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Unwrap the Gift of Reading

By Dee Cox, EdD

Henderson State University

Instilling a love for reading is one of the greatest gifts parents can give a child. This special gift can be seen as the present under the Christmas tree hidden among and in competition with other "interesting" packages such as sports equipment, video games, television and computer activities. Children who receive the gift of reading tend to enjoy reading and have positive attitudes toward learning. Because reading is the foundation of learning, a child's attitude and desire to read will have a significant and life-long impact.

The love for reading is a gift, but it is also a package full of life-long opportunities. As parents, the reading package is the first gift you want your child to select, but how do you ensure that happens? Parents must make the reading package as interesting as possible, filling it with motivating learning opportunities and experiences.

Parents are the first and best teachers of literacy, and they fill this role by emphasizing reading at home. A parent must place intentional learning opportunities as a priority in the child's reading package.

A few ways to do this include:

  • Provide varied and age-appropriate reading materials at home.
  • Observe and read with your child every day. Even if you as a parent do not like to read, for the sake of your child, read to and with her.
  • Take turns reading pages of a book in a "together" reading time. Younger children can make up the story according to the pictures. Older children may have to be given prompts to assist in "together" reading. Make this a positive and encouraging together time and not an instructional lesson that creates failure.
  • Establish a routine schedule to visit the local library so the child is exposed to many books and various reading opportunities.
  • Contact the local library and book stores for scheduled literacy activities for children and adolescents.
  • In the everyday activities, discuss new words and what that new word means. As the child becomes older, ask him/her if the word has a synonym, homonym, opposite, antonym or a homograph.
  • In everyday activities, ask the child to describe events, picture, objects, feelings or experiences in order to develop and expand the child's vocabulary. Draw pictures of the activity, play dress up, tell or write a story or act out a favorite book.
  • While traveling, ask questions, play games and engage in conversations about license plates, road signs, exit sign numbers, I spy games, fast food signs, weather, shapes, colors, songs, rhymes, spelling and story starters.
  • Develop a love of words through fun activities. Play word games such as finding word parts like prefixes, suffixes, compound words, root words and base words.
  • Play the dictionary game to find and learn new words and see who can find the word first in the dictionary and what that word means. Try using an age-appropriate dictionary.

Research has proven that parents who are involved and support the student - even if their child struggles with reading - provide a support system to that child.

Here are some strategies to help provide such a support system for an adolescent:

Demonstrate a real interest in your child's reading by "team reading" the same book and textbook that the child is reading in order to have a discussion about the book. Parents who read with the adolescent tend to motivate the child to read, as well.

In today's world of electronics, provide any brand of the most current and popular electronic reader for the student to use and read materials at home. Based on adolescents' interest in electronics, this will be a special motivation to encourage your child to read independently.

Schedule weekly trips to the local coffee or ice cream shop to sit and read with the electronic reader.

Actively become involved in the student's school assignments. This will allow the parent to know what skills and the subject matters the child is learning. In addition, supplementary activities and reading opportunities can be planned with the family.

In planning the family vacation, schedule an educational experience each day. Allow the child to help research educational or learning opportunities.

Make a special trip to the local library so the parent and child can each select a book to read. After reading the book, the family members can share what they liked about it. The parent should select as his or her book one that will be interesting to the child. This will encourage him to want to read it after he finishes his own choice.

Encourage the child to keep an ongoing journal of words that tend to be a challenge for him to remember or understand. The parent can review the journal every few weeks so he knows the words his child needs help with and incorporate teaching lessons when they're out and about.

Unscheduled opportunities and events can be one of the greatest learning experiences for children, no matter what age. Parents can build background knowledge for reading by hands-on experiences such as grocery shopping, couponing, cooking, playing in the yard, zoo trips, games, riding in the car and even cleaning house. Ask your child to share the experience in sequential order, encourage descriptive words, draw a picture and then explain the drawing. Encouraging these types of experiences will develop a broader vocabulary, sharper thinking skills and better communication strategies. These intentionally planned experiences will be learning opportunities for any age child.

Parents should deliberately ask their child questions about a book, experience, activity or event. Asking questions of "why and how" support the development of language, associations, reasons, what's next, imagination and critical thinking.

Such basic questions parents should ask include:

  • Why do you think ...?
  • Can you make a sentence with the word ...?
  • I am wondering how you feel about ...?
  • What does this activity remind you of?
  • What is your favorite part about this activity and why?

The love of literacy is the greatest life-long gift parents can give their children. What a blessing to be a part of a child opening and reaching into that gift of reading for new and ongoing learning!

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