Ah, Valentine’s Day!
A day in which we show the people who are important to us just how much we care for them. Much of that affection is shown through red and pink gifts of candy, cards, and maybe a trinket or two to play with, but the best gift you can give a child is time.
From birth through the time children go to college (age 18), there are 936 weekends. That sounds like a lot of time until you consider that when they start hitting middle school years, they will have activities, sports, friends, and all manner of other entertainments to occupy their time. Those weekends can go quickly, and when you think about how fast that time can fly, it’s easy to see the value of sharing time with your child whenever possible.
The gift of time relies on the quality of the time and much as it does the quantity. Being in the same room together doing different activities is not the best gift you can give; focusing on the child is the real gift. The importance of time spent focusing on children holds true in school as much as it does at home.
Countries like Finland, considered the gold standard in education by many, spend roughly 700 hours in front of students, while in the United States we spend nearly double that. Spending time does not have to be hours on end. It can be playing a tabletop game or cooking a meal together. Reading is a fantastic way to spend a little time together.
Selecting the right books can be a springboard for other activities through the year; as your child asks questions, you can plan events to help them answer them. As a teacher, you can develop lessons in the future that address student questions while still fulfilling state requirements.
What other gifts can spending time with books provide?
- Building a love of books – Young children will mirror the activities of the people around them that they love. If they see their favorite teacher, or parent, enjoying the time they spend reading, they are more likely to pick up a book for pleasure.
- Expanded vocabulary – The more children read, the more they are going to have to learn the meaning of the words in their favorite books. Instead of sitting down and teaching them words, they organically build their vocabulary. This will also lead to…
- A curiosity about the world around them – It is a big world out there, full of dinosaurs and families and stories about raining food! One way to get to explore it is through books. Journeys can be started at the library and continued at museums, stores, and even in the kitchen.
- Improving social skills – Being quiet while a parent or teacher is reading is a polite way to enjoy a book. Waiting until someone else is done talking to speak is an important skill to develop. And the only way to enjoy a book read by an adult is to listen intently. While children become engrossed by tales of cats in hats, they are also learning valuable social skills.
- Better behavior – Children do not always know how to ask for what they want. If they feel they are being neglected, or are frustrated, they may act out to get the attention they crave. By giving that attention without asking, it will keep them better behaved at home and in the classroom.
Sitting down with a child to read a book shows you love them in a variety of ways. You are spending quality time with them (which they love!) while teaching them skills that are going to help them in school. It provides benefits they may not appreciate when they are young, but they will as they grow older. Along with the card and some sweets, plan on giving them a book and spending some time with them. It is a Valentine’s Day gift they will treasure forever.
There is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that claims “the strongest force in the universe is compound interest.”
No one knows when, or even if, he said it. But he would not have been wrong. There are many, many charts and articles on the internet that extol the virtues of saving early. The benefits of getting an early jump on saving is not new wisdom; even Aesop told a fable about the ants who collected food at the right time and the grasshopper that played. Investing early is a way to ensure better results in the long run.
The same goes for a child’s education. There may be just as many articles out there explaining that it is never too early to start teaching.
The first five years of a child’s life lays out the foundation for how they will learn. Vocabulary builds. Emotional understanding develops, and opinions toward many activities become established.
Reading with children, and encouraging them to read on their own, is critical at this stage in development. It shows them early on that reading is a pleasurable activity, not a burden only done when forced by a teacher.
Other rewards for starting your child reading early:
- Teaching lessons early – One of the classics in children’s picture books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, is an amazing picture book about a caterpillar that eats its way through the book and turns into a butterfly. Beyond being visually stunning, the book teaches children a little about insects and their life cycle. This passive learning can encourage them to want to find out more about different subjects, like science and history.
- Building a vocabulary – Children do not pull words out of thin air that they want to learn. They discover new words through interactions with adults. When adults use certain words frequently, children do as well. It is not difficult to start building that vocabulary early by reading them books and answering what all the words mean. Reading those books provides a word boost to any student when they head to kindergarten on the first day.
- Improved concentration – Attention spans are important. The ability to focus on a task for long periods of time improves the student’s performance on the work. Reading for pleasure can build that attention span as the child gets drawn further and further into a story, especially if that book is read by a parent or teacher in a comfortable place. They will get lost in the world that the book creates for them.
- Developing emotional and social understanding – The heroes of stories go through trials. Those trails can be anything from turning everything you touch to chocolate to the challenges of real-life people. Those struggles can cause new emotions to emerge or allow children to learn to deal with ones they have already found. The more emotionally and socially aware students are when they get to school age, the smoother the transition to school life will be.
