How can a parent make learning to read an emotionally satisfying experience for children, rather than a strict, difficult process? Dr. J. Richard Gentry, author of "Raising Confident Readers" says: "Know what your child is capable of doing before entering school and provide joyful literacy experiences at home. Read in front of your child so that he or she knows that you value books and reading. When reading and writing with your child, compliment often and avoid correcting.
Provide lots of books. Draw and write together. Unplug the computer, television, and gadgets. Make reading a reward."
Commitmentnow.com: Why do so many children have trouble reading, or end up being poor readers who do not enjoy books?
Dr. J. Richard Gentry: There are really two reasons:
1) a lack of appropriate support for literacy and language at home and
2) poor reading instruction in school. The sad fact is that many American children enter kindergarten unprepared for success with literacy in school and many kindergarten and first grade teachers are not well trained to teach beginning reading and writing.
A lack of appropriate training may not be the teachers’ fault, but children suffer. When children get off to a poor start they fall further and further behind and it becomes much more difficult to catch up as children move through elementary school.
Poor readers don’t enjoy reading because they are not good at it. A very small percentage of reading problems are due to neurological impairment. The problem is compounded by the fact that learning to read English is much harder than many other languages.
Commitmentnow.com: How can a parent begin to encourage and teach reading to young babies? At what age do you think parents should start reading to their children?
Dr. Gentry: Parents should start reading to babies at birth. Reading aloud increases the data the baby’s brain needs to learn language. It also sets the foundations for reading circuitry that will link to the language circuitry in the brain.
Children who are read to and talked to have a thirty-two-million-word advantage by age 4!
My book, "Raising Confident Readers—How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write— From Baby to Age 7" shows parents exactly how to teach reading informally beginning in babyhood.
Commitmentnow.com: Can you explain the five phases of learning to read?
Dr. Gentry: The five phases are stages in breaking the complex alphabetic code of English. One can see the five early phases of reading in children’s early attempts to write. The writing shows how the child thinks the English alphabet system works. Here are recognizable benchmarks:
Phase 0—the child scribbles. (The baby/toddler doesn’t recognize letters or know how they work.)
Phase 1—The child learns to write her name. (The child begins to learn letters but doesn’t recognize that letters recognize sounds.)
Phase 2—The child begins to match beginning letters and sounds in words. She may write B by itself or B followed by random letters for bird.
Phase 3—The child represents a letter for each sound—BRD for bird, The problem is that English doesn’t work with one letter for each sound.
Phase 4—The child recognizes over one-hundred high-frequency words automatically and spells in chunks—examples might be YOUNIGHTED for united or BERD for bird.
This kind of spelling signals that the child recognizes English as a language that works by chunking spelling or phonics patterns. The child is already learning to spell many words correctly at this phase.
Commitmentnow.com: What are some activities that parents can do in their home with their child to help to teach them to read between the ages of 2 and 4?
Dr. Gentry: Great activities include reading aloud, reading labels, and drawing and pretend writing. All activities are fun for children and the focus is informal instruction.
"Raising Confident Readers" is chock full of specific activities for reading, writing, and spelling that are matched to the child’s age and phase development.
Commitmentnow.com: If a parent has a child entering kindergarten, what can they do to help their reading progress?
Dr. Gentry: The best activities to do at home depend on the child’s phase of development. My book helps the parent find the child’s phase of development and choose from appropriate reading, writing, and spelling activities that match the phase.
Commitmentnow.com: What if a child is in second grade and just doesn't seem to be catching on to reading? What can a parent do to help overcome reading problems?
Dr. Gentry: Don’t wait! Find out what’s happening at school and make sure the child gets the additional help he or she needs. Request further evaluation and help from a specialist. Ask the school to evaluate for dyslexia.
If the child has good thinking and reasoning skills but seems to have particular difficulties with sounds and spelling, or if family members have been diagnosed with dyslexia, alert your pediatrician and request a referral for further evaluation.
Commitmentnow.com: What role do nursery rhymes have in learning to read?
Dr. Gentry: Parents should engage babies with rhymes and do finger plays with actions that accompany them (e.g., wiggling the toes while reciting This Little Pig Went to the Market). Rhyming words help children begin to distinguish sounds in words, and learning to break words into sounds is known to be critical for beginning reading.
Commitmentnow.com: What are some ways that a child's brain becomes adverse and unprepared for reading--and how can parents avoid their children developing a brain that finds it hard to read?
Dr. Gentry: The brain becomes adverse to activities and experiences that are negative—so parents should always try to make reading fun and associate literacy with positive experiences. Feelings come first with reading.
Due to the plasticity of the developing brain—the young brain’s ability to fix itself—parents should monitor their child’s early literacy progress and intervene early instead of waiting too late to deal with reading problems.
Too many parents wait until the school identifies reading problems, which can be between the ages of eleven and seventeen—and that’s too late!
Commitmentnow.com: How can a parent make learning to read an emotionally satisfying experience for children, rather than a strict, difficult process?
Dr. Gentry: Know what your child is capable of doing before entering school and provide joyful literacy experiences at home.
Read in front of your child so that he or she knows that you value books and reading. When reading and writing with your child, compliment often and avoid correcting.
Provide lots of books. Draw and write together. Unplug the computer, television, and gadgets. Make reading a reward.
Commitmentnow.com: How can drawing, scribbles and doodling help a child learn to read and write?
Dr. Gentry: Many children learn to read by writing because reading and writing share some of the same circuitry in the brain. The child’s own early attempts at drawing and writing are meaningful expressions of a desire to communicate in print.
A child can tell a story in a picture and the next stage is pretending to write about it. Early attempts to write help the child focus attention and build the stamina needed for reading.
Your child will ask lots of questions about letters and sounds and learn from your answers. Children learn to read by writing because writing is concrete—it shows down the process and enables them to think about how it all works.
Commitmentnow.com: Any suggestions for parents with children struggling with dyslexia?
Dr. Gentry: Start early to intervene and get help. The earlier the child gets help the more likely things are to improve. Don’t give up. Many dyslexics learn to read by developing a compensatory system in the brain for reading—this can even happen in adulthood.
Contact the International Dyslexia Association (http://www.interdys.org/) and the National Center for Learning Disabilities (http://www.ld.org) for information and resources.
Commitmentnow.com: What can parents do to create a home where reading is celebrated and encouraged?
Dr. Gentry: Create a joyful, literate environment at home, and respond to your child’s natural curiosity and questions. Celebrate books and learning.
To purchase "Raising Confident Readers" click here.
About the Author: J. Richard Gentry, PhD, is a nationally acclaimed expert on childhood literacy, reading, and spelling development, with more than thirty years’ experience working with beginning readers. A former university professor and elementary school teacher, he is currently an educational consultant living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His new book for parents has just been released by Da Capo Press, "Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write—from Baby to Age 7."