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Developing Reading Skills

Learning to read is like opening a door into a magic land filled with exciting and marvelous things, stories and characters, answers and questions, mysteries and adventures. Once children learn to read, this magic land becomes theirs to explore. Some children learn to read spontaneously before age five.

Some learn by the time they are eight and others learn to read fluently by the time they are 10-12 years old. One of the great things about homeschooling is that children can develop at their own pace following their own unique developmental timeline to understand how language is translated into writing. Here are some things that you can do to share the joy of words and language, and to support your children as they learn about reading.

Read to your children. It’s the best thing you can do to promote their ability to learn to read. Reading out loud expands vocabulary - yours and your child’s. It gives children concepts to help them understand events in their lives. Books about sibling relationships like Shirley Hughes’ books about Alfie and Annie Rose describe the daily events in a family’s life. Books can help children see how the world works. Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day not only describes jobs that people do, but also how roads are built – something I am aware of every time I go for a walk around the block and see how the street is lower at the edge than in the middle.

Picture books – not just for young children. Many picture books offer a new perspective on everyday situations. Our Animal Friends At Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen is one that can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages. In How Tom Beat Captain Najork And His Hired Sportsmen, Russel Hoban, the author, demonstrates how messing around is much more effective than training for a specific event. My children enjoyed the humor in Owl At Home, and, now that there is a second generation in my family, the Max and Ruby series by Rosemary Wells.

Wordless books.  Picture books without words like the I Spy books or Where’s Waldo are also great to enjoy with a child. Being able to find and distinguish various objects in pictures is a helpful skill to develop. One of my grandson’s favorite books like this is In the Town All Year Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner. In this book, like in Anno’s Journey by Mitsumasa Anno, there are various people who appear in each picture and a story is told with only illustrations. Wordless books offer both you and your child an opportunity to be creative and tell a story using the illustrations as a base.

Reading Aloud Benefits. Early readers also offer good stories for reading out loud. This can be an advantage when a child starts to read on his or her own, as these readers are familiar, making it easier to decode what’s written. Then longer chapter books of all kinds can be added to your repertoire. Reading out loud to my children was one of my favorite things about homeschooling. We’d be together, sitting on the couch, all piled into a chair, or at bedtime. We became familiar with other people, their stories, their troubles, their joys, their solutions to problems. Their stories became our stories, and the characters became our friends. If you need some guidance for choosing read aloud chapter books, try Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook and/or ask your librarian for suggestions. Speaking of which, a library card for your child is a wonderful thing. Libraries are such marvelous resources for homeschooling families! And librarians love to help people find books. Just ask!

Many Ways to Listen to Stories. Reciting poems, fingerplays, and singing songs are also fun ways to build language awareness while you play with your children. A. A. Milne has two books of rhythmic poetry I especially liked: When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. Aileen Fisher is another poet whose work is rhythmic and child friendly. As children grow older, tongue twisters are fun, too.

Fingerplays are a simple way to entertain children and help their manual dexterity – simple ones like Johnny Whoops for babies and toddlers. (Say Johnny or your child’s name as you touch the top of each finger starting from the pinky. Then say “whoops” when you slide from pointer finger down and back up to the top of the thumb and back again to the pinky.)

Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny,  Whoops, Johnny, Whoops, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. 

Here are some other fingerplays: The Bee Hive (make a fist, bend thumb and fingers into palm of fist) Here is the bee hive, Where are the bees? Hiding where nobody sees. Here they come creeping, Out of their hive One, two, three, four, five. (count one finger for each number) BUZZZZZ! (flutter fingers)

Tea Time Here’s a cup, (Cup one hand) And here’s a cup, (Cup other hand) And here’s a pot of tea. (Hold hand up for teapot—three middle fingers bent over, thumb stuck out for the spout and the little finger curled for the handle) Pour a cup (Motion of pouring) And pour a cup (Repeat motion) And have a drink with me.

There are many books of fingerplays available at the library as well as online. I found it helpful to have a memorized repertoire to use when we were waiting somewhere and had no resources other than our hands.

Singing with your children, like reciting poetry, helps them to feel and hear the rhythm in words and can be a fun way to find rhyming words such as in the song Down by the Bay. The children’s singer Raffi has books for many of his songs, so a child can look at the words while listening to the song. Great Big Words and I’m Going Down to the Library are two examples of the fun way Tom Chapin plays with language in his songs and music.

 Tumbler Books now offers various levels of children’s books where you can see the words and hear them, too. Many libraries have access to these online stories.

Conversations and discussions matter. It is also very important to engage your child in conversation – real live interchanges in the present. Talk to your child, listen to your child, engage in discussions and tell each other stories. Write down your child’s stories, helping them make books. This helps them see that books are other people’s stories written down so that many people can enjoy them.

Helping your child develop reading skills consists of continuing to do what you’ve done – have fun together with books, songs, poems, rhymes, tongue twisters and jokes! Enjoy!

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