Low-Income Parents Have More Power Than Teachers
For Creating Better
has more influence over young children, to turn them into good readers -
parents, or teachers?
Parents do. And we've known that for years. Even if
you can't afford to own a lot of books and subscribe to a lot of magazines, you
can "model" good reading for your children using free, public resources such as
the library, avoiding excessive TV watching, and talking a lot to your child,
day in and day out. Those things don't cost money.
But it also helps if your child's preschool or
early-primary classroom teachers are on board helping you develop as a literacy
coach for your own child. Any preschool and early-primary school that bends
over backwards to encourage literacy activities at home between parents and
young children is doing the right thing.
Preschools and K-2 teachers who ignore the power of
the home in developing literacy are shooting themselves in the foot - and
letting the kids down, since good reading skills are a huge gatekeeper to
success in life.
A study by Lonigan and Whitehurst in 1998 divided
preschool children into four groups: (1) teachers read to them in small groups,
(2) parents read to the children at home, (3) both teachers and parents read to
the children, and (4) a control group of children who received no special
The students who experienced (2) and (3) had
significantly larger vocabularies and oral language skills, compared to the
children in (1) for whom teachers provided the main reading stimulus.
The common denominator in (2) and (3) is parents. The
implications are that it is wise to coach parents to increase the frequency and
quality of their parent-child verbal interactions, beginning in toddlerhood,
and continuing through grade school at least.
That takes shape as a strong partnership with the
local public library . . . interactive homework in the form of teacher-prepared
materials sent home for the child to do with a parent . . . inviting parents to
author presentations in the evening instead of during school hours . . . creating
a parent-child book club . . . more family reading activities . . . family
literacy events at the preschool or primary school, and many more.
There are huge gains for a child's literacy
development if he or she grows up in a household where Mom and Dad, or Grandma,
or whoever the caregivers are, constantly talk and sing with him or her, read
books together, and take time to scribble and practice writing the alphabet
letters as the first day of kindergarten approaches.
Parents should resolve to read a lot
of storybooks to their children because that "informal" literacy activity - one
that isn't specifically to develop reading - still greatly increases a child's
vocabulary and listening comprehension.
Once the child is in school, the
parents should keep up the daily storybook reading, but also should use books
to teach children specific letters and words. That's because "emergent" literacy skills, such as alphabet knowledge,
decoding, and spelling awareness, are a great way to bridge a child over into
Researchers say that parents should
let their child "catch" them reading every day, including reading just for fun.
It's also a good idea for parents to
create a "reading portfolio" to share with their child's teacher at
conferences. It may be as simple as a list of the books the child has read at
home, or it might be a scrapbook full of pictures the child drew to illustrate
something in a book, notes about story characters that the child mentioned
later, and so forth.
Studies have shown that parents who pay attention to
their child's literacy progress in the preschool years wind up with students
who are the best readers later on in school, and the ones most likely to go on
into adulthood reading for enjoyment.
Homework: Other studies, including Baker, Gersten and Keating (2000)
have found that classroom reading volunteers, including parents, can create a
huge difference for kids, particularly low-income children. They have posted
significantly higher oral reading and word comprehension skills if they have
interacted with volunteer reading tutors in school. Nothing beats that
one-on-one attention, and that's especially true with instilling a love for
reading. The best thing about volunteers is that they are free and don't add
another load onto the taxpayers.