When your children get their first books in their hands, it is a good bet they are going to end up in their mouths. Exposing infants to books is an important step on their journey to becoming lifelong readers. They become familiar with the books, exploring them by turning pages, looking at the bright pictures and, yes, even biting them.
At each age, there are certain milestones in reading they should be hitting. These include starting by interacting with the book as a physical object to discussing the broader themes and details of the story they just read. Paying attention to their growth as readers keep them on track to hit that third-grade goal of going from learning to read to reading to learn.
Here is a basic outline of what to expect at each age and grade level:
Up to twelve months:
- Learn to communicate through gestures
- Understand over fifty (50) words
- Respond to books when read to
- Enjoy the tactile aspects of books, like turning the pages and holding the books
One to three years:
- Answer basic questions
- Identify images of simple vocabulary words (cow, green, girl, etc.)
- Encourage them to talk and listen during reading time
- Learn vocabulary and language concepts through repetition of their favorite stories
Preschool (three to four years old):
- Name and recognize most of the letters of the alphabet (up to 18 of them)
- Recognize the sounds associated with individual letters
- Understand how print is read (left to right, top to bottom)
- Explore books independently
- Know the difference between pictures and letters
- Imitate reading a book aloud
- Start to recognize logos and other symbols
- Acknowledge their own names in writing, as well as other commonly seen words
- Start to match spoken and written words
- Recognize basic grammar structures
- Read basic words and understand how they work in a sentence
- Write out letters, numbers, and basic words
- Use pictures and other clues to understand basic words they do not know
- Understand basic story structures (who, what, where, when, why, and how) as well as story organization
- Create basic stories on their own
First and Second Grade:
- Take big leaps in reading starting in first grade
- Read their favorite stories for pleasure
- Recognize an increasing number of sight words
- Start to recognize when they make reading errors and can self-correct
- Figure out unfamiliar words using context and images
- A good time to listen to them read and start correcting them as they do
Second and Third Grade:
- Understand how pronunciation and emphasis affects the story
- Use correct punctuation
- Use correct spelling
- Learn new words through story context
- Organize their writing into paragraphs
- Apply new vocabulary and phrases appropriately
- Read more complex books independently
- Recognize deeper themes and engage reading as a learning tool
- Hold discussions about the stories they are reading
One thing to remember about these milestones in reading: all children learn at their speed. These are all basic guidelines as to what can be expected, but by no means carved in stone. Your child may be more advanced in some stages while behind in others. Teachers and parents working together establish the best way to help each student. The most important part is to stay engaged with students’ efforts and keep encouraging them to read!
Homework was not always a staple of a student’s’ life. Until the 1950s, homework felt to be an unnecessary burden on school children. When they left school, it was time for chores on the farm or around the home. It was not until the Cold War, when there was a fear of falling behind the Russians, that a fresh emphasis on homework reignited. We needed to keep our educational edge.
Over the last decade, educators have been examining the wisdom of giving students hours worth of homework every night. A rule developed suggesting ten minutes of homework for every grade the student was in. So a second grader would have twenty minutes of homework, while middle school students would have over an hour of work to do when they got home. This “10-Minute Rule”, while not an exact science, is a rule of thumb that many schools and school districts have adopted.
Homework at a young age can be a critical step in turning your child into a lifelong learner, but homework amounts can cause negative results. Too much homework can be intimidating to a new learner, driving them away from school and learning. Too little and they are not stimulated enough to want to learn outside of school. The National Education Association (NEA) goes by guidelines suggested by Harris Cooper: ten to twenty minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional ten minutes per grade. This research is where the 10-Minute Rule developed.
This rule works in multiple ways. The first way is keeping a definite time for children to explore. Studies show that the further children get in their school careers, the more homework becomes a benefit to them. Before third grade, most children cannot learn outside lessons from their homework. They can do it and understand what they do, but they cannot fully apply it. As students start to read to learn, a love of reading becomes essential. Younger students, however, do most of their learning by playing and exploring the world around them. Small amounts of homework benefit students at this age, as long as it does not interfere with their exploration of the world.
Homework at a younger age puts stress on parents as well. Older students that have developed more critical thinking skills can answer the questions on their own. Younger students do not always have that ability, and may struggle with assignments. This puts some of the onus for educating them on the parents. This can add stress to the parents, especially if they have busy lives.
Younger students’ benefits from homework are much different than older students. The repetition and reinforcement of the lessons they are learning in school are the primary reasons for elementary school students’ homework. Homework for younger students is a way to allow parents to see what they are learning in school. As parents help their young children, they can look at the lessons and can reinforce them at home. The children also are starting to understand the necessity of doing schoolwork at home. This is a valuable lesson as they move through their education.