We can be skeptical about what Einstein said, but Warren Buffet had similar thoughts about reading: “Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up like compound interest.”
Encouraging children to begin reading at an early age is investing in their future, as well as giving them something enjoyable to do in the present. The rewards for investing in education at an early age may not be immediately seen, but the compound effect of those extra reading years with shine through their entire life.
Encouraging children to read at a young age offers benefits that last through their life.
Educators witness advantages that range from building a strong vocabulary to developing positive feelings about reading. At school age, children are very impressionable and become interested in what their parents are doing. This time is an opportunity to build that love of reading.
It sounds like an easy task, but it is more complicated than it would seem. A desire to learn everything can be a curse; it can be difficult to encourage young readers to focus long enough to read. Or to be interested in a passive activity when there is running around to do and games to play. Convincing children that reading a book is fun may seem like a monumental task. With the right incentives, a child reading a book on his own could occur more frequently than you think.
Building an internal desire to read is the most significant motivator when it comes to reading for pleasure. We have discussed the benefits of external motivators previously. They work well when used appropriately, but they do not substitute that inner fire for reading.
The goal is to encourage children to take the initiative out of a desire to read.
- Grab a book off the bookshelf out of love,
- Ask for books to be read in class,
- Take a trip to the school library,
- Bring their books to class for show and tell, and
- Allow them to read some selections out of it. Or read it to the class for them!
These are all opportunities to build that internal flame. They are reading, and being read to, because they love to read.
That devotion to reading will require effort from teachers and parents. One of the most significant ways to show a child that reading is a delight is through example. In school, if students are working quietly in class, read a book. It is a great way to give the mind a little break while demonstrating reading for fun!
If a student asks what you are reading, it is an opportunity to give them a brief description of the book. See what piques their interest as far as themes, subjects, and styles. Experimenting with different books is a great way to probe their interests. Bringing those topics to different lessons can keep their interest longer when trying to teach subjects like science and history.
No class of students is going to agree on one topic. This difference of opinion provides an opportunity to give them some control over the stories enjoyed in the classroom. It does not have to be a wide range of material; two or three books are more than enough for young students. Allowing the class to vote on the book, or giving students a choice as a reward, is another motivator. Those decisions will be part of the lesson, possibly introducing students to new books or topics!
Strategies like this work in the home too. Allow them to see you reading at the kitchen table in the morning or before they go to bed at night. Ask them to grab their book and join you. Children love to do activities with their parents, and this will encourage them to do it more often. Discussing the book as they are reading helps with their vocabulary and their understanding of the story. These are simple activities that reinforce to them that reading is something they want to do!
Intrinsic motivations drive children, and most people, more than external ones. Vansteenkiste, Lens, and Deci did a study in 2006 that found that learning done for private interest encourages a deeper understanding of the material as well as a desire to find out more. It develops good learning habits early, with an impact that will help them grow through the rest of their lives.
The constant concern of parents and educators alike is an addiction to glowing rectangles.
From the pocket-friendly cell phone to the new 60-inch plasma screen in the living room, the digital world is always beckoning. Studies show that by the age five, children are spending an average of six and a half hours a day in front of a screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revised their rules for screen times for two to five-year-olds recently. One supervised hour of screen time a day can help them learn new vocabulary. This is not the most efficient way of teaching young children new words. That comes from a much older technology: ink on paper.
When children are using screens, it is rarely for reading. An Australian study showed that even when a device had eReading capabilities on it, they often went unused. In fact, they were often distracted from reading by other capabilities on the device, like surfing the Internet or playing games.
These constant breaks in concentration reduce the amount of information they are absorbing. The more they used devices to read, the less interested they were in reading and the more they wanted to use the other capabilities of the device. It reduced the amount of information they were absorbing from the book. This is not how good readers get their start.
Another major drawback to children reading on tablets is the amount of interaction with people around them. The Conversation did some research on their own. The outlet found that when a parent reads with their child on an eReader, the child does not get as much from experience. There is no appreciable difference in what the child retains. The difference comes from the interaction between the two. Because of the design of an eReader or tablet, children become more focused on the device and not the person reading with them. When they are reading from a book, the two laugh and discuss the story much more.
That interaction gives the edge to the traditional book for teaching young ones how to read. Many applications and programs can help kids build their reading skills through engaging children. Not just by reading, but by saying the words out loud and showing images, so the concept becomes associated with an image. Tools like this rely on stimulating other senses but need a parent or teacher there to reinforce the learning. Handing a young reader a digital device does not provide the same engagement in learning that sitting and working with them does. It does not create that warm, positive bond that associates reading and spending time with a parent.
