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.
Reading is considered the most important skill people acquire. It’s the foundation for further learning. From Kindergarten through third grade, children learn to read, and from grade four onward, they read to learn. If kids don’t master reading by third grade, they eventually run into some serious limitations and challenges in life. There are, however, ways to lay the groundwork for educating readers and make reading part of life-long learning.
Drill the Alphabet
Not fully understanding the letters of the alphabet and their relationship to sounds can deeply hinder reading proficiency. Students need clear instruction for how to identify, name, and write letters. They need to practice letter-sound relationships and review those relationships as they learn new ones. Activities like singing alphabet songs and viewing and reciting rhymes help them acquire alphabetic knowledge. Students have to be immersed in the world of the alphabet so that they can use letters in as many activities as possible.
Focus on Phonemic Awareness
Students need to be aware of the sounds of words and syllables in our alphabet-based language. The lack of this awareness trips up a majority of students who become non-proficient readers. To unlock the meaning in words, students need to know the sounds in those words and letters. Activities should focus on learning specific sounds, such as b in bump, and have students practice these sounds in as many words as possible. Students can then begin identifying and saying all the sounds in a word. From there, further strategies help students build on what they keep practicing and learning.
[bctt tweet=”From Kindergarten to 3rd grade, children learn to read. From grade four onward, they read to learn.”]
Boost Their Vocabulary
Gaining a large vocabulary is essential for unlocking meaning in written text. A limited vocabulary makes it difficult for readers to make all the connections among words, phrases, and sentences. Introducing and teaching new vocabulary in reading materials should be an ongoing strategy. Use word-learning strategies such as finding meaning from context, locating word parts to decode longer words, and searching the old standby: a print or online dictionary.
Read to Them
One of the best ways to teach something is to show it in action. Share stories and informational writing, and get students to think about the ideas and visualize what they hear. This is definitely something parents can do at home and teachers can do in classrooms. Reading to kids reinforces that reading is part of life, and it exposes kids to language and vocabulary that they might not experience in normal conversation.
Make Sure That They Read
Reading is a skill, and it takes practice to become proficient. Setting aside daily reading time at home or in the classroom is a good start. It’s important to have students read and reread stories and then gradually introduce them to more challenging texts. Use comprehension strategies that get them to ask and answer questions about the reading, visualize what’s happening, and make connections to what they’ve read. Also let students be responsible for choosing their own reading—they are likely to read more if they find something that interests them.
One of the best ways to teach something is to show it in action.
Let Them See You Read
This is especially important for parents. Children learn much by what they see happening around them. When they see adults reading regularly, they see that it’s what people should be doing. Modeling reading at home, or anywhere, increases the chances of a child becoming a proficient reader. After all, it may be difficult to sell the importance of reading if children don’t see others doing it, too.
Visit a Library, or a Bookstore
Show students the places in which they will see a vast amount of reading material and the nearly endless possibilities of what they can discover. Arrange a field trip so that students see what these places offer and how they can satisfy the reading interests of nearly everyone. Chances are, most libraries and bookstores have plenty of people browsing the aisles and inspecting books. This also shows students that people in general believe that reading is important.
John Chapman was born just before the start of the American Revolution in 1774. His father was a soldier as well as a farmer, passing his wisdom to his son. John was attracted to planting orchards and set off on his own to start planting orchards through the land. Partially because he loved to work the land, but he claimed a good deal of property as well. On the frontier, if you planted fifty apple trees, you could claim the area. John owned over 1,200 acres of land doing this through five states, earning him the nickname Johnny Appleseed. He patiently developed the land he claimed, selling most of it to settlers as they moved out west. The seeds Johnny planted and quietly cultivated gave Americans a hardy apple they could call their own. The seed was the key; had he used other methods, the final result may not have been as robust or enduring.
Spending time reading with your child builds more than just literacy; it builds a love of learning.
Like Johnny discovered, focusing on development in the early stages of the process helps to develop more balanced outputs. There has been a growing movement in the country to focus more resources on early education, learning from preschool through third grade. These years are considered some of the most critical in the development of young learners. In a study done at the Perry Preschool by HighScope, there were significant benefits shown to early education. Beginning a student’s educational journey as young as age three can help increase their chances to graduate college, earn more over the course of their life, and avoid trouble with the law.
There are no barriers for starting to teach children early. Playing educational games at home or just reading to children during the day can help with a child’s development. Even parents with busy schedules can find short periods of time to read with their children or incorporate learning into daily activities. A study done by Rhode Island Hospital saw that reading to children as young as eight months old can improve their vocabulary and love of reading. Spending time reading with your child builds more than just literacy; it encourages a love of learning.
Teachers that work with younger students observe other benefits from early education. It improves attention span and concentration, two skills that are critical in learning as we go through school. It relates learning to a pleasurable experience, which in turn makes school that much more alluring. It will give your child the confidence they need to acquire new lessons and explore for themselves. And children like to copy what their elders are doing. If they see parents and grandparents reading at home, it is more likely they will want to learn to read as well. Books also expose children to a wider vocabulary than most adults use with toddlers and kindergarteners.
If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people. – Confucius
Johnny Appleseed nurtured his orchards until they were ready to sell to fresh-faced settlers heading west. It was a combination of his efforts while the trees were young and the new owner’s efforts to maintain and improve the crop that gave us the apples we have today. Kids Read Now, through encouraging students to learn at home at a young age, offers parents a low maintenance way to help children develop essential learning skills. Skills that will create lifelong learners and help give them opportunities to thrive in their education.