Though the pendulum of how much homework to give students will always swing, we have discovered that homework is an essential tool for students’ growth. It teaches them more than what it is on the paper. It helps them with discipline, reinforces what they are learning in school, and builds them into better learners.
There are, on average, 180 days in an elementary school year in the United States. Each day is roughly seven hours. That time does not include weekends for students. Months of school and hours of homework are not always enough to cover every topic. Fortunately, there are many more hours in the day that can be utilized for a wide range of lessons. This trend of “expanded learning” has become popular with parents and teachers alike in many school districts.
Expanded learning gives parents the chance to supplement what students are learning in the classroom. It can be more information about subjects they are learning in school, or about topics that they find interesting and want to explore on their own. It can also be a way to keep their minds active over a long break, like winter or summer.
To assist with educational growth, as well as personal growth, here are some resources and suggestions that can help:
Community Partnerships: Schools and parents can partner with community organizations to help students. These partnerships can support the students’ education, as well as help with their other needs such as clothing, meals, or medical services. While the schools themselves may not offer such additional services, they may have lists of organizations that do.
Family Engagement: Parents are a wealth of knowledge! A growing amount of research shows that the single biggest factor in determining student success is parental engagement. Working at home can be facilitated by community partners and schools. Supporting students outside of school is an important part of a child’s education.
A Disparate Team of Educators: To stretch the learning experience as far as it can go, multiple perspectives should be taken into account. The more people that can offer input on educational activities, the better the end results for the students. With a group of teachers, parents, community leaders, and professionals that communicate well, student experiences can greatly enhance lessons.
Here are some things to consider when involving students in these activities:
Programming Supporting Lessons: Any activities outside of school hours should reinforce what is going on in class. These do not have to be lessons that come from a lesson plan. They could be social skills, playing games, or anything else that would be a benefit in class. These offer possibilities to reinforce soft skills that help social interaction and emotional intelligence.
Voluntary Participation: Self-selected lessons are the best lessons, because the students are more engaged. Their natural curiosity takes over when presented with something they want to know. This is an excellent opportunity to engage them in topics they want to know that are not part of their school lessons. It can be a chance for them to dive into topics they showed interest in during class, but ones that did not fully fit into their schedules.
Assessing the Results: Every time you work with another organization, you want to make the experience better the next time. After you have completed an expanded lesson, take time to review the experience. Were your children engaged or distracted? Did they jump into certain parts of the lesson and avoid others? How did they react when they came home?
Programs like Kids Read Now provide ways to support and encourage student learning outside the class. To find more programs like ours, start by asking your school what activities they offer for expanded learning. If they do not have what you need, they can often recommend organizations you can contact. Your local library is a great place to start looking for after-school activities for students as well. It often has programs geared to many interests or can point you to places that offer them.
When you bring learning outside of the classroom, it enhances and reinforces what is going on in the classroom. Creating lifelong learners means teaching them early that discovering new information can happen anywhere, at any time…even outside of a class.
The beginning of the school year is a busy time. There is work to be done, from getting the classroom and lessons ready to welcome in the new students. Though the first few weeks are hectic, reaching out to parents is an act that can have a major impact during the school year. Parents can provide insights into the best ways to reach certain students in the class. They have the ability to extend your lessons, showing students the work done in the classroom has applications in other places. Parents are also going to be the ones that have the most investment in their children’s success!
Building relationships with parents does not have to require an enormous time commitment. There are small actions that can be done at the beginning of the school year to start building your rapport with them:
- Establish connections early in the year – Parents will always be anxious at the beginning of the year, whether it is the first day of kindergarten or the first day of senior year. Hearing from their children’s teachers early opens the channels of communication on a positive note. These initial contacts establish that you are interested in helping them educate their children.
- Introduce yourself to them… – As part of this early connection, give parents of your students some insight into who you are as a person. Tell them about some of your favorite vacations, books, and things to watch. Give them a rundown of what you have planned for the year, so they know what to expect and when.
- And ask questions about their children – Getting to know your students is another step in building trust with parents. They value your interest, and the knowledge you gain in the classroom helps tailor parts of lessons to what the students like. To learn more about the children, you can send home short surveys or develop online versions through tools like Survey Monkey or Google Forms. The questions should be easy to fill out.
- Communicate with parents often – The only time they hear from you should not be when their children are struggling, either socially or in their education. Let them know some of their children’s activities or what the class does together. Give them a window into a day in your children’s classrooms.
- Invite them to participate – There are many ways parents can help you in their children’s classrooms. They may have specific skills that would demonstrate lessons. They may be able to help with parties or events, or they may have some ideas on improving the classrooms or communicating with students. Listening to what they have to say is important for communication, even if it is not implemented.
