Tag Archives: reading

Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens

And it’s that change, and that act of reading that I’m here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What it’s good for.

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.

It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end … that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

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Learning to Read

The ability to read opens up a door to a whole other world for children and by reading to your child you are giving them a window into that world. Before they can read on their own they need to develop a set of skills known as emergent literacy skills. They are:

  • having & using a large vocabulary
  • knowing the sounds of the 43 (roughly) phonemes alphabet
  • understanding that marks on the page represent words and those words are made of letter sounds (phonemes).

Little Toddlers

At this point in their lives little toddlers don’t have the capacity to learn letter formation and differentiate between letters. There are all sorts of gimmicks and tricks out there that will try to tell you otherwise but toddlers are far too busy for such things!

By reading to them and creating an interest in books your are laying the foundations for a future love of reading. You can help them understand the concept of words by writing familiar words (such a their name, kitty, milk, etc.) on a white board or piece of paper, use large clear lower case printing & capitalize only when appropriate as it would appear in a book. Show them each letter and try to find the same letters in the world around you on signs, in magazines & books. Some children will delight in this game, others may not be interested quite yet.

You can help develop their literacy skills by singing & rhyming, talking about the world around them using the 5 topics known as naming, describing, comparing, explaining, and giving direction. These topics provide you with a wide range of vocabulary that you can use when talking to your toddler about their new world. When you increase their vocabulary they will be more likely to know and understand the words that they come across in their books.

Preschool Literacy

As your child approaches kindergarten age you will find all sorts of pressure around whether or not your child can read. Ignore this!

If you have been reading to your child they will possess all the foundational skills they need to become successful readers by grade 2. The foundational skill they will need in order to accomplish this is the mental association that the marks on the page represent meaning (words). That’s it! Seriously.

But my daughter wants to learn to read…

Should your child show an interest in reading and learning how to decipher those markings on the page you can begin to teach your child the different letter sounds as you teach them different letters in the order of how often they occur in the English language or what is known as a frequency table :

t e s a n o h i r d l u.

Isolating the letter proved to be the most difficult thing for me, I found using a white board worked but was boring, the best thing was to make my own books with large red print and cover the rest of the word with my fingers and whispering the sound into her ear. If you do happen to find books with clear, lowercase and large enough printing that you can point to a letter in a word easily then by all means use them.

When you make the letter sound try as hard as you can to omit extra ih, uh, ah sounds ‘t’ not ‘tuh’ or ‘tih’. You don’t need to say the name of the letter at all only the sound. It is hard enough for little toddlers to remember the sounds without trying to figure out if the letter says it’s sound or it’s name so skip it. Learning their alphabet doesn’t help them read so don’t worry about ABC’s or Seasame Street, they will learn it eventually no big deal. Consonants first and then move onto vowels.

Only teach one sound for each letter to start with, you can worry about long vowels after you teach short vowels. For each vowel, the “short” sound is as follows:

“a” is the sound it makes in the word “tan”

“e” is the sound it makes in the word “net”

“i” is the sound it makes in the word “hit”

“o” is the sound it makes in the word “on”

“u” is the sound it makes in the word “sun”

There are two other letters that make vowel sounds, w & y but you don’t need to worry about those until much later on.

Point to the letter and make it’s sound, start with ‘t’ & go through the list as the letters occur. Doing each letter quickly but thoroughly will keep their attention. Have them repeat the sound and then find all the other letters on the page or in the book that are like the one that you are learning. Move onto the big wide world, how many of the letters can you find when you are out and about, don’t forget to use only the SOUND not the name. Keep it quick & light and your child will always want more, just quit before they want to quit.

Do each letter for a few days until they know it thoroughly, you be the judge of how well they can recognize a letter. Odds are that once they have learned 5 or more letters they will learn each new one quickly and you can add one a day.

When you have enough letters learned you can start making words, and sounding them out very slowly. This is the crucial step toward reading and the hardest leap for your child’s brain to make so DON’T RUSH IT!!

If you have read to your child and made the mental connection between the letters, their sounds and the marks on the page reading will develop naturally. Forcing will only create anxiety and stress in  your child that has the potential to haunt them for their entire life.

Reference Teach a Preschooler to Read

      The Truth About Sight Reading   

Some great links on phonics & phonemes are:

Raising A Reader

The Fallacies of Early Literacy

Our schools and educators have misled us to believe that children who cannot read by the age of 6 or 7 will struggle in school however the truth is that we create their struggles in school by pushing them to read before they are ready. Children who are under 7 are not yet fully grounded in their own bodies they have not yet anchored their physical space and are not ready to enter the logical processes of reading before their 7th birthday. Continue reading Raising A Reader