convey exactly what he means, believes, and feels, with clarity and precision. Noah Webster, the founder of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, said, “Language is the expression of ideas.”

If you instill in your children a love of words, you are giving them a lifelong gift. Whether they are poets, chatterboxes, introverts, or computer techs, words connect us to others in ways that nothing else can.

There are myriad ways to accomplish this, including playing Scrabble and Boggle, doing crossword puzzles together (even young children can help provide answers to easier clues), Mad Libs, hangman, anagrams, the dictionary game, and word-puzzle books.

If you’re not the game-playing type, there are many more ways to instill a love of words and build your child’s vocabulary. Be daring and try this. Next time your child says “crap” or “sucks,” for example, ask what other word he could use. Gently and gradually encourage your child to choose interesting words over those less rich. Give him suggestions, and see if he uses them later on.

Some teachers post an R.I.P. poster in their classrooms. Dull, overused words like “fun,” “nice,” and “awesome” meet their demise here. Students are challenged to substitute for these mundane words with far more vivid and luscious ones. While you don’t have to make a poster, you can try the same idea at home, informally.

Introduce a new word each day at mealtime: “Hey, I heard a cool word today.” Talk about its meaning. Ask your children if they heard any new words that day. Celebrate words! Make a list of fascinating words from books read, and post it on the refrigerator.

West Tisbury poet laureate Justen Ahren shares the physicality of words with his children. “I try to give my kids a sense of the power of language. Take time to comment on word choices. And because kids are so body-oriented, I like to have them repeat sounds so they get a feeling for where and how the word is produced. The word ‘howl,’ for example, comes out of the throat and is funneled out through the coned lips much like a wolf. You almost need to tip your head back to produce the sound. Words are magic — incantations, really.”

Some things, like fine wine and local beach plum jelly, should be preserved. Words, too. To be understood and to understand necessitates a solid grasp of words and their impact.

Words represent our essence. Model this for your children, and help them learn how to use words as a tool for life. They, and their words, are worth it!

READ THIS! Make it HOT all the way

 Nov 24, 2014

Your child comes home from school. “Did you have a good day?” “How was your day?” “What did you do today?” The answers, in order? Yes or no. Fine. Nothing. However, “Tell me about your day” often elicits a full sentence and, if we’re lucky, a short conversation. What does this have to do with reading? A lot: The types of questions we ask our children before, while, and after they read or engage in an activity can lead to deeper comprehension (and more interesting conversation).

It’s relatively easy to understand and memorize information. It’s a different ball of wax to apply that understanding to new scenarios, analyze the information, evaluate it to justify a course of action, and create new ideas or perspectives from information gained. This is called higher-order thinking, or HOT, and it’s a very useful tool for nurturing complex thinkers.

Picture this: Your child finishes listening to or reading a book, and you ask, “Did you like it?” She says “Yes” or “No.” Do you have evidence that your child has digested the meaning, theme, language, or nuances? To do that, a better question might be, “If you were Cinderella, what would you do?” Or try this one on for size. “If Cinderella grew up in a loving family, how would her story be different?” Get my drift? The idea is to dive below the surface to elicit deeper thinking.

HOT is for children of all ages. A kindergartner’s eyes would glaze over if asked to justify the merits or pitfalls of wind turbines in our coastal waters, but she would happily respond if asked to explain why it’s OK for Cinderella to be the new princess, even though her family didn’t give her permission to go to the ball. You’re a natural teacher here. You can adjust questions to the age of your children.

After your child has learned a math concept or read a book, for example, a few more sample questions are, “Would you explain that (or show me) in another way?” “What are some ways you would solve that problem?” “Why did he act that way?” or “What do you think will happen next?” The possibilities are endless.

Dare I say you can even encourage HOT with children who enjoy video games? Instead of feeling dismayed at the lack of interaction, ratchet it up a notch. Ask your children HOT questions about the games they are playing. You might start a conversation with, “What are the flaws in this game? If you were to re-create the game, what would you change, and why?” Or try this: “What problems did you solve in your game today, and how did you do it?” If you’re not a gamer, like me, this could be a tough one to buy. You might be surprised, though, at the level of thinking he puts into the games, and his eyes may light up at your sudden interest. When I asked my son these questions, the conversation lasted the length of dinnertime! Using HOT may help you sleep better, knowing your child is actually applying problem-solving strategies and analytical reasoning when gaming!

