|This photo courtesy of Gardner Elementary School.|
Nearly every job I have ever had has been directly related to education and/or books in some way. I have worked for two of the largest book store chains in the United States. I worked at a library. I wrote ed programs for museums. I also make it a point to volunteer for organizations whose work I feel is worthwhile, many of which happen to revolve around education.
I have been an active part of local literacy councils since I was in high school. I began free literacy training at the age of 14 and after six months of intensive after school literacy training I began teaching illiterate adults and struggling children to read. I left my hometown to go to college, but I never stopped finding ways to help my community read. I have continuously expanded my own education, and I have never stopped volunteering in teaching and tutoring reading. I have never been paid for this work. It eats up a lot of my time. I don't care. I'll never ask for a penny and I'll give up as much time as it takes to help someone learn to read. I am 26 and I have been teaching reading for 12 years.
I believe parents who are pushing "big kid" books on young children are well meaning and want their kids to love reading. However, being well meaning and being right are not the same thing. The road to Hell, after all, was paved with good intentions.
In order to teach your child to read you need two things: endless patience and age appropriate books. By age appropriate I mean reading level appropriate books. Like anything else in life, not all children read at the same level. Not all adults read at the same level! It's ok. That's ok--they don't have to. Some kids will read faster than others. That's ok too. As long as they're reading and having fun doing it, nothing else matters.
There are age appropriate picture books for infants all the way through adult (what do you think an illustrated novel is?). For beginning readers, however, I would say most PBs (picture books) are good tools for babies through maybe third grade. Yes, really. Third grade. I'm not saying your third grader can't read a chapter book--I'm saying a fun picture book is a good tool for teaching reading, even to a third grader.
Here are some good rules for teaching reading:
1. Reading needs to be fun. Make it fun. Don't make it hard. It doesn't have to be hard in order to learn. You wouldn't take little Billy off his big wheel and say, "I think it's time you learn to drove a big kid car," while tossing him the keys to your Toyota. You don't hand a four year old an algebra book and say "learn some "bid kid" math!" You shouldn't do that with reading either! You want your child to read comfortably on their own because if s/he can't they will not enjoy it. If your child doesn't enjoy it--he won't do it, even if you try to make him.
2. If you do not know what is age appropriate for your child then ask somebody. Local libraries are treasure troves of literacy resources. Your librarian wants your child to like reading. They want to help you. All you have to do is ask. The same goes for customer service desks at book stores. Those people want you to buy books your kids will love, and they'll help you find some. I know. I worked at book stores and at a library. Let them help you.
3. The five finger test is a good way to judge a book when you can't find someone to help. Hint: I think 2-3 fingers is a good book to go with.
4. Have patience. Don't fuss. If your child is old enough to help you, then let him/her pick out their own book. Help them sound out the words. Remember--your child should not have to sound out every word on the page! If they do, that's not the right book to be using!
5. Have fun. When you see that light bulb go off and illuminate your child's face with understanding and joy any amount of displeasure you experienced will be immediately erased.
Helpful links for teaching reading:
1. Reading Rockets: Has activities for kids and tips for parents.
2. Book Nuts: Has activities for kids and tips for parents.
3. Succeed To Read: More useful for parents. Has great teaching tips.
If you have questions or concerns that are not covered in this article then please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want your child to like reading too!