This is a sample chapter from my book Roadschooling: The Ultimate Guide to Education Through Travel
Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.
Reading. It’s essential. It’s basic to our ability to navigate our world. If our kids aren’t reading, then we, as parents, worry.
Way back in 1995 when I was about to teach first grade for the very first time, I was terrified. I knew how to teach kids to read better, but had no clue how to teach them to read in the first place. A friend of mine gave me the best advice ever: “Don’t worry,” he said. “The kids will learn to read in spite of what you do.”
And that’s true. All kids need in order to learn how to read is the desire and opportunity to do so. Create the desire by reading yourself. Read to your children, read with your children, have books around, encourage them to read whatever they see. That’s all it takes. They’ll read.
As they develop into stronger readers, continue to encourage reading by choosing environments rich with words. Take time to actually read the explanations on displays at museums, have books in the car, read everything you can. It works, it really does.
As traveling, roadschooling parents, it’s hard to know how much time to dedicate to reading instruction. Do we take time out of our experiences in the real world to sit down with workbooks to help our children learn? Or do we carry on, hoping they’ll somehow figure it out?
I think it’s important to understand the process of reading in order to know what to focus on.
When it comes to the instruction of reading, the deepest, most profound impact on my instructional thoughts and ideas came from reading The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. That book, single-handedly, changed how I taught reading in my classroom and how I’ve worked with my own children. I encourage every parent to buy the book and read it.
The basic idea behind read aloud is that language development comes in a hierarchy, and if we’re consciously aware of that process, we can foster its growth.
The base of all language arts skills is listening comprehension. We start working on that from the day our children are born by talking to them. We read them books that use different vocabulary from what we use in our day-to-day life. As children hear us speak and read books, they hear various words and figure out their meaning from the context of how they are used.
Sadly, some parents don’t read to their children at all, or they stop doing so at an early age. That is the single most damaging thing a parent can do to prevent their children from learning to read and enjoy it. On the flip side, parents who do read to their children daily are doing the best possible activity to promote reading.
Researchers have found that listening is the base for everything else.
If kids hear words being used, then they will eventually be able to use those words in their own spoken language, and then they’ll be able to read them and write them. None of the other categories will move upward if that listening part stagnates.
That’s where the whole read aloud thing comes into play.
When parents read to their children, they read more advanced books than the children would be capable of reading on their own. Generally speaking, a child’s listening comprehension is at least two years ahead of his reading capability. Children will naturally ask for books at their comprehension level and, through listening to books at a higher level than they could read, you are introducing more advanced vocabulary.
Once children orally comprehend the advanced vocabulary, you’ll see that transfer to their speaking, reading and, finally, their writing.
Read to your child. Read aloud will promote an interest in stories and provide the background and vocabulary basis to build upon.
It should come as no surprise that reading to kids is not travel-exclusive. No matter where you live or what you are doing, reading to your children will provide the basis for their further education.
We made a bedtime story a nightly routine and always made time for a story before going to sleep. No matter where we were – in our tent, a hotel, or the house of strangers – we read to our children before going to sleep.
Make bedtime stories a habit. You’ll be doing your child a huge favor.
And then what, you ask? In addition to reading to your child, read with your child. Get some basic children’s books and read them together. You will read them the first time or two (or five), while following along with your finger. Eventually, your child will be able to “read” part of the story – it’s really memorized, but they think they’re reading. Do the same with nursery rhymes.
Once your child is comfortable with “reading,” ask him to point to certain words in the story. For example, if you’re reading Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, you could ask your child to point to the word star. He will go through the writing, saying each word as he points to it until he finds star. Congratulate him, then ask him to point to the word twinkle.
All of this can be done in the normal course of the day. You don’t need to consciously set aside time for “reading.” Whenever you find you have a few minutes, put your child on your lap and pick up a book. You will be amazed at how quickly he learns to read.
Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.