Diana Noonan tells us how to ramp up your children’s reading.
Reading is not a chore. At its mildest, it helps us get on with everyday life; at its best, it’s pure joy – a recreational activity we can take with us anywhere. Reading entertains and informs, answers our burning questions, and allows us to enter worlds we will never, physically, get to visit (even if they did exist!). Reading is the same for children, and if we want them to be attracted to words from the start, we must make learning to read a fun activity from the very beginning, and never, ever a slog. Apart from reading to a child, allowing them to read to us, and modelling reading (which are the foundation stones of forming good reading habits), there are a host of other pleasurable activities available to help children learn to read. In most cases, they are quite inexpensive, and all it takes to bring them into your home is an expedition to the library or stationery shop – and the occasional online order. Helping your child become a reader has never been more enjoyable.
What is it about stickers that makes them so appealing? This simple act of peeling back those bright images and placing them exactly where you want them to be is something even adults enjoy. Stickers can be used to reward children for good reading behaviour such as clocking up reading time or taking books out of the library but they have other read-related uses, too. When your child is reading non-fiction (such as a text about ballet or space travel) look for stickers related to the subject. Staple some pages together, and help your little one create a vocab book by placing the stickers on the paper and then writing the words underneath. As your child devours more advanced texts, these subject-specific words will come in handy.
With children who are already able to write a few words, stickers can help them to write and then read their own books. If they can’t think of a technical word, the sticker can take its place. For sheer, crazy fun, let your child pop random stickers at regular intervals onto lined pages, and then help them create a story by filling in the words in between. Children love to read stories they have written themselves.
When searching out stickers, remember that many are made of vinyl and are designed to be used again and again on non-porous surfaces. With this in mind, sit your child in front of the fridge or freezer, arm them with a whiteboard pen, and let them write and read their own stories.
The Reading Pen
From New Zealand’s own Rainbow Reading publishing house comes a magic pen that opens up another dimension to books. The Reading Pen “reads” a caption when placed on an illustration. It pronounces a word when the child can’t. It allows them to listen to an entire sentence or to highlight and hear high-frequency words. Reading Pens can be ordered online from rainbowreading.org.nz but before you buy one, check at your local school to see if there is a magic pen you can borrow for weekends and holidays.
Tabs, hinges, dials, flaps, and pop-ups turn already entertaining books into a world of excitement and anticipation. Even the most reluctant reader can’t wait to turn pages that explode into life. Pop-up books also help connect children’s imaginations with words. As they wait for the surprise image to arrive, they are already anticipating what it might be. Imagination is all-important as children transition to books with fewer or no images so training imagination from the very beginning is so worthwhile. Best of all, pop-up books encourage rereading because the pages never fail to delight, even when viewed again and again. And as we all know, repetition is an essential part of strengthening word recognition.
Stories are gateways into other places and other lives. Like magical doors, the covers of a book open to allow us into new worlds and fantasy kingdoms. Books embellished with texture and scratch-and-smell strips, with holes to poke fingers through, laces to thread, and Velcro fastening to do up and undo, help young children to literally feel and sense they are in these new worlds. Sensory additions to a book draw children into the text as much, if not more, than words and illustrations. In the early stages of learning to enjoy books and reading, make use of any tools you can find to engage your child at the deepest level.
When children are still learning to read, it can be so empowering for them to listen to the words read aloud through headphones while they turn the pages. Schools already have sets of audio books and stories care of the Ministry of Education’s School Journal and Ready to Read publications. Don’t be afraid to enquire at your child’s school to see if some of these are available to use at home during the weekends and holidays. Alternatively (or as well), head to the library, where you will find similar resources. Before you plug your child in, help them understand the page-turning instructions. There is often a sound such as a beep which cues them to turn, and it will avoid frustration if you help them negotiate this before they begin listening. Audio books build reading mileage, which is one of the main steps toward becoming an independent reader.
Craig Smith’s The Wonky Donkey has become an icon for sing-along stories, and deserves all the popularity it receives. Anyone who has ever heard children singing along to the words of this book will understand the power that words to music have to encourage repeat reading. When parents are asked if their child is reading yet, they often reply: “No, but he/she knows the words on the page because they’ve memorised them.” Memorising is what reading is all about – memory helps us identify letters and the combination of letters that make up words. If sing-along books help your child memorise the words on the page, seek them out! Whatever you are doing to help your child learn to read, don’t be afraid to employ some fun add-ons. You may find you enjoy them as much as your child!
Catlins author Diana Noonan is one of New Zealand’s best-known writers for children. A former editor of the iconic School Journal, she writes for a wide range of educational resources, and takes a strong interest in the New Zealand curriculum.