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The Gift of Reading

December 30, 2013

by Dr. Bruce Marchiafava

A father reads to his children

Of all the subjects that we learn during our education—from kindergarten through graduate school—the single most important is reading. Because reading is the key that opens the door to the accumulated knowledge of our civilization, whatever line of work we pursue, we’re likely to depend upon reading to some degree. College professors read constantly, while electricians need to read technical manuals. We read in our daily lives, from shopping to insurance policies to road signs.

Learning to read is a complex process. For several decades, reading experts have argued over the various techniques to teach reading; phonics or whole language or some combination of both, or even some other method. Parents don’t need to understand these techniques or take sides on which is best. Your role is more basic, and more important: to introduce your child to reading by reading to him or her.

When to start reading? Shortly after our first child was born, a friend of ours—a teacher and principal—gave us a gift for the baby. It was a little plastic “book” of eight pages, mostly pictures but some words. I asked him when we should start reading to our son and he said, “Now. Six months is not too soon!” We followed his advice with both children, reading to them right up to first grade. By then, they were able to read some stories to us.

As your child’s first teacher, you will be teaching him or her many lessons. Reading should be at the top of this list. Here’s a little lesson plan for doing this:

  • When and Where. Set aside a regular time. Just before bed is good; this is a great preparation for going to sleep. Whatever time you select, make certain it’s a quiet time: no TV, no music, no talking by other family members. Try for at least three times a week.
  • What. Stories that will interest and entertain your child. At the beginning, the stories should have lots of pictures and simple stories, with basic words. Later, you can introduce longer stories, with more action in them. The vocabulary should grow and the pictures become more elaborate.
  • How. As you read a story, you can point to figures in pictures (“duck,” “cow”) while saying the word. Then point to the word and the picture, to link them. You could show how two words that sound alike (“duck,” “truck”) mean different things. When you finish the story, ask your child questions about it. What did you like? What did the pig do? What does the fox say?
  • Who. You can begin with infants; although they will not understand (and have a very limited vocabulary), they can listen to your voice and can look at the pictures. Each month, they will understand more and acquire more words. Gradually, they will recognize some written words, identifying the sounds and explaining the meaning. By kindergarten, your children are likely to be reading on a very basic level, or at least have acquired pre-reading skills.

Teaching reading by reading to your child is enjoyable and very effective. It is also one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. Books contain the knowledge, dreams, ideas, imagination and fantasies of our world. They open the doors to science, to mathematics, to history, poetry, literature, and to careers in the adult world.

Not bad for a few minutes each night with your child.

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