When your children start school, and quite possibly in earlier educational settings, they will begin to learn how to read. Learning to read is a complex and challenging task but is such a vital skill that the more practice and the more little ones can be encouraged to read, the better. As a parent, you will play an important role in the journey to becoming a reader, but the overall burden falls on the teachers working with your children.
There are various approaches to learning to read, and you will probably hear different terms. Most methods are based on on of two fundamental approaches:-
Phonics: requires words to be broken down into sounds in order to help sound out whole words.
Lexical: reading teaches recognition of whole words.
Since 2005, the UK government has stipulated a phonic approach to learning to read, employing a particular model known as synthetic phonics. This encourages words to be broken into phonic sounds which are then blended together in order to sound out complete words. Other phonic and lexical approaches play their part - for example, teachers will encourage the learning of 'high frequency words' so that young children can recognise some of the most common words in the language.
The emphasis on synthetic phonics does not mean that other approaches to reading are invalid, and as a parent you do not need to worry about the intricacies of different learning models. The best contribution that you can offer as a parent is to ensure that you read regularly to your little ones, and that you support them in their reading when the time comes.
A lovely way to get little ones involved and interested in reading and writing is to give them their very own letter box. This is a way to encourage them to send and receive notes between their friends and family.
Find a cardboard box and decorate it. Place it somewhere the little ones can reach (outside their bedroom door or by the front door) and post them some mail now and again. Normally it is best to do this overnight, so they wake up In the morning and find a note waiting for them.
It might be a note from the tooth fairy. Or you could write a note to say how good they have been at nursery. Its easy to print a certificate to say they have been good about going to bed or some other activity. Members can find personalised certificates in Fun Stuff at www.ToucanLearn.com.
The notes need not be long, complicated letters. Simply write a short message on a piece of paper, add a heart or a smiley face and leave it for them to find. They will be intrigued by what it says. You could leave a picture for them to colour in or a hand drawn dot to do for them to complete. A little special gift (a pencil, sticker or play ring) could be attached too as a special treat. If you are good at folding, you could leave a paper fan or a paper plane.
Always make time to read the notes to your child, even if you wrote them yourself, and encourage them to leave you notes, drawings, scribbles too. Then you will have an idea of how nice it is to receive them!
Last summer on a family outing to Buckler's Hard in Hampshire, our children were enthralled by the tale of a ship builders daughter who, 300 years ago, would stand in the window of her cottage, reading a large antique bible. She stood in the window for two reasons, first because 300 years ago, before electricity, it was the lightest place at which to read, but second, her proud parents wanted her to be seen by the whole village, so that they could show off their affluence in society by demonstrating that they were wealthy enough to educate their daughter who, in a time of widespread illiteracy, was able to read. Most likely, the bible was the only book that this family owned.
This week the Evening Standard is running a special report uncovering shockingly low levels of literacy in some parts of London. The stories are desperately sad. In one instance a class was asked to bring in a book from home. One nine-year-old brought in an Argos catalogue saying that it was the only book in his house. At one level we might laugh and think this is an amusing anecdote, but the Standard goes on to state that as many as one in three children are growing up without access to books in the home. This doesn't come about because of a shortage of money - 85% of children have games consoles in their home, and most have televisions and hi-fi's. No, this lack of access to books is the result of parents making certain choices, choices that could have a fundamental effect on the lives of their children.
In this modern day, there is absolutely no excuse for parents not to expose their children to books. Books are more readily available today than at any other point in history. If family's cannot afford books then they can borrow them from libraries or school.
The knock on effect of children not being encouraged to read is that 16% of adults aged 16 - 65 living in London have the reading skills of an 11 year old. 40% of employers in London claim that poor literacy skills has a detrimental effect on their business.
Books are a great source of inspiration for children - they're entertaining, educational, exciting and fun! Get familiar with all the different types of books that we use and have a session sharing them with your children. Talk about different books, look a their pictures (or lack of pictures), and talk about what each different sort of books does or helps us with. See how many different types of book you can find! Here are a few suggestions:
- Storybooks: lots of pictures, great stories, ideal for bed time!