Digital teaching and learning tools may be receiving a major media push, but traditional books are still the preferred way of reading. Ebooks have made inroads into the literary world, but sales of physical books are growing. That includes the growth of children’s books by 16% in 2016. Books, their vivid colors, tactile pages, and the ability for two people to engage in reading at the same time, remain the best way to introduce children to literacy.
The impetus for building student literacy is typically school-related. Teachers and administrators want them to be successful in school because they know the importance of early education on the child’s future.
There are also the state-mandated goals that measure student achievement and can affect the school district in many ways. Beyond those two significant incentives, there is a third one that is important to the student. Low levels of literacy have an impact on the student outside of the classroom. And not just their ability to get homework done.
Coming from a home where the parents struggled in school can inhibit the growth of a student. Parents with low levels of literacy tend to have lower incomes. With fewer resources, there is a higher probability of housing and food instability. Students without this stability concern themselves less with the grades they are getting and more with how will they provide the familiy their next meal. Possibly where they will be staying that evening.
Parents working hard to make ends meet do not have that extra time to spend speaking with their children or helping them with homework. One indicator of student success is their vocabulary as they come into school. In a study done by Hart and Risley, students in low-income families are exposed to just one-third of the words that students in professional families. And vocabulary is essential to student growth.
With time being at a premium in low literacy homes, the learning experiences children have there can also be limited. There are very few trips to bookstores, museums, libraries, or other areas students can have educational experiences outside of the school.
Those trips may be limited by geography; lower income houses are typically not located near these centers of learning. Another limitation is their connection to the community that can help them find these unique places.
Those with low literacy work hard to hide their lack of reading ability. They use isolation as a way to protect their secret, not being involved in their community or school. Staying separate from these resources may mean they miss valuable opportunities to help their students, or themselves, outside of school.
Staying healthy can also be a challenge. From reading labels on food to understanding the medicine a doctor prescribes, low literacy has an impact the general well being of a family. Even common health issues can be exacerbated when medication is not used correctly, causing the student to miss more time from class.
They are either ill themselves, or they may not be able to leave home because of a sick relative. Missing this time can put students further behind, adding to any frustrations they may be having in school.
Schools offer a unique opportunity to break this cycle of illiteracy. Building a love of learning in school may inspire the rest of the family to improve their literacy. Siblings may be drawn to mimic what their brother or sister is doing, and become interested in reading themselves.
They may become the readers in the house, helping parents interpret bills or introducing them to new places to go in the area. Getting a parent to build their skills, through inspiration from a child or working with them personally, is a mechanism that can stop that vicious cycle.
For many children, going to school is just one part of their daily ritual. They grumble get out of their comfortable bed, have breakfast, and are transported to school for a day of learning and spending time with friends. They receive their assignments for the day, then head home to complete them before they head to bed and get ready to complete the cycle the next day. That is the ideal: a stable base for children to build their education upon.
That is not the reality for may children. As of 2013, most students come to school from low-income households. They can leave for school malnourished and tired from sleepless nights in unstable homes. Heading to school can be dangerous as well, especially if their home is in a high crime neighborhood. School can add to the struggle when they cannot stay awake, are focused on their hunger instead of lessons, and have no time at home to complete assignments. Such a fragile base is difficult to build an education upon.
There are ways that the school itself can be a place to help students from low-income or unstable homes educate students in subjects beyond the three Rs.
One way was suggested over two decades ago by Dr. James Comer, a child psychologist from Yale University. He believed that “no significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” He developed a process called the Comer Process, known by some as the School Development Program. It is a system that looks after the whole student, helping them develop social and life skills in school along with being educated. Teams are built to help students manage their lives inside and outside of the classroom.
It takes a major commitment to apply the Comer Process to a school. There are many other options for schools to ensure that students are being supported for the time they are there.
- Building Relationships – You do not need to treat students as friends, but you do need to give them respect. A trusting relationship is a big step in discovering what is happening outside the classroom that could affect them inside of it.
- Formal Communication – Unless the home is highly religious, formal speech is not often used in low-income families. Most tests over the years are written formally, which makes them harder to understand for these students. Building this form of vocabulary is incredibly important over the long haul.
- Understand their Resources – By understanding what support a student has, arrangements can often be made by the school to offer what they do not have. Time and tutoring are usually the two things most students in low-income families need most.
- How to be a Student – Being a student is a skill that is not inborn; it is learned. Asking questions, planning assignments, and preparing for tests may not be taught in the home. Especially if the parents struggled in school. But it can be taught with other lessons.
Low-income students offer schools the opportunity to be a haven from their day to day life. They can help them with life skills they may not find at home, adding stability to what can be a very unstable existence. A stability to help them become lifelong learners.