- Offer resources to help – Many parents are very eager to help their children succeed. They are simply unsure of how to help or where to find the resources to do so. Share the resources you have with them, whether they are digital ones or something they can find at the library.
Parents are excellent partners when it comes to providing extra help to students. They invest in their children’s success, providing the ability to reinforce the lessons you give in the classroom at home.
Opening lines of communication and developing partnerships with parents benefit teachers for the school year. However, they benefit the students through their educational careers. Building such relationships is worth the investment.
When children first begin to explore reading, it is not a solitary activity. Parents spend time with their children teaching them to read.
The lessons can be as straightforward as sitting down and reading with your children or as subtle as getting them to read recipes or books about characters in other media. It can even be modeling the behavior, like reading after dinner or while on vacation.
Children absorb the actions of the people that are close to them. The more activities a parent or other family member can model for them, the better off they are when they begin school.
The involvement of parents in education is critical and often underestimated. The more involved parents are in the education of their children, the better their outcomes as students. When parents get involved, it lowers the barriers to where learning happens. Children start to see that discovering new information is an activity that can occur anywhere, from watching a teacher at a chalkboard to a parent reading with them at the kitchen table.
Lowering barriers is not only something to do for children. Encouraging parental interaction is essential. Many parents, especially ones from low-income families, do not have the best memories of their time at school. That makes them very reluctant to engage with teachers, even if it is in the best interest of their children. Teachers will always be intimidating to some parents, so building relationships with them are crucial.
Even parents that enjoyed their time at school may be hesitant to approach teachers. They want to make a good impression on their children’s teachers as well. Making sure they know the goals of any meetings or interactions allows them to prepare, putting them at greater ease.
Interactions between parents and teachers, like open houses or parent-teacher meetings, are occasional opportunities to exchange information. Offering a weekly email, Facebook page, or website where parents can see what their children are doing provides a much more constant stream of feedback. This open communications channel keeps parents informed about what their children do in school. This channel becomes an open invitation to interact. Information about classroom events, whether positive ones or warnings, school activities, and homework students bring home becomes part of the communication. Sharing events happening with the family, providing the teacher with the ability to prepare for possible behavioral issues or acting out.
Research consistently shows that two of the greatest indicators of student success involves the socioeconomic status of the parents and parental involvement with their education. Parents who offer support at home for students give them a better chance to succeed later in life. Teachers support this effort by helping parents understand what they can do at home to reinforce their lessons. Anything from showing how the lessons apply to the real world to go over the assigned homework. Involving the parents in education creates another layer that brings students that much closer to becoming lifelong learners.
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.
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.
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.
Like developing anything important, building better students requires providing the right environment. This is an easier task when the children are in school. A school is filled with teachers, staff, and materials that serve the purpose of encouraging students to learn. Outside of the classroom, that encouragement is not always present. Those materials are not always available when they are at home. They do not need desks, whiteboards, or even computers to spend time learning at home. All they need are home libraries.
Having a library at home encourages students to spend time reading, and learning, outside of the classroom. Richard Allington, author of Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, states that a handful of self-selected books could have a dramatic impact on a child’s learning over time.
In a multi-year study, he discovered that just adding 12 self-selected books to a home every summer can have the same learning impact that summer school offers. When books are convenient, it is more likely those books will be used by the students and parents. It creates a home environment that shows that reading is encouraged, especially when there are books within easy reach at all times. Helping parents build home libraries have other benefits as well:
- Continuous access to books – It can be difficult for parents, especially those in low-income families, to take their children to a local library over the summer. By developing home libraries, students have easy access to books all summer long.
- Topics of their choosing – Everyone is more likely to read books about topics that pique their interest. Teachers and parents can work together to build a home library of books that will encourage children to read not only through the summer but during the school year.
- Familiarity with the material – Children enjoy things that are familiar. They love their favorite toys and clothes. That same love of the familiar can apply to books, especially a favorite character in a series. A beloved character can expose them to new vocabulary over the course of that series, elevating their understanding of the language.
- Builds family literacy – Reading can be contagious. Once one member develops a passion for reading, it can spread to siblings and other people in the home. This has a multiplying effect of bringing more books into the home, creating a virtuous cycle of overall improved literacy for the family.
- Improved academic performance – Research shows that, even when wealth and location are taken into account, more books in the home leads to greater academic performance. Owning 500 books can add 3.2 years of educational gains over time, according to Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Even the addition of one book can have an impact on educational gains.
Creating a friendly environment for students to read changes the environment for the whole family. Even in areas where there may not be a bookstore or community library available, home libraries offer a bridge to literacy. It extends a small part of the learning environment into every home.