- Recipe books: pictures of food and meals, helps with ideas for cooking. Yum!
- Dictionaries: helps us look up words, spell and understand what words mean.
- Atlases and map books; help us find out where we are or where we're going.
- Novels: storybooks for adults to read in their spare time with no pictures, thousands of words and hundreds of pages.
- Colouring books: pages of pictures to colour
- Non-fiction, factual books: books about history, medical books, how to fix a car or how to care for a baby.
Enjoy looking at all the different books together!
The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has said that children as young as eleven years old should read about 50 books a year. This would be part of a national drive to improve literacy standards throughout schools in our country. He claimed literary demands put upon children have been too low for so long that they don't expect to read more than they have to. Instead, children should be reading a novel a week!
He said that primary schools should encourage children to read lots of books too in preparation for secondary education. A December report stated that British teenagers rank 25th in an international league table of teenage literacy!
Along with his Coalition Government, he stated that standards had to rise after he discovered that the vast majority of teenagers read only their GCSE core book and no others.
Many pre-school children will be taking comfort from this as so many parents and carers read numerous books to their children each day let alone each week! Starting the enjoyment of reading at an early age - even before the children can read or talk or even understanding the story - is the best start.
Whether they are learning to read, just looking at the pictures or starting to sound out letters, whatever stage your child is at, it is vital to get them enthusiastic about books. No matter the style of book, whether it is the latest release or an old favourite from your own childhood, or if it is from a book shop, a library or is borrowed - get them excited about books. Here are some easy ways!
Bring it alive: That doesn't just mean fun voices and emotion in your voice when you read... why not introduce some sensory experience too. If it's a book about a fish, swimming in rough water, panting to get to the party on time to eat cake... why not get them to take their socks off and paddle in a few inches of water in the bath, then run on the spot and have a mouthful of cake for them to eat along with the characters!
Pictures: There are some super illustrations in children's books, so sometimes just look at the pictures. Spot things, talk about what's not mentioned in the story but that feature in the pictures. Focus on one thing and make up your own little story.
Familiar books: If you have read a book too many times for your liking, talk about changing the ending and decide what else could happen. Change the character and discuss how different animals or people would make the story different.
Other means: Try all sorts of books, cloth books, out sized books, ones with lots of words or just a few. No matter the age of your child, they will get something out of looking or reading a new book, even if its not officially aimed at their age.
Get everyone involved: If you have family visiting get them to read a book or if your little one is starting to read, get them to read to your family or act out their favourite book. Do a puppet show with teddies or dress up in the characters and do a version as a play.
Library: The library will have books in different forms: A book you may have read may also be available in audio CD/spoken word format or as a cartoon or film on DVD. Use these formats too.
Write your own story together: Take some photos of things and print them. Then create your own story. Write the words in a book, stick in the pictures and it will become your own, unique masterpiece!
Teaching your child to enjoy reading, to love stories and grow their imagination is really a very easy thing to do and you will both reap the rewards. Reading is not only essential at school but it is great fun too!
- Get your child to choose the book or at least the topic to read about.
- Treat them occasionally to magazines to get them interested in different sorts of books and words and the way words and stories are presented.
- Go to the library; ask friends about good books that have inspired them and try to get hold of some.
- Swap good books with your children's friends... like a kiddie book club!
- Make sure your child sees you read: whether it be books, magazines, papers etc. They will learn from seeing you.
- Do research on things together: look up on the internet or go to the library together is something has triggered a thought.
- Keep books around the place so they see them as part of every day life. And, keep the children's books at a height they can reach!
- Reward your child when they do start to read and show them how pleased you are for them.
- Make time each day to read together - even once your child is reading independently its still nice to read a book
- Make it fun and enjoy reading together!
Local libraries offer a fabulous resource, but at a time of severe funding cuts, there's every danger that your local library may be targeted for closure. When evaluating the value of local services, local authorities will look at how well utilised their services are. If you want to keep your local library open, then make sure you are using it and are appearing on the local radar!