The creation of a lifelong learner and passionate reader extends beyond the classroom. It involves a group effort, which includes the friends and family of the student. They are the support system that ensures the lessons learned in the classroom get reinforced outside of it. They are the ones that make sure that homework gets completed promptly and passive learning occurs. Researcher Susan B.Neuman, in her paper Guiding Young Children’s Participation in Early Literacy Development: A Family Literacy Program for Adolescent Mothers, states that “engaging parents and children in mutual activities that include book reading, but are not limited to it, may constitute the richest potential for supporting children’s early literacy development.”
It can be a challenge to get parents to engage. Parents have busy lives, and while they want to participate, other problems in life prevent it. They are not only making sure their children are doing well at school, but they are also working to pay the bills, get children to social events and possibly taking care of other family and friends. Schools intimidate some parents, based on their history with education. Teachers have a variety of tools at their disposal to invite and encourage parents to become more active in their child’s education.
- Get to know the parents. After school, have family nights where the parents and students complete lessons together. Make time after the lesson to work with the parents to show them how to help students with similar assignments. This allows the teacher to get to know the parents, opening up communication.
- Build the right communication channels. Like students, parents have their preferred ways of communication. Some react quickly to email, while others are very responsive to text messages. If access to the internet is an issue, phone calls may be the best way to open channels. Finding the method that works best with the parent improves the teacher’s ability to put parent and student on the same page.
- Provide parents the tools teachers use. Parents can be very willing to help a student, but not know what the lesson is or how they can help. Sharing tools with parents, like Powerpoint presentations or websites with learning tips, encourages parents to get involved. Not only are they involved, but they are also reinforcing the lessons presented in class, reinforcing the information.
- Allow them a peek inside the classroom. Parents that know what their students are doing in the class are more engaged. When they go on a field trip, send the parents some pictures. If they have a project, provide the parents ways to participate and show off what other students in the class create.
- Tell them something good. The overwhelming assumption when a teacher sends something home is that it has a negative connotation. Send more good feedback than bad builds trust with the parents and makes a note from the school a little more exciting to receive.
Opening the door for parents to help in the classroom is a significant benefit to the students. Teachers and parents, when they combine their resources and efforts, provide a seamless educational experience for a student. This has long-term benefits for the student, and the family as well. It creates a culture of learning in the home, which is an advantage to the whole community.
Language philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
Wittgenstein knew that his world was limited to the words he could use to describe it. This has been borne out through more methodical tests, like those performed by Johnson O’Conner. For over two decades he performed a variety of experiments to establish what factors turn a person into a success. The one factor that Johnson found to predict success, taking other variables into account, was vocabulary size. The larger the vocabulary, the better chances that the person would find their way into the C-Suite. The earlier children begin building vocabulary, the better their chances are for success in life.
Children start to understand words at 12-18 months, absorbing everything they hear. As they get older, they benefit from having their vocabulary expanded with more complicated words. By the time they are ready to start preschool and kindergarten, their vocabulary is advanced enough that they need to have discussions that improve their word knowledge. Kindergarten is the time when vocabulary differences become evident. A child from an affluent family will understand nearly twice the words that a child from a poor family. This is a gap that, if left unchecked, affects student learning.
Fortunately, many strategies are available to close that gap.
- Teach children words directly. Vocabulary lists belong in the classroom. Teaching students five to ten words a week, especially ones that are related to other lessons, vastly improves student vocabulary. This helps them build their language skills over time, up to 6,000 more words through graduation.
- Teach children words indirectly. Vocabulary lists help expose students to new words. Lists give a child a decent cushion, but they need more than that to succeed in higher education. Expand vocabulary to all lessons by using words with similar meanings through the day.
- Use words in context to make them interesting. Teaching vocabulary without context makes it difficult to understand their meaning. Putting vocabulary list words into sentences and other lessons provide examples to students how the word is used. This technique is another way to build their confidence in the words they are using.
- Repeat words over and over. Students require hearing the word over and over, up to fifteen times before they become comfortable using them. With all of the repetition of certain words during the day, their vocabulary will grow without them even knowing it.
- Encourage use of new vocabulary. Have students draw pictures of the new words. Play a game using the words as answers to questions. Activities that make students more comfortable with the vocabulary that is taught improves the chances they absorb and use those words.
These small but necessary steps build a foundation for reading. The more words a student has in their possession, the easier it is for them to grasp new concepts in class. Building vocabulary encourages them to explore new concepts, opening them up to new ideas, that expose them to new words. A virtuous learning circle develops, giving every student a chance at success through high school graduation and beyond.