Back to the eye on the prize, though. Before we can learn new ideas, we have to connect them to the ones we already have. In order to do that, we have to understand them at a level higher than memorization of facts or rote learning. We have to own the ideas by applying, evaluating, and synthesizing them. While these are not easy skills to learn, with practice every child can learn them from an early age. We have to intentionally activate their higher-order thinking with our own open-ended questioning, without worrying about “right” answers. HOT requires some risk taking, problem solving, and strategy building. We have to fail many times before we get it. It’s our job to encourage critical thinking and exploration of ideas and concepts.

It may be chilly outside, but when it comes to reading comprehension, remember to make it HOT all the way!

Read this! Writing the College Application Essay

October 29, 2014

Let’s face it. Childhood isn’t long enough. One minute you’re changing diapers and the next you’re helping your high schooler fill out college applications. What happened in between lies the goodie bag of material for writing the college application essay. But how to make the essay stand out amongst thousands of others? If you consider what follows, your teen will have a chance of making a half-asleep, glassy-eyed admissions officer perk up and say, “Eureka! Now here’s someone interesting.” Perhaps post those words on neon paper and tape them to your teen’s computer, because this reaction is their ultimate goal.

Since application deadlines are nearing, your teen should already have started the essay, if not completed several drafts. Notice I say several. Yes, this takes time, persistence, and many attempts. There should be no question that your teen knows the basics of essay writing. Forget all of that (mostly). The real question is, do they know what makes writing worth reading?

Ask them now. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Here’s what I’d say to them next. Think of your favorite books. Write down the five qualities each book had that kept you up at night reading. Perhaps they inspired you, made you laugh, cry, contemplate and wonder, and feel a kinship with the characters. You’re not alone. Good writers, and writing worth reading, make the reader feel like he is right there, rooting

for the main character. In this case, YOU are the main character!

What you’re after is having the admissions officer read your good writing and say, “This young man (or woman) would add to our school community.” He’ll say this because you inspired him, made him laugh, cry, contemplate and wonder, feel connected or, if you’re really good, all of the above. Think compelling.

Imagine you are the person reading it and deciding if the person who wrote it is someone you would want to meet. Step outside yourself. Write about an experience that shows (not tells) a strong sense of who you are, what is special about you, your passions, and the impact you have had on another person or group of people. What is your background? Is your family from another country? Do you speak multiple languages? What are your family economics? Have you had to work to help the family? Is religion a big part of your life? Is there something unique about your neighborhood? Two people faced with the same circumstances will respond and react very differently. Show how you did and how that made you grow or change. Imagine looking through a microscope. Zoom in and out again.

Bring yourself to life. Talk to the reader. Let your voice shine through. Rehearse it orally first. Use metaphors, comparing your life to something


This essay is not the place to list, or elaborate on, a long string of accomplishments, activities, and accolades. Those are listed elsewhere in the application. And remember: this is not a standard five-paragraph essay. This is a personal essay; a story about you. Your story should include an enticing hook, a build-up of the character (you), a struggle or problem faced, and what life lessons you learned that helped you grow and change.

Oh yes, and don’t forget those pesky little things like proofreading. There’s nothing worse than a beautiful piece of writing peppered with typos and errors in grammar or spelling. Be fastidious.

Dear parents and high school seniors, I wish you the best of luck in this next chapter of your lives (though if done well, there’s no luck in the selection of a stellar application). When those acceptance letters start rolling in next spring, let’s hear from you. Your writing will obviously be worth reading.

The common application essay questions can be found at For an in-depth treatment of this topic, I highly recommend How to Prepare a Standout College Application: Expert Advice that Takes You from LMO* (*Like Many

Others) to Admit by Alison Cooper Chisolm and Anna Ivey.


October 17, 2014  First article in READ THIS! series – a local newspaper column I write for parents with tips and resources for helping their children develop strong literacy skills. Please check back each month as I add each new article.

Read This! How to get your kids to read at home Oct 1, 2014

Month one: Kindergartners.

It’s back to school! Spiffy outfits, a new backpack, sharpened pencils — the excitement of starting fresh and learning more. There’s nothing like it. So what can you do to help your newborn through high schooler develop a strong, lifelong love of literacy and the skills that go with it? Each month I will share tips and resources, and in honor of the first month of school we’ll start with those bright-eyed kindergartners.

Everything you have said and done with your child up to now has laid the foundation for future learning. But if you’re like many parents, you may be thinking, “I’m not a teacher. I don’t know what else to do.” Guess what? You are a teacher — your child’s first and best. So let’s talk about some of the key activities, or prereading skills, that help a child learn how to read and write. Most everything can be done in playful ways while you’re driving, cooking dinner, or giving your child a bath.