- Make sure you and your children are enrolled so that you are counted when the council investigate how many people use the library
- Make sure that you borrow books regularly to help contribute to healthy lending rates
- Attend special events laid on for children during half terms and holidays
- If your library doesn't hold craft days or readings, see if you can help organise some during holiday periods
- If your library has a cafe or toddler group, make sure you use them, even if only occasionally
- Spend time in your library with your children, take them in and read to them in the library
Local libraries offer all sorts of services in addition to simply lending books. It would be a shame to lose these facilities, yet they can only be justified if they are being used. Make sure that you use your library with your children, and help local authorities justify keeping libraries open so that your children's children can one day enjoy them too!
There are lots of ways to liven up story time, both for you and your little one! Try some of these tips!
- Do the voices! You may think you sound silly, but children LOVE it when you do the funny voices for different characters in the story you are reading! Make them laugh, and they will enjoy reading, words, communicating and the story itself even more!
- Have a special time of day for stories. This means you won't forget to have stories and you'll both get used to the time slot as part of your routine.
- Read in different places as a treat. Hide in the shed and read a story or go out to the park with warm coats and some warm milk and read there!
- Theme your stories. If you know your little one likes farms, then get some farm or animal books and read them one day at a local farm! Go look for pigs as you read about them in the book etc. Bring it all to life!
- Keep them alert! Ask questions as you go along: how many sheep in the field; What colour is the ball? etc.
- Recap at the end of the story. Go over the story together to make sure they have understood.
- At the end, go back through the book together and find out which bits were best, which pictures were most fun, what happened next?
- Don't force them. Encourage them to want to hear a story, but don't force them if they are overly reluctant otherwise they won't enjoy stories!
- Let them make choices! Get them to choose the book themselves. Look at it together and make sure its a good one etc!
- And, most importantly... have fun!
Whether a Grandparent or Aunty, or even a parent, babysitting a new born baby can be boring! Here are a few tips to make it fun for both of you!
- Cuddle up with a good book: It could be a kiddie book and you can read in a nice, quiet voice to the little bundle and enjoy a nice cuddle. It could be your own novel! Try reading aloud and seeing how happy baby is just to be warm and safe and listening to your voice.
- Watch TV together and chat about what you see. They will love the moving pictures, the sound and comfort of your voice and the attention! A little bit of television is fine!
- Have a gentle massage. Lie them down safely and tickle their toes, stroke their hands and gently give a massage.
- Count fingers and toes and get their hands moving. Sing Round And Round the Garden and watch their delight!
- Have a sing: singing, and music, are a great comfort to a baby. Listen to all sorts of music together, it needn't just be soft, baby music - as longs as it's not too loud.
- Get down on the floor and encourage crawling or playing depending on the age. They will love the attention and to have someone new spending time with them.
- Carry on as usual: you can still get on with your regular tasks and jobs when babysitting. If you make sure the baby is safe, you can leave their side. Perhaps chatter as you do things and talk through what you are doing.
- Go for a stroll: it's nice to get some fresh air even in winter, so wrap up baby and go for a walk whenever you can to get you out. As long as baby is warm you will be fine!
- Have a nap: babies do get tired, so if you think they are getting sleepy, put them down for a nap. Watching them when they sleep is just magical!
Reading to your little ones is such an important activity, but the youngest children will only pick out sounds that they are beginning to understand as words. The act of reading to them allows them to hear words over and over and slowly they will begin to distinguish the different words. In time, they will learn their meaning. In no time at all you'll have a preschooler who has a broad vocabulary, understanding thousands of words.
To encourage hearing and learning words, you can make reading fun by asking questions at the end of each page as you read to them. Read each page to your children and then ask them questions specific to what is happening in the pictures or the story. If you are reading to several children then make sure they all get a turn, and ask questions appropriate to their age and understanding. Your children will begin to widen their vocabulary, hearing the words repeated in a similar context. Make sure that even the youngest are asked their own question, even if it is as simple as 'Where is the sky?', 'Point to something that is red', or 'What animal goes [suitable animal noise]?!'.
