How to Read to Your Child (And Why Dads Should Do It)
Once upon a time, most people were illiterate- but these days it’s a skill everyone deserves to learn. Not everyone does though, and certainly not always to a standard required by everyday life.
In Australia, where I live, and where I assumed most adults could read and write competently, roughly 44% struggle with daily reading.
In America, a staggering 54% of adults read below the equivalent of sixth-grade.
Globally, over 750 million adults are deemed illiterate, and it’s estimated to cost the economy US $1.19 trillion each year…
Honestly, I have never had problems reading, and I guess that’s part of my ignorance of the problem- it’s never been something I’ve been aware of. The statistics says that nearly half of the people I went through school with were struggling to learn to read, and fell behind.
And once you fall behind, chances are, you stay behind.
Adults who struggle to read feel embarrassed and programs to help are few and far between. It can take 10–15 years of daily struggle before an adult brings themself to find help.
That Means It’s Super Important to Help Your Child Learn to Read
Learning to read doesn’t start when your child heads off to the first year of school and starts breaking words up, sounding them out, putting them together again and recognising their meaning.
It starts before they’ve even turned one.
The brain of a baby is developing at an astonishing rate, and it has so much to absorb, process, and learn. Research shows that when a baby is read to, they increase their understanding of language faster than babies who miss out.
Books- full of pictures, words, rhymes, songs, and bonding time with someone special, provides the mind of an infant with a huge amount of learning. And it’s all learning that is necessary before they can even start to recognise the marks on a page make letters, which make up words.
Reading at 0–2 years
- Nursery rhymes are fantastic. Your baby can hear your voice change speed, tone, and even the similarities between words. They’re engaging for a baby and aren’t boring to read for parents!
- Board books that have bright colours, faces, textures, and simple words that relate directly to pictures are also great. As you read the words, point out what’s being talked about, and let your baby touch and feel the book and textures.
- At this age, even seeing you reading a book will help establish the activity as ‘normal’ and ‘important’ to your baby. They may be more excited to shove a book into their mouths (board books exist for a reason!) than anything else, but that’s exactly how babies like to learn about objects.
Reading at 2–5 years
· Daily reading with your child gives you a chance to bond with them, and demonstrate how reading is important and entertaining.
- Do your best to read stories in a voice that matches the story
- Take your time to point out relevant words connecting to the pictures.
- Talk about real life in relation to the story as well- for example, if the story is about going to the museum and they get on a bus, relate it back to a time the child went on a bus.
· Keep going with rhymes and songs- this is still super important because your child is further developing their ability to recognise sounds, and associate them with words and language. They are more able to isolate and understand words if they aren’t delivered in a monotone.
· Picture books! There are some absolutely amazing picture books out there. And then there are some pretty bad ones.
- The best picture books for this age are those that incorporate rhyming language, big bold images connected to the story, and content and stories that engage both you and your child.
- Your child can learn so much from a picture book, whether it be about how to be a friend, what common vehicles are called, what going to the library is like and so on. There are books about almost everything you can think of.
- Finding ones you want to read as well is important though, you don’t want your child to latch on to a book because they like it and have to read it ten times in one day if you can’t stand it.
· Go to the library. Public libraries are full of books and children will quickly learn it’s an important part of life if it’s just a normal thing you do. Libraries also frequently have story times for small children.
Reading at 5–12
· Keep reading to your child daily. It’s always important, and always should be prioritised.
- Model breaking up words, and following consistent rules of reading (eg the sounds letters make, and make when next to each other like ‘th’). Get help from your child’s teacher with this if you’re not sure.
- Discuss how to make meaning from what you’re reading. A book is more than just the words written on a page, pictures help create the tone and message, and the behaviours of characters are often confusing if children haven’t encountered it before. For example, I can remember helping my eldest understand why a character was yawning in the book- it was because they were bored, but that was a new idea for him.
· Once they go to school, they should start bringing home books to read that are designed to help teach them reading skills- your school will always want you to spend time with your child listening to them read to you.
· Talk to your child’s teachers regularly. Get their help about ways to help your child learn, and what they should be doing as they grow up and get better at reading.
· The most important thing to remember at this age is that your child will still be looking to you as an example.
They won’t care for reading if you don’t make the time to listen to them and help them learn.
If they’re struggling, get on top of it as early as possible. Children who are struggling to read by the time they reach the upper years of primary school are likely to continue to struggle- it’s assumed knowledge by this stage and explicit teaching drops off.
Dads Should Read to Their Children
Generally speaking, it’s mum who reads to the children. And generally speaking, teachers in the preschool years, and even in primary schools, are more likely to be women. Children see and hear a larger number of women than men reading.
But research indicates men read to children in a different way when compared to women.
In fact, that research suggests being read to by their Dad improves a child’s language development more than when their Mum reads to them.
This is not to say reading time with Mum isn’t as important- it most certainly is- but reading time with Dad is just as important. And it’s more frequently Mum who reads to children.
So, Dads, step up.
I have no memories of my Mum reading to me. I know she did, absolutely. I can, however, remember nightly book time with Dad- he read us the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m sure he also read other books, but my memory is of that particular story. I don’t know why I remember it in particular, perhaps because it was a special time with him, and my brothers.
And perhaps that’s one of the reasons why reading time with Dad is more effective- it’s not the norm. Most families fit the typical mould with father as the breadwinner and mother as the homemaker. Children experience their mothers reading to them, caring for them, being with them, and raising them a lot more than their fathers. Typically.
So, when Dad spends time and reads with their children, it’s special.
Children are more receptive to new experiences and learning when they feel it’s special, or different. Which means Dads have to be accountable, and responsible, and an active part in the raising of their own children.
Grab a book, and read with your child today. I promise it’s fun.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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