It’s rhyme time … Nothing beats Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, and songs like Twinkle, Twinkle. Read them, clap them, sing them, drum to their beats. Make up sentences, like “The frog sat on the _____.” If your child isn’t sure of the missing rhyme, give suggestions: “Does cat rhyme with frog? How about log?” until he comes up with these on his own.

Wordplay is a hoot! Experiment with changing up sounds in words. Bag, bun, andbat begin with b. Now change the b to another letter, and see how many new and silly words you can make (rag, run, rat;tag, tun, tat, etc.). Remember “Cindy, Cindy bo-bindy, bananafana fo-findy. Fe fi fo-findy. Cindy”? It’s a perfect example of playing with sounds. Try it with your child’s name and the names of everyone in your family. Young children need plentiful opportunities to hear and manipulate letter and syllable sounds.

Now for the alphabet. Plaster your house with letters. Write the alphabet on strips of paper and tape them to a wall, the refrigerator, or a crafts table so your child sees letters everywhere. Put magnetic letters on the fridge. Write letters on index cards to play Concentration (AKA Memory). Make letters with Play-Doh, glue and glitter on paper, dough, finger paint, or anything your child can safely put her hands on and into. Touching, forming and saying letters will deepen her learning. Start with the ones in her name. Sing them, sing the ABC song, make an alphabet book about your child or your family with a photograph or picture on each page.

Next up, writing. Let your child see you write, and ask him for help. Letters to Grandma, shopping lists, menus for a pretend restaurant, or label objects in the house. Can’t read what he wrote? No problem. “What a beautiful shopping list. Would you read it to me, please?” Now your child is making the connection between print and spoken words. He’s on his way!

Words, words, words: Did you know that just by your talking with your child she can learn nearly one thousand new words in a year? So go ahead and narrate your day! Here’s what it might sound like in the supermarket. “Let’s get a carriage to carry our groceries. Would you like to push it? First on our shopping list is pineapple. It’s in the produce aisle.” You might be amazed at fellow shoppers smiling when they hear your child pipe up, “What other produce do we need in this aisle?” The next best word time is when reading books together and telling stories at bedtime or on car rides.

The impact of your involvement in your child’s literacy development cannot be underestimated. Learning to read and write starts well before a child goes to school. Engage in conversation. Model being a patient and active listener, ask open-ended questions, and explain the meaning of new words you use. Write together.

Most important, read to your child 10 to 15 minutes every day, while dinner is cooking, waiting in the doctor’s office, or at bedtime snuggled up together. With him close to you, he experiences reading as a warm, loving, positive thing. Ask him to turn pages, guess what’s going to happen next, finish sentences that rhyme or fill in a word he knows, ask her to point to a letter she’s learning, use silly voices once in a while when reading, and substitute your child’s name for the main character. Learning to read goes well beyond books, too. Street signs, license plates, money, cereal boxes, store signs, food labels, sorting mail — engage your child by reading all around. Look for letters everywhere you go! Let your child see you reading, too!

A few favorite books to share with your new kindergartner are The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, Cool Dog, School Dog by Deborah Heiligman, I Dont Want to Go to School!by Stephanie Blake, Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate, andKindergarten Rocks! by Katie Davis. Your local librarian is ready and waiting to help you find books for your children.

If you gravitate toward online educational web sites, I always (Between the Lions) for games, stories, and more. While there are a growing number of apps and Internet games marketed as learning tools, remember that there is no substitution for interaction with you. And it’s free!

Children’s author Emilie Buchwald said it all: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Happy learning, kindergartners and parents! It’s an exciting and precious journey.

Up next month: Writing the college application essay.

June 2014  Ten Reasons Why Reading to Your Children Is SO Important

Reading to your children is perhaps THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT gift you can give them in their development as readers and writers. AND, do not think for a minute that I’m only talking to those of you with babies, toddlers and children just entering school. KEEP READING THROUGHOUT THEIR CHILDHOOD AND INTO TEEN YEARS. You might think this is a crazy idea, but believe me, it is the truth. I am in my 20th year of teaching – the latter 10 of those as a reading teacher. I can tell you from experience (but I’ll also give you a few studies to peruse -there are 100s of them) that the children who come from homes with a collection of books for them, parents that read to them on a regular basis, and/or parents that make regular trips to the library with their children…are the children that are READERS.

So WHY is this so important? Here are 10 reasons. (I could give you more, but here’s a taste and you can contact me if you want “the long” list.)

