...of secondary importance is to prepare for being five. - Jim Trelease
Jim Trelease is the author of "The Read-Aloud Handbook" a book every entering Kindergartner's parent should read, because reading aloud to your children is the single most important activity to do with your child if you hope to help her develop her literacy skills. The revelation that comes with reading Jim Trelease's book though, is that reading aloud is a never-ending joy that you can share with your family forever. What I take from his quote, above, is that our preparation for the future comes primarily from taking joy in the present moment.
For all those anxious parents who push formal reading instruction on their children before they are developmentally ready for it may successfully eliminate the joy of reading from their children's experience, and actually inhibit their ability to be curious and enthusiastic about learning.
Mem Fox, that great children's author, was asked to be an artist in residence at a Middle School, and to help at-risk children attain grade-level literacy. She had all sorts of plans and activities in mind, but she started by reading aloud to the class. She chose a wonderful, absorbing and exciting novel, "The Indian in the Cupboard." As she read, she realized that everything she wanted to teach the class was contained perfectly in the pages of the novel. The novel made reading delicious, the students begged her to keep reading. The writing introduced new and challenging vocabulary, increasing the students understanding of words and syntax. The book is written elegantly, with lots of interesting metaphorical language. Metaphorical language helps children to use their higher order thinking skills to imagine, compare and contrast. The plot posed interesting ethical and moral questions, giving the students opportunities to reflect on the ethical and moral challenges in their own lives. The book taught the students concepts of writing, such as sequence, character, opinion, persuasion. Mem Fox writes of the experience in her book "Radical Reflections" saying she learned then that reading great literature was the best, most effective way to become literate.
All through our lives, we have the opportunity to grow and learn, and our ability to understand is supported not just by books, but by the people who love us. What a beautiful sensory memory we share when we remember a beloved adult reading to us: the sound of their voice, the feeling of their warm embrace, and their patience and joy as they explain things to us that we don't understand.
I read P.G. Wodehouse aloud to my husband, when we were dating, sparking our 30-year tradition of laughing and learning together. We read aloud to our children from their infancy onward. I remember helping my daughter to understand her high-school assignment as I read Huck Finn's father's rant aloud to her, making his dialect understandable through dramatic interpretation.
Our family has read and discussed poetry, history, biography, novels, philosophy and science together. Our conversations musing over the ideas of the great thinkers throughout all time have enriched us as much as parents, as it has our children.
Your child's developing literacy depends on your wise support through making available great literature, and making yourself available for joyful conversation and reflection. One important warning: NEVER make it a dull repetitive task! Follow your child's interest and attention closely. Reading catalogs is reading, and can spark a wonderful reflection on your family's personal economy.
It is also important to remember that becoming a successful reader may occur as early as age 3 (yes, Tom and Jack Ritt could read in the 3s!) and also as late as age 10. Reading earlier does not necessarily mean reading better. Whether you are blessed with an early or a late reader, be sure to continue to provide lots of opportunities to listen to books. Hearing books read aloud helps children read above their developmental stage, teaches them new vocabulary and concepts through context, and if you are doing the reading aloud to your child, it demonstrates your love and care for the gift that will become the joy of their intellect.
Lauriston T. Avery, Director
P.S. If you haven't read "The Piggy In The Puddle" to your child, go take it out of the library and read it soon!