A new report from Alberta, Canada indicates that fewer students are entering kindergarten each year with the necessary literacy skills to begin reading. As a result, according to Christie Watson, lead teacher of the Comprehensive Literacy program, only 78% of kindergarteners in the 2015-2016 school year were prepared enough to move on to Grade 1 instruction.
The students’ literacy was assessed in three different categories: 1) phonological awareness, or the ability to recognize the sound structure of words; 2) book knowledge; and 3) alphabetical knowledge. While most students were at grade level when it came to understanding that letters form patterns to represent sounds, many were deficient in the first category, the one educators consider to be a reliable predictor of later reading comprehension success. The culprit? An increasing number of students are not being introduced to reading in the home environment. Many cannot answer the basic questions of “What is the front or the back of a book?” and “How do we read?”
Part of the problem is the prevalence of tablets and smartphones which, according to research reported in Psychology Today, can stunt the development of children’s brains during the crucial first three years of development. Dr. Aric Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, states that too much screen time interferes with their “ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, [and] to build a large vocabulary.” Another part is that parents are not providing their children with the fundamental skills necessary for future reading success.
Anita Ditz, the head of children’s services at Schlow Centre Region Library in State College, Pennsylvania, believes that it’s never too early to begin teaching literacy skills. Reading, writing, singing, talking, and playing are five basic activities that form the foundation for the development of early literacy and communication skills. By engaging in these activities every day, parents model and encourage their children to develop important pre-reading skills. Children take an active part in learning to recognize sounds and how they are put together to form words. They learn the names and the sounds of letters and become comfortable with books. They also learn to tell stories to themselves using the words they have learned. And not only does reading aloud to children stimulate language development even before they can talk, but it also gives children the opportunity to practice listening, a crucial skill in kindergarten and the years that follow.
Not sure what, specifically, you should do to get your child prepared? Here are some ideas:
- Sing lullabies. Lullabies may be the first songs children hear, and you can sing them at any age, even – or even especially – in infancy. This is a great way to teach children the different sounds that make up words and language. In addition, the rhythm and the rhymes inherent in children’s songs are some of the most basic steps in developing phonics skills.
- Read books to your child, starting as soon as they’re born, even though they won’t understand them at that time. Then read them again and again. The repetition will make them both familiar and comforting, and familiarity is the key to learning new words and their meanings, as well as increasing reading comprehension and a love of books.
- Talk to your child, as often and as much as you can. Talk about everything – the different foods you see in the store, clothing, animals, and trees. Explain road signs. Tell stories. The more you talk, the more words will become familiar and easier for the child to understand and eventually say.
- Go to the local library for story time. Most libraries have sessions for toddlers and are great places to learn about books and reading.
- When your child is old enough, have him or her “write” a thank you note after receiving a gift. Scribbling is fine for a preschooler. Pictures done in crayon are bright, colorful, and convey the right feelings. They also develop the tactile skills necessary for writing.
- Set a good example by not only having books in the house, but also by reading them yourselves in the presence of your child. Children tend to emulate their parents, and this will encourage them to pick up books of their own, even if they don’t understand them at first.
In today’s competitive world, children need to be prepared to communicate effectively. By taking a few critical steps early in life, you can ensure that they will be able to succeed later on.