Thursday, June 15, 2006

Segalla: Nurture children with books

Children learn to love the sound of language before they even notice the printed words on a page. They coo or babble when you talk or sing to them, and as they grow, they quickly pick up the concepts and words they hear. Reading out loud with children is one of the most important activities for preparing them to succeed as readers and to succeed in school. Adults lay the foundation for reading every day, when they point out objects and describe what they are doing while dressing an infant, grocery shopping with a toddler, or cooking with a preschooler.

The first years of a child’s life are a crucial development period, and children who are nurtured and stimulated during these years are much more prepared for formal reading and math and are more likely to have the social skills they will need when it’s time for kindergarten.

By the time most children finish preschool, they have learned a lot about our language. For the past five years, they have watched, listened to, and interacted with adults and other children in many types of settings. Adults often think that children learn about reading in the elementary grades, but the truth is that many children already know a great deal about reading when they enter kindergarten because they have been read to from the time they were born!

Children who become good readers are those who have had many positive experiences with books during their early years, and the adults who care for them can give an invaluable gift by reading to -- and with -- children during their earliest years.

Children also like having some books of their own that they can read. Affordable used books can be found at yard sales, thrift stores, secondhand book stores, and public library book sales. Consider subscribing to a good children’s magazine -- children love having something come in the mail just for them! Show your excitement too. Ask your child to read to you, a younger child, or a grandparent and talk about what your child is reading. This will help them remember what is read.

It’s not just what you read to children, but how you read that matters. If adults rush through stories or read without enthusiasm, children quickly lose interest. Try to read with expression and use different voices for the characters. Read at a slower pace gives children time to take in what they hear, think it over, and imagine the people, places, and events in the story. It’s important to ask questions or make remarks that will prompt the child to think, express himself, or relate the story to their own experiences.

Remember, parents and teachers are partners in children’s learning. Parents and teachers may look at young children’s learning from different perspectives, but they share a common goal: making sure that children receive the best possible education. Mutual respect and communication between programs and families takes advantage of both perspectives: to provide children with the kind of care and education that will help them succeed. Today’s family members and teachers have many responsibilities and time constraints and it takes extra effort on both sides to build strong partnerships.

Many early childhood and kindergarten programs today are working hard to become more "family-friendly," providing newsletters to parents that focus on staff members and professional development, ensuring one positive phone call per child each semester, or even providing voice mail for parents to leave messages after working hours. Programs may demonstrate strengths in different ways, but working together with parents remains crucial. When teachers make the extra effort to include parents in program activities, and parents take the time to attend and participate, children benefit from the best possible learning experience. The most important thing is that teaching children about reading becomes an activity that brings children closer to the caring adults in their lives.


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