Reading to your little ones is one of the most valuable exercises you can undertake during their first few years. Encourage a passion for reading and books and their learning will become so much easier later on. The more you can create an interest in books by making stories interesting and fun, then the better in the longer term for your little ones!
'Mark making' is the action of making marks on paper with a writing implement and defines the beginning of the journey to literacy - the ability to read and write. Long before a baby is able to make marks there are skills that must be learned in order to control the body, developing both fine and gross motor skills, as well as a mental grasp of making marks on paper. Here are some ideas to help your child gain the confidence to make marks and some ways to encourage them at the various stages of development. From the earliest age babies and toddlers can be preparing to learn writing in later life, and the earlier they start, the more confident they will be.
Up to one year the adult needs to:
- encourage the child to explore
- encourage lots of large muscle control activities such as crawling, rolling
- join in with these activities
- show an interest in random marks
- provide toys that can be gripped easily
18 months - 2 years the adult needs to:
- show lots of interest in the marks made
- look at patterns and marks together and try out new shapes to draw and scribbles
- give your child the chance to see your writing and write in front of them (look at books, notes and cards etc)
- provide lots of materials to write with and to write on
- play with your child and imitate their marks and suggest they watch and copy your marks too
2 - 3 years the adult needs to:
- point out your child's name and look at other letters and words in your house/town
- look at shapes and the scribbles together and show a real interest
3 - 4 years the adult needs to:
- show your child how to write letters and words and read them back
- show how to use different writing materials
- talk about letters and pictures the child has drawn
- show how to write notes and cards and lists etc.
- show lots of interest in their creations
- show the child that writing is useful e.g. messages in cards, words in a book, instructions for a game
- encourage them to write their name on their pictures and displays
- identify familiar letters in names
- show them how to hold the pencil correctly
Up to 5 years old, an adult needs to:
- show how to read a book from left to right
- show them different names of people they know and talk about them
- encourage correct letter formation
- encourage a child to talk about their drawings and writing
We all know how important reading is for children and that reading to even the tiniest toddler will help them in so many ways, but it can be frustrating if you find that your child loses interest after a little while or simply won't settle when you are ready to read a book.
The first thing to remember, is that this is not unusual. Every child is different and while some love the idea of a book, the pictures, the page turning the flaps etc, others are not interested. They don't want to lift flaps or look at the pictures. They consider reading a book as something passive, they sit back and listen and perhaps fall asleep rather than get involved. Or, they will just lose interest and walk away. The answer is not to force them to sit, be still and listen. It is our job to inspire them.
- Find something they are interested in. Have a chat with your child and find out what they like. They may not like train books, but love books about animals. Then, focus on their interest and keep feeding them more of the same.
- Find books that reflect what they have done or recall a recent event. If they have just been a bridesmaid or been to a castle, find books that relate to this experience. Start by not even opening the book, but look at the front cover and talk about it. Then, talk about their own experience.
- Don't assume that children only want stories(ie. fiction). Some are not interested in wizards or fairies but will be more excited by facts. A book about the body, nature, how cars are made etc may inspire them.
- Don't be too demanding. Don't expect to read pages of words and finish the book each time. You may not even complete each book you start. Read a few pages then if you feel it's time to stop, then do!
- You don't even need to read a single word! Just look at the pictures, talk about the colours and the illustrations. Compare the pictures to real life or imagine how you would draw the pictures.
- Read at different times. While routine can be great for some children and a book before bed can be an ideal time to set aside. Don't think that's the only time you can read with your child. Read before breakfast, or after lunch or take a book out and about to the coffee shop, in a car journey or to the doctor's and read together.
- Make it fun! In winter snuggle under a blanket and have a warm drink together. In summer take a book to the park and sit on a rug under a tree.
- Don't forget the voices... children adore the funny voices that parents and carers put on when reading a book. Try to make the book as animated and as compelling as possible.
- Ask your child to choose the book. Try not to dictate which book you read, give them the choice and don't feel aggrieved if they choose the same one they had yesterday. Children love repetition and familiarity so just read it again or focus on something different this time when you read the book.
