It’s very frustrating when a parent receives a call from a teacher requesting a meeting about progress. This is especially so when your child is in an early grade. Oftentimes you think to yourself “Is this meeting really necessary?”. You ponder how serious this meeting could be. After all, your child is only in Kindergarten. Isn’t this the year they’re supposed to learn all these things?
What I want you to understand being both a parent and a teacher is that when a teacher calls you in for a meeting to discuss a lack of progress, there is something that the teacher sees in your child that is different than in any other child in your class.
There is something missing.
The teacher sees a crack in the foundation of the student’s learning and is meeting with you to discuss how this can be fixed. There are a few solutions. And one of them involves you directly. Parents have the obligation to be the child’s first teacher. The first 5 years of a child’s life are their formative years. Can you imagine the wealth of information you can teach them in those first 5 years?
I want to share with you a few problems teachers recognize in children who are struggling readers. I also want to share with you the solution to that problem.
Print awareness? What is that?
Print awareness refers to how a book is structured and designed to be read. How do you know that you’re supposed to read from left to right? How do you know that the pictures in books are an illustration of the words you’re reading? How do you know that you are supposed to turn the page from right to left?
I’ll tell you how you know.
Because someone once taught you!
When children enter school, teachers expect children to know the basics of print awareness. We want the child to know that pictures in books correspond with the words. We want them to know how to turn a page and we want them to know that when you read you start from the left page and move on to the right page. This one thing is a giant crack in the foundation of reading. Why? Because we waste time showing them these skills when they start school instead of teaching them what they need to know to progress in reading. It is your responsibility as a parent to teach this skill.
Teaching this skill is so simple.
When children are exposed to books early, they learn how to use a book the right way. This means they look from left to right. They turn the pages the right way. They look at the pictures to tell a story. Before a child can read the words on the book, they have to learn how to tell a story by looking at the pictures. This teaches them the sequence and order in a story. It is the most basic way to teach the basics of storytelling. If a child learns this in their first 5 years of life, it becomes 2nd nature, and you are building a solid foundation to ensure their success in school.
When a child enters their literacy window, it is imperative that they know the sounds each letter makes. They must know the sound that each consonant makes and they must know at least one word that begins with that sound. Kids should know many consonant sounds by the time they enter Kindergarten.
Learning how to read depends on a window of literacy. This window of literacy depends from child to child. It is the time designed in their brain to learn how to read. If you have ever taught Kindergarten or 1st grade you know how magical and unique this window is.
Teachers should not waste that window of literacy teaching letter sounds. As a parent, you should begin instilling this foundational skill as early as a child learns to talk. When they learn language, they can learn this skill.
I have seen many children remember a letter sound by associating it with a picture. I will ask them what the letter C sounds like on a flashcard, and they see the picture of a cat and will say to themselves cccccat, and they will know the sound the C makes that way.
How can you help your child with this at home?
Practice letter sounds all day long. And I don’t mean sit on the table and spend hours showing them letter flashcards. Although if you have the time, this is a good practice. Instead, ask them the beginning letter sounds of the object they see every day. For example, what letter does cup begin with? What letter does spoon begin with? What letter does bathtub begin with?
In the car, on the way to school, do the same thing! What do tree, sky, cloud, grass begin with? During your bedtime story point out words of objects in a book and show them the letter it begins with along with the picture. Make this a fun part of your routine.
Vowels are a bit more tricky and definitely a part of Kindergarten curriculum. But I will tell you, as a Kindergarten teacher, this is a hard skill for children to master sometimes. It’s hard to differentiate between the vowel sounds. So why not give children this skill early by introducing it to your child early on?
Helping them understand the fundamentals of this early, gives your child a head start, an advantage when it’s time to learn this in class. And it is so easy to do from home.
When you’re reading to a child at home and you read a word such as cat, linger on the vowel sound a bit more (c-ahhhh-t). Then ask your child to repeat cat. As added practice say a word with a different vowel, such as cut. Linger on the vowel sound (c–uhhhh-t). Ask them if they sound the same or different. When you do this you are teaching your child to be aware that words have different vowels and even though they sound similar, they are different letters.
When your child is a little older, say 5-6, say two words like dog and dig. Ask them to listen to the middle sound. Linger on the vowel sounds for each one. Point out how each middle sound is different. Write the words out and show them. Repeat this for many words like sit and sat, pet and pat, cot and cut.
Giving your child this advantage will give them the tools they need to be ready to learn more advanced reading skills. It will give them a solid foundation to be prepared to face the rest of literacy.
How many times as a teacher have I seen a student who doesn’t care about books and learning? More than I care to admit.
Learning how to read begins at home with YOU.
And I get it! Not everyone has time to read novels, nor do they even care to.
But let me ask you this. Do you read articles on Facebook? Do you read memes on Instagram and laugh? Do you read street signs and know how to use them to get where you have to go?
Guess what? That is reading!
If you think reading is boring, so will your child. Show them how to read things on social media. Find appropriate memes to show them. Show them how a stop sign says STOP on it. Show them all the things you read each day and make it fun!
Find books on the topics they like. Add subtitles to the shows they watch. Reading is a skill we use every single day. Show your children how important it is!
Whether you want to accept it or not, reading starts at home with you. You are responsible for setting the groundwork for teachers. The foundation starts with you!