If I were queen of the world

A Talk For Parents On Teaching Children How To Read Before School

If I were the queen of the world, teachers wouldn’t have to teach children how to read; which is not say, I hasten to add, that learning to read is not essential. Rather, children in my ideal kingdom would learn to read easily, long before they came to school. I’m not suggesting that children should be taught to read by their parents since that’s a frightening prospect for many: ‘Teach reading? How are we supposed to do that?’ No formal teaching is required! Children can learn to read easily without being taught, by being read to, by playing games with words, and by falling head over heels in love with books.

So, if I were queen of the world I would issue a noisy proclamation called ‘Towards a State of Literacy’ and it would go something like this:

‘Friends, parents, countrymen, lend me your time.

‘It has come to my attention that not all in our land are literate by the time they are expected to be so. To my shame there are children in this land in the third year of their schooling, unable to read or write. To my greater shame, there are children in high school whose literacy isn’t even functional, let alone highly developed. To my greatest shame, there are among us, adults who cannot read or write. To whom shall we turn for assistance?

‘It seems to me that those of us who are parents and carers can and should be encouraged to play a key role in the development of literacy. After all, we have the great advantage of having fewer childen in our families than teachers have in their classes and are therefore able to have valuable one-to-one fun with our offspring, through the medium of books. Having fun with books, which means absolutely loving books and all they have to offer, is an essential pre-requisite to learning to read.

‘So please, I beg you all to read superb books aloud to your children! Begin on the day they are born. I am very serious about this: at least three stories and five nursery rhymes a day, if not more, and not only at bedtime, either. Read with passion and expressive abandon, maintaining the same variety in your voice at exactly the same place in the story or rhyme every time, keeping the same louds and softs, the same highs and lows, the same fasts and slows. In this manner your children will begin to remember the words by remembering the ‘tune’ of your reading. Memorising a rhyme or story and turning the pages at the right time is an important step in learning to read and should never be discounted as cheating. Fill their minds with a torrent of wonderful words, familiar and unfamiliar, common and grand, basic and lofty. And always make it a wild and joyful experience.

‘If a borrowed story book or nursery-rhyme book becomes favourite, do your utmost to purchase it for your child. Children who have lived in book-filled homes prior to going to school are known to be scholastically advantaged for the rest of their lives. And children who have memorised eight nursery rhymes by the age of three, so I have been told, are always the best readers by the age of eight.

‘As children become more and more familiar with a book, play games which focus on individual words and letters, such as covering repetitive or rhyming words with your fingers and letting the child guess which word might be underneath. Make it harder and harder—but keep ‘fun’ uppermost in your mind—by asking what letter the hidden word might start with. Or you might choose common words like and or the and find them on every page yourself, pointing them out to the child with squeals of excitement at each new discovery; then let the child find them, as a game, always as ‘fun’. Write the words on a piece of paper in a sentence that has meaning to the child: e.g ‘Chloë loves the beach and Nana,’ and stick it on the fridge.

‘Provide a variety of writing materials: different thicknesses of pen and crayon and pencil, scraps of computer paper, tiny notebooks, real exercise books, and coloured paper and leave them lying around so that children can draw, or draw/write, or pretend to write, or really write anything from notices for their bedroom doors, to shopping lists, letters to grandparents, complaints to parents, requests to Santa, and so on. It is tremendously important for the recognition of letters, and the relationship of those letters to sounds, that children should grapple with their own print as early as possible. Reading and writing go hand in hand: each depends upon, and improves the other, in a cycle of development.

‘Allow your children to watch television for a minimum of one hour a day and a maximum of two. In particular, let them share news bulletins with you and high quality children’s programmes since television will provide knowledge of the wider world in which our children live. Talk to them in the car, pointing out print in the environment such as ‘STOP,’ ‘BP,’ ‘Bunnings’ or ‘Turn left any time with care.’ Chatter to them all the time using adult vocabulary, about whatever you are doing: shopping, gardening, typing, painting, cooking, visiting, building, working. Involve them in your world and expand it by moving outside the familair whenever you can. Travel, no matter how short the distance, expands their minds, and the fuller the mind the easier it is to learn to read.

‘Bearing all the above in mind, there is no reason why your child should not be able to learn to read before school.

‘Let me explain.

‘I am asking you to allow your children to have the maximum exposure to language, to print, and to the world because the act of reading, even among competent readers like you and me, is essentially a guessing game. As our eyes dart across pages, we are guessing constantly and swiftly at words and their meanings and then confirming those guesses, in the literal twinkling of an eye. That’s what reading actually is. Our guesses are based on three things: first, on our knowledge of language and the wondrous way it works; second, on our ability to recognise the markings on a page, otherwise known as print; and third, on our knowledge of theworld around us. So the more we know of all three, the easier it is for us to read, or to learn to read.

‘I have said enough. Please take this proclamation home and read its contents at your leisure. In the name of literacy, may God bless you all.’