- Book activities: A book is more than words: one day how about focusing on the pictures only: count how many sheep in the field or clouds in the sky. Ask your child to find the carrot in the picture or ask what colour the door is. Make the pictures come alive by asking interesting questions that they can answer and feel involved and inspired by what they find in the book.
Research has shown that habits made in early years will stay with a child for life; learning is part of that so when the children are young it is a great time to set up some habits that will be good for their learning later in life. All children benefit from reading books. If you get into the habit of reading every day at a certain time of day it becomes part of your schedule and is easy to remember. With a huge selection of books on offer, which are best to choose for your child at different stages of their early years?
Books for Babies and Toddlers Under 2
Children are never too young to enjoy books. They may not speak, or follow a narrative, or be able to turn a page, but sitting with someone, having a cuddle, reading a colourful book becomes a lovely, comfortable, happy experience and that is what they recall. They enjoy the attention and the sound of a parent or carer's voice. They like the feel of the books, the sound of the pages and the colourful pictures. They like the rhymes and the funny voices.
Once they can hold things in their hands, touchy-feely books are great for little ones. Cloth books are soft (washable!) and gentle to touch. Activity books have strings, buttons, and fabric to touch. Flap books have pages that fold out and pictures behind secret little doors. Board books are great to hold and have even been know to be good for chewing too! There is so much fun to be had!
Books for 2-3 Year Olds
Toddlers love the colours and pictures in books. They enjoy rhyme and the repetition of some story lines. They will join in and anticipate what will happen next. Books that explain or deal with every day occurrences are good for this age (going to nursery, going to ballet lessons, having a new baby etc). They may even create their own stories.
They will often look at the same book day after day. The know what happens next and love the idea of anticipating the next page. Pop-up or flap books are great for this age as they can do it themselves. And, sturdy board books are advised as they may get handled frequently and roughly!
Pre-School Books for Children Age 4-5
At this age, children love to learn about the world and books that explain this are always popular with pre-schoolers: bugs and animals, schools and hospitals, the Egyptians etc. so they needn't just have fictional stories, non-fiction is of interest too. Try all sorts of books and discuss each one. What are the pictures like? What is the text like? Can they find certain letters in the text or count certain elements of the pictures? Try and bring the books alive and be led by your child. If they ask about dinosaurs, get hold of a book about them and show them. Visit your local library for access to books on hundreds of interesting topics.
Enjoy the time you have reading with your child and make it as fun as you can.
Writing is a vital skill that children will eventually use over and over again in all subjects at school. Whether writing up an experiment in a science lesson, writing a story in an English lesson or writing about their favourite sport, writing is unavoidable. But, learning to write can be tricky to start with and some children are simply put off by all the complications of writing. This is easily avoidable and because writing is so vital at school and indeed in the adult world too, it's important to introduce children to writing in a fun and positive way. Then, these early skills will be built upon and writing will be the next step.
Some ideas to make learning to write a positive experience:
- Spend lots of time talking to your child and listening to them.
- Read lots of stories - whenever and wherever you can. Try all sorts of books with all sorts of pictures. As they get to school age, introduce non-fiction books: how things work, children's books about topics they like such as cars, trains, dancing etc.
- When writing yourself (shopping lists or notes to school or nursery) encourage your child to watch and see you write words. Encourage them to write too.
- Get some fun paper to practice writing on: different sizes, textures, colours etc.
- Get some good (and fun!) pens and pencils for them to use.
- Give lots of praise if they do manage to write and don't focus only on their mistakes.
- Break down the letters when they are learning, so they an see how to build the letter shapes. (ie. a P is a straight line and a circle at the top.)
- Once they are beginning to learn, leave messages for your children or post it notes on their bed or door Write on their chalk board say hello!
- Put together a photo album and caption the pictures.
- Send yourselves a postcard if you go away or out for the day.
It can be fun and with a little thought, you'll find that your little ones enjoy writing and begin to make great progress. Perhaps one day they'll be writing their own blog!
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