Over the summer, home is an incredibly important place in the development of a love for reading. That center shifts when the days get cooler and school begins. The classroom becomes the place where children continue to build their literacy skills. Instilling this desire goes beyond lessons taught in English class. There are amazing stories to be told in Science, History, the Arts and Social Studies. Every subject offers tales that can be inspirational to students!
The best time to foster a love of reading in students is when they are young. Younger students learn by imitating what they see in the world around them. In school, this means seeing teachers reading books while they are doing work at their desk. Or having a discussion with the principal about what books they are reading. Becoming role models for reading and literacy can go a long way to developing a love of reading in a student. There are plenty of ways to do that as a school:
- Share what you read – Let students know that reading is not only for homework! Teachers and staff should be willing to share what they are reading with their students, letting them see that reading is an activity for everyone.
- Read a book to the class – Students do not have to do all the reading themselves. Opening a book and telling the students a story, complete with different voices and changes in vocal tone, can bring the words to life. This technique is incredibly helpful for students who learn best by listening. Hearing the words also helps improve student vocabulary.
- Give students learning strategies – There is nothing quite like the feeling of accomplishment. Especially on a task is difficult. Developing multiple ways for students to build reading skills helps them overcome these obstacles on their own. Every word they learn on their own boosts their confidence in their reading skills.
- Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) – First mentioned by Beverly Cleary, Drop Everything And Read is a great way to give students an educational, unplanned break. Between lessons teachers can have students read a book of their choosing, showing that reading can be done at any time. The combination of self selected reading materials and the encouragement of someone they look up to delivers positive reinforcement of their hobby. Students will want to read more as a result.
- Fill the class with books – Not every student will have a book for an impromptu reading break. If they do not have one they are working on, having a library in class can provide them options. Composing this library of books and topics the children enjoy will make DEAR time more enjoyable!
- Create active assignments based on what they have read – Worksheets about what a student has just read can dampen their enthusiasm. They can write stories about what happens next, or discuss in class what they think the reading meant. Having them engage with the story can help reinforce what they just read and improve reading comprehension.
The environments that students are part of is only part of the equation for encouraging reading. Demonstrating that reading is a pleasurable and relaxing activity helps students develop a similar perspective. The combination of parents and teachers acting as reading role models is the best way possible to encourage a love of reading in children.
W.H. Auden said, “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.”
For children, this love of language translates to an accessible introduction to literacy through poetry and a broader education on its beauty and intricacies.
Introduced early and often during a child’s journey with literacy, poetry can mean the difference between just knowing words and leveraging every aspect the word’s power.
Poetry raises a child’s awareness of words
In poetry, every word choice matters.
Whether it’s for the purpose of rhyming, alliteration, metaphor or a perfect way to describe something, word choice means more in the context of poetry. Every decision has a particular reason behind it. Every word fits, and it fits for a reason.
A child may not fully understand why the particular choice to use “go” instead of “walk” in “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” As she hears the poem over and over, she can soon understand that the poem is more pleasant because of that choice. Eventually, she will figure out why that decision happened and gain a greater understanding of word choice through that process.
Poetry grows a child’s vocabulary
Poetry exposes children to new words. On the quest to capture their meaning perfectly, a poet will travel highways of synonyms to find the perfect choice.
Think back to the first time you used a thesaurus or rhyming dictionary. For many, it was while writing a poetry assignment in school. The hunt for the perfect word choice can introduce young poets to a multitude of new words, with slightly different meanings to achieve the exact feeling the young poet hopes to make. If a child isn’t writing poetry and is just on the receiving end of a well-crafted masterpiece, they benefit from the exposure to new words and an expanded vocabulary.
Poetry designed for children is often rhythmical and rhyming. It makes it easier for children to memorize and figure out the meaning of new words.
Poetry makes children better learners
The musical structure of poetry makes memorization and recitation easier as well. Poetry improves children’s literacy by linking memory with audio and visual cues that help children recognize patterns, make logical next-step conclusions and give young students an advantage when learning anything from new languages to math.
Poems and rhymes also can be leveraged to help teach children rules, lessons and easy tricks for working through complicated problems. Some examples are how many days in the months, how long to brush your teeth, what to do when you are angry, and when to eat.
The rhythms are light, and the rhyming is fun,
But the work of a poem is never done.
Poetry is often incorporated early on and often in younger grades and for a good reason. The benefits of teaching poetry can set children up for a successful path to a better understanding of literacy and learning. Kids Read Now has witnessed the benefits of how poetry improves children’s literacy. That is why we offer some books of poetry on our Wish List every year! Poems can give children the tools they need to make the complicated simple and make learning fun!