It seems like listening to your child read a book should be simple: sit down together, and work through the text from the first page to the last.
And in practise that is exactly what we've been doing with The Boy for months. Which is ridiculous because I'd never ask one of the children I teach in school to cold-read a book, and they're over seven years old. So why on Earth have I not been drawing on my professional knowledge with my own child? My son, who is only four years old and just embarking on to the voyage of discovery that is accessible through learning to read.
If I was one of parents in my school, I'd be criticising myself in the staffroom.
It wasn't until I video-ed our Literacy co-ordinator recently during her presentation on phonics in a parents' forum, that the penny dropped. I watched her animatedly explaining the reading scheme to the twenty parents who'd turned up (disappointing level of interest), followed by her demonstrating how parents could help their children to read the books sent home weekly.
You see, to just present a child with a book and race them through page after page, without giving them the opportunity to gain context to the story from the pictures is a bit rash. It's also not providing them with the opportunity to succeed. After all, home reading books aren't sent home for parents to teach their children how to read, that's the teacher's job. They're sent home to help foster a love of reading and to consolidate what the child has learnt in school.
And so with my colleague's permission, I thought I'd share some tips on how to read a book with your child.
- Explore the front cover: put your hand over the title to remove the temptation to find out what the book is called and use the picture cues to predict the story. Discuss the names on the front cover and what they mean, who is the author and what does an illustrator do?
- Open the book to the front page, identify the main characters in the picture (easy to do if it's a reading scheme book like Oxford Reading Tree) and use the setting to identify where they are and what they might be doing.
- As each new page is turned and the picture cues explored, the adult can scan the text and rephrase it which therefore gives the child the new vocabulary which might be used throughout. This provides the child with the opportunity to succeed when reading because the associated vocabulary is fresh in their mind.
- Ask 'How…?' and 'What do you think…?' questions; e.g. 'How do you know that Chip isn't happy with Floppy?' 'What has Floppy done to make him cross?'
- Once the pictures in the book have been fully explored, turn back to the front cover and read the title. Does it match up with what you think the story is about?
- Open the book and read through the text. The child will probably glance up at the illustrations to associate the words they're reading with the previously deciphered picture cues, but won't take as long as they would cold-reading because it's not new to them. Having already been introduced to unknown vocabulary through the discussion, they will find it easier to decode the words as they come across them.
- If they are a little stilted with one or two sentences, ask them to re-read it over for fluency and to retain meaning.
- Take time to highlight basic punctuation like capital letters and full stops, which they will retain and transfer into their own writing when the time is right. Possibly identify speech marks to show the actual spoken words in a piece of dialogue.
- Discuss the story as you go along: this will show them that the written word is a magical thing to be explored and that imagination is a powerful tool! Use it as an opportunity to identify what they would have done in the situation.
- Enjoy the time with your child, don't be in such a rush to get it over and done with as 'yet another piece of homework'. Remember, the time will come all too soon when they won't want to spend time reading with you, and you'll miss the feel of them cwtched up in the nook of your arm.
Obviously children come in all shapes and sizes, and what fits best for one child doesn't always work for another. As a family you'll find what works best to suit your personality and that of your child. I only mean to highlight ways in which the home-reading book can be more of an enjoyable and worthwhile experience for all parties, rather than a meaningless chore.