  1. Kids love it.
  2. Snuggling with a parent while he or she reads to a child gives the child a warm, positive association with reading.
  3. It sparks a child’s imagination.
  4. The sound of your voice models reading expression, pace, tone, and rhythm.
  5. It increases a child’s vocabulary exponentially.
  6. You are modeling that you value reading, and your child will want to emulate you. This is especially true and important for dads (and grandads, older brothers, uncles, etc.)
  7. In this age of technology, it is one of the quickest and easiest ways to connect with your child uninterrupted.They crave your undivided attention (and, especially as they get older, you probably crave theirs, too!)
  8. Reading aloud gives you a chance to have in-depth, interesting conversations with your children, regardless of their age.
  9. For young children, you are introducing them to the sounds of words and letters, rhythms of words and sentences, playfulness of language, and getting them ready to be readers.
  10. For older children, you are instilling in them a lifelong love of the written word – whether they enjoy reading for pleasure, work, learning, or any number of creative endeavors.

A note about summer reading. The number one excuse I never accept from a student is, “I don’t have time to read.” Balderdash. My response is, “Do you have 5 minutes to relax in bed before turning out the light? Do you have time to play video/electronic games? Do you have times when you say to your parents, ‘I’m bored’?” EVERYONE has time to read. We choose how we spend our time, and reading should be a choice at the top of the list. THIS INCLUDES SUMMER READING. Gobs and gobs of studies show that children that read (or are read to) over the summer maintain or progress in the learning they acquired in the previous school year. Guess what the converse of that is? You guessed it. Studies show that children who do not read (or who are not read to) during the summer lose critical skills learned and have to spend the first few months of the following school year catching up. Some never catch up.


Number of words heard at home per hour by 1- and 2-year-olds learning to talk:

low-income child


middle-income child


high-income child


Number of words heard by age 3:

low-income child

10 million

middle-income child

20 million

high-income child

30 million

Source: Hart & Risley, 1995. Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young Children

What do you love about reading to your child? What gets in your way of reading to your child? What are some of your favorite books to read aloud? Do you need suggestions for great read aloud books? Let’s hear from you!

JUNE 13, 2014

Do you know your local children’s librarian? If not, they are invaluable resources. I adore mine. She gave me this article about what you can do with your children BEFORE they learn to read to get them READY to read. Let me know how it’s going!

Reading Every Day

Parents today can feel a lot of pressure when it comes to reading. They know that children need to read well to succeed in school, thrive in a workforce changing so fast that all workers need to be learners, and to get the most out of their lives. Parents also know that their children will be tested early and often on reading skills. That has many parents wondering how to teach their children to read. But that isn’t really the question. Learning to read is actually a one-time process most kids accomplish in just a few years in school. But learning to read doesn’t do any good if the child doesn’t put that skill to use. The better question is, what can I do now to ensure my child will be a better reader later?

A child needs to learn more than how to sound out the word “alligator.” He needs to know what an alligator is. It doesn’t help to be able to read a sentence if she doesn’t understand it. One of the main things that separates successful readers from struggling readers is the number of words they hear and say, even before they reach school. So make sure your child hears and says as many words as possible. You can do this by thinking about the things you do every day, and how you can add to the number of words you use.

Start with the way you talk with your child. Try narrating your day. Imagine you are a radio announcer describing everything you do. It may feel funny to you, but the funnier it seems to your child, the more engaged he will be. If she doesn’t talk yet, look her in the eye and speak to her, then pause and wait for a response. Even if all you get is a gurgle, you are teaching your child that speaking is a give and take. If your child is beginning to speak, then take every opportunity to build on his language. If your child speaks in broken phrases, repeat what he says back in full sentences. Repeat back the words he says with descriptive and comparison words. Cookie? You want a cookie? This brown cookie?  This round, brown cookie?

Singing builds language skills by slowing down language, repeating words and phrases and introducing new words you might not use when you speak. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t a trained opera star; children’s senses are not fully developed yet, and they will be interested in listening to you. Get them singing with you, and you double the effect.

Playing is important for building the background children need to understand language. Children explore their world through play. Engage your child in talking about what she is playing and introduce new words for the ones she already knows. Take field trips to expand language even more. The zoo, museums, parks… take your child with you when you get your oil changed.

Of course, the best way to introduce new words to children is to read to them. If you think you read to your child enough, double the time you spend. It is well worth the investment. Don’t hesitate to read the same books over and over. Repetition builds vocabulary and grammar. Don’t have the time to read to your child three, four, or even five hours a day? Audiobooks are a great way to fill the gap.

How long do you have to do these things? You can probably stop thinking about adding words to your child’s world about the time he moves out. Learning to read is a one-time, short-term task. Becoming a reader is a life-long pursuit.

Michael Sullivan’s new book, Raising Boy Readers, is due to be released in November.



One thought on “For Parents

  1. Pingback: A Change of Scenery Will Do You Good | Deb Dunn and Life's Lessons

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