It's every parent's wish--that their child become a strong reader, a good student, and a successful adult. I understand. It's my wish for my children as well.
Why is reading so fundamental to learning? In my opinion, reading is the best resource for learning. I'm not discussing 'education', but learning. The difference between 'education' and 'learning' is subtle, but important to understand. 'Education' is the means of instructing a student to master a particular skill, be it math facts, sight words, or social skills--a list of skills that someone else declares necessary for all students. 'Learning' is the intrinsic motivation that inspires mastery of a subject--a subject that the learner wants to know because it's in line with his interests and with her natural skills. Learning how to drive is motivated by the freedom of mobility. Learning to cook feeds the body and the soul, and is itself an art form. Learning about the science of nature, or how to mix primary colors into a rainbow assortment, or learning how to tie one's shoes--it all leads to new understanding, new expressions, and a greater mode of independence. Essentially, learning advances a person to a level of performance that brings them closer to God's plan for them. Education advances a student toward the level of performance that is expected of the institution of Education. In other words, the word 'education' is no longer just a word, but an institution that demands a set of skills that not every student understands, needs or is called to master.
Learning can happen anywhere, for better or worse (i.e. learning bad habits), and is best modeled by someone a learner respects. Parents, obviously, are the first mentors to children and the best people to help children learn what it means to be a member of that family, the faith, the traditions of the family. Learning also extends to daily habits, what's important to that family, and what that child's future might look like is greatly determined by the family's learning patterns.
For parents who want their children to be good readers, they must first model the act of reading for pleasure, for information, and as a means of important communication. Parents should write often and read more. For children to truly understand that 'reading is fundamental' not just in education but in life, they must see it in their own parents. Without that modeling, saying "You should read" means nothing and a child is less likely to be a strong reader.
Ways to Model Reading:
Decorate your house with bookshelves and books and organize them with Top Shelf, Middle Shelf, Bottom Shelf.
Top Shelf Books: Put the fancy books on the top shelves - the classics, the special books that you love. Keep them out of reach for a while, keep them safe from little hands. Make those books special, saying, "Someday you'll be ready to read that book, and then you'll see a whole new world. That book has been read by Presidents and Scientists and great thinkers and it changed the way they thought." This does, of course, mean that parents need to read these books :) The Constitution of the United States, The Odyssey, Sherlock Holmes, The Lord of the Rings, The Last of the Mohicans, The Count of Monte Cristo.
Middle Shelf Books: Paperbacks of great books that you love and read (or should have read!) when you were in middle and high school. Introduce a child to this bookshelf when they are little by making a Read-Aloud hour each night. Books such as: Peter Pan, A Wrinkle in Time, The Hobbit, The Cay. So many books are being published now - some are worth your time, others are not. The False Prince, Savvy, The Penderwicks, The Willoughby's, Holes, Here There Be Dragons, and so many more. Become good friends with your librarian and ask what he or she reads, look up reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
Base Shelf Books: Warning...this shelf will always be a mess. This shelf is reserved for picture books and board books, books that are accessible to the little ones. I learned that my children don't think a neatly stacked bookshelf is a thing of beauty. They leaned their favorite picture books against the front of the bookshelf so they wouldn't have to dig through the neat lines of spines to find their favorite. My advise: Just go with it. As far as recommendations, there is an endless supply. Pinterest will give you a beautiful list of book recommendations for all ages, but here are a few of our favorites, the books we give as gifts to kiddos under 5 years old: Anything by Dr. Suess, Robert McCloskey, Jan Brett, Little Bear books, and any of your own favorite picture books from your childhood.
Use the Library. If you haven't been to your local library recently, it's time to update your card and go! Learn what programs are offered at your library and go to the programs, the story time readings, the author visits. Make it a part of your weekly schedule. The benefits of your library extend beyond what we knew as children. There are online videos, magazines, and books. The documentaries that you can find at the library extend the books we can read on different subjects.
Always give books as gifts. They are not always seen as the 'cool' gifts, but there is something about a book that survives the years, making those gifts treasures and not just broken toys with missing pieces. Board Books for babies, hardcover picture books for kindergartners and 1st graders. The coveted early chapter book series for young readers.
Reading Aloud must be a part of your daily schedule. It's the closeness of snuggling up on the couch and opening a book together--that's the magic of reading aloud. Your child will lean against your arm and feel the warmth of your body and feel safe. If they sit on your lap, they will feel and hear your heart beat. The sound of your voice vibrating through their bodies will seal the deal.
If your child is struggling with reading, remain calm. Talk to the teacher and see what recommendations he can suggest. Talk to your librarian for books that are of interest to your child but have simpler words - a high interest easy reader. Invest in magazines that are fun and colorful and informative. Highlights is a lasting favorite. Leave hand-written notes under your child's pillow each night. The best thing to do when a child is struggling with reading is to assure them that everyone learns at a different pace.
There are five components of learning to read: Phonics, Phonemic Awareness, Vocabulary, Fluency, Comprehension.
Phonics are the letter and combination of letters (ch, th, sh, for example) in the written and spoken sounds of words. A book I've used with all my children to teach them to read is Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. None of my children have actually finished the book because they 'got it' and we moved on to easy reader books.
Phonemic Awareness is the knowledge of phonics; the awareness that spoken and written words have specific sounds. Memorizing short poems and scripture helps learners hear each word encased within a meaningful set. TV shows such as PBS's Between the Lions are helpful too. All my children watched and loved that program. We rent it from our library and my son continues to enjoy the booky fun!
Fluency in reaching is the ability to read at the correct pace with meaningful inflection, expression and phrasing. Fluency is learned by listening to good readers, books on CD, and through practice in reading familiar passages and books over and over.
Vocabulary development is a natural side-effect of reading books that are slightly above a child's reading level. The more a child is read to, the richer their bank of vocabulary words grows. The time spent reading aloud is an investment in the future success of readers. The more often words are heard, their definitions and context become familiar and the learner can 'own' those words. Many parents balk at the idea of flashcards, but really, they can be effective in helping a child learn to read.
Make it a game, award a prize at the end of every 100 words a child memorizes with flashcards. And remember, too, that learning is like building a pyramid - we start with a strong foundation that, when complete, no one will see. Flashcards and other rote memorization give learners a large base of information for a base of learning so that when their brains are ready for deeper thought and understanding, they have a large foundation of information to gather from and put their own 'bricks' of understanding together.
Comprehension is simply understanding that what we read in print has meaning. The ability that you are using right now in decoding this shapes into words and words into sentences and sentences into meaningful information is a skill you've mastered. As we begin to 'own' the words, add more sight words to our bank of vocabulary, and become fluent in the translation of print into words and ideas, comprehension grows and reading becomes natural.
When it's all said and done, reading is a skill that must be learned, practiced, perfected and made a part of daily habits.