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Reading        < Previous


Low-Income Parents Have More Power Than Teachers

For Creating Better Readers


Q. Who 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 intervention.


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 literacy.


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.


By Susan Darst Williams Reading 17 2010


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