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Why you should read with your kids

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Family

Why you should read with your kids

Think back to when you first learned to read. Did it involve your parents? My memories don't involve my parents and, as far as my mom can recall, I learned to read at school.

The same goes for my daughter, who is now in Grade 3. She learned to read at school, but that hasn't stopped her teachers from making reading homework.

Reading with the kids

Every year since the first grade, within the first month of the school year a note comes home requesting that we read with Paige every night, explaining that home practice is vital for her reading ability to improve. Paige's class also spends time reading at school, of course, but there is plenty of pressure on her to be reading at home every day, too.

It's not that I mind -- I love reading with Paige -- but I do wonder what dramatic change occurred in the last 30 years that shifted the onus of learning to read from the school to the home.

The change actually began before I was born, says Jim Anderson, an early-childhood reading and writing expert in the Language and Literacy Education Department at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

"At one time, it was thought that children had to reach a certain age before they were ready to learn to read," explains Anderson. "Schools taught children reading readiness, skills focusing on visual and auditory perception."

Encourage reading at home

A couple of studies in the 1960s are what really shook things up. They essentially found that children of average ability and intelligence were quite capable of learning to read without formal, structured instruction – as long as they were in homes where reading and writing were valued and practised. Over the years, a growing body of research, including from UBC, steadily turned the studies into best practices in the classroom and, by extension, at home, says Marianne McTavish, a teacher trainer and Anderson's colleague at UBC.

"It is fairly common practice that teachers are required to give parents written suggestions on student report cards in ways to support the child at home," she says. "These suggestions are usually a reinforcement of what has been taught in the classroom and the child may benefit from more practice at home."

But both Anderson and McTavish agree that parents shouldn't be teaching: "I would actually discourage parents from teaching reading in a formal way and encourage them to just support children," says McTavish.

Ways to encourage reading

Some of her suggestions for "supporting" children include talking and telling stories, using e-readers and downloadable apps, watching TV with closed captions on, singing songs or reciting rhymes or raps, reading with them, providing materials such as paper, markers and crayons and encouraging children to draw and scribble and use them in their play, and encouraging children to print their names.

An especially effective activity is pointing out print in the environment, she continues. For instance: "Sandeep, that’s a stop sign. Notice the first letter is S, the same as in your name. We have to stop the car and look and make sure it is safe to go when we see that sign."

Make reading fun

The focus should be on making reading fun because, as McTavish says, "play is the appropriate venue for young children to learn."

After talking with Anderson and McTavish I looked back through some of the notes sent home with my daughter's home reading. Paige's teachers were pretty clear that the reading was for practice; there was no pressure for me to teach. Still, the reality is that when she gets stuck sounding out a word I step in to help and that usually involves some form of instruction.

The bottom line is that my daughter would probably learn to read just fine if the learning all happened at school, but, like anything, the more she practises the better she'll be. When we're talking about a fundamental skill like reading it is pretty hard to complain about that.
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Why you should read with your kids

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