When it comes to getting your child ready to learn to read, research says that it’s never too early. Parents and educators are the keys to a child’s success in this endeavor.
Mr. Lester Stephens, Head of School at International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP), the only international elementary and early years’ school in HCMC to have the prestigious accreditation from the Council of International Schools (CIS) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) gives some ideas about where to start developing children’s communication and literacy skills from birth until age 11.
He says, “As soon as a baby is born, you can start to show them picture books. It makes a huge difference to a child’s development if you can spare ten minutes a day to read to your child. The early years are key and 70 percent of a child’s brain develops by the time he or she is three.”
Learning to Read is Not a Race at ISSP
Although parents may be eager for their children to learn to read, they should know that there is no set formula or strict timetable, but instead, there are milestones. International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP) in HCMC has formulated this key message for their students: “Beyond academic excellence, we must nurture character.” This motto means that both educators and parents should approach reading at the rate that is appropriate for the child and nurture the development rather than making it a race for academic milestones. The key is making sure that reading is fun and not something that feels like a chore or an obligation. Studies have found that young readers that are most likely to read above their age appropriate level are the ones who actually enjoy reading.
Libraries can Make Reading Accessible and Exciting
Access to reading materials is also key to a child’s development. Libraries can be valuable resources for children, as well as for parents who either don’t have the resources to buy their children books or simply want a more clutterfree household. ISSP is one place that children can have access to these early literacy materials. The school features two libraries for their Early Years and Elementary programs with over 16,000 available books.
The internet and online books can also be valuable resources for getting children acclimated to reading words and sentences. Online reading has now surpassed reading in print for children ages 8-16 according to a study by Literacy Trust. Although he believes that having options for reading in all formats is an overall a good thing, Lester notes that younger children rely on the sensory stimulation that is derived from flipping the pages of an actual book. “What we know is that children who only read online generally do not read as well. Also, a real book has textures, sounds and even smells that all contribute to the reading experience,” he says.
Regular trips to the libraries at ISSP are a way for teachers to help students connect to books. The libraries feel special and exciting to the children, especially while surrounded by other classmates who enjoy the experience of browsing through the selections, turning the pages of the books and listening to teachers read aloud. This positive peer influence can inspire lower level learners to take interest in reading.
What’s important is to get the child excited about reading by hooking them in with subjects they’re excited about. If, for example, they love learning about dinosaurs (as many children tend to) start out by getting them books which prominently feature dinosaurs so that they’ll be inclined to read the books or ask someone to read it to them. Reading aloud to children is also beneficial for them. Good readers read a lot and modeling this for children is important to their development as lovers of reading. Your child can independently look through picture books and “tell their own story,” while you can read books with higher content to them on the same subject(s) they are interested in. Soon they will be reading for themselves and so engrossed in their books that they’ll barely notice they’re being taught to read.
If children are struggling with reading it is important to remember two very important things. 1. They may not be ready to read as some children take longer than others, and that’s okay. Forcing children into reading practices they are not ready for can cause them to lose confidence in themselves and their abilities as a young reader. 2. A child may have a learning disability. For example, dyslexia, defined as: a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence. These children can still learn to take joy in reading and given the proper support and strategies they too can have success with reading. According to Lester, “Reading is for everyone and it makes a huge difference to their quality of life and even their future success.”
ISSP, which provides a caring, student-centered environment where the values of honesty, caring, respect, responsibility and wisdom are highly prized, offers some quick tips for making reading fun for your child:
Make Reading Active
Often, children have an overabundance of kinetic energy. You can turn this into a benefit to their learning by having them “act out” what they’ve been reading. They can pretend to be characters in books, or if they are artistically inclined, draw or make puppets inspired by the story. This is a form of re-telling which is an essential skill for young readers.
Get the Entire Family/Classroom Involved
As the African proverb goes, “It takes a village.” Get the entire family on board by having the older children encourage the younger ones. In the classroom, the students are also influenced by both younger and older classmates, and early readers can help inspire others. At ISSP, where there are 28 nationalities represented in the student population, it is also fun for the children to read stories about the different countries that each child comes from. Personalizing the education for each learner is a great way to get them involved in the experience.
It might take a bit of experimentation before you find the genre of books that will hook your child and help them to discover the joy of reading. If they are not interested in fantasy, maybe try a mystery book or a sing-along book of nursery rhymes. As stated earlier, acquiring books for them about subjects in which they are already interested is always a safe bet! Don’t give up because one book lost their attention. There will be something that sparks your child’s imagination with a bit of perseverance. This leads us to our next tip below:
Let Your Child Be the Master of His or Her Reading Journey
Often, our own choices for our children’s reading selections can be clouded by our desire to share specific information that may or may not resonate with them. Let your child take the wheel and decide for themselves what they’d like to read. Remember that reading is a form of selfdiscovery so try to give them the space to make their own choices, as they will be most likely to read the books that they have selected for themselves.
ISSP Believes that Praise Leads to Growth
Children are sensitive and just as the smallest failure can undermine a child’s confidence, small catalysts can also be springboards for tremendous growth. Praise your child’s efforts. At ISSP, nurturing characters means building up the interests that are already present in each child to draw forth their inner potential. Be sure to uplift your child as they are taking their first steps on this journey!
Text and Images Provided by Tiffany Procter, Elementary Coordinator at ISSP