Why words and rhymes matter

Hands Up If You Love A Good Book?

I LOVE reading!  I always have at least one book on the go. My current reads are Accordian Crimes by Annie Proulx and T-Shirts and Suits, A Guide to the Business of Creativity by David Parrish www.t-shirtsandsuits.com

These books are very different (one is fiction, one a guidebook to business)but they have something in common. They have drawn me, the reader, into their pages.  I devour the collection of letters on each page and wait while my brain, memory and eyes make sense of it all and turn them into words that tell me a message.

Reading is so important for everyone.  Reading can open up the world, educate and broaden people’s experiences,help you to escape the mundane reality of life and offer relaxation.  But perhaps best of all, if you have a book, you are never alone! 

Over the years many teachers have pondered what is the best thing to aid the teaching of reading. And the answer is not straight forward.  It’s a complex thing with more than one strategy. Key, is the importance of parents who are the first educators. Children spend more time with them than anyone else. Therefore, the path to reading should really be started at home. I’m not saying you should sit down with reading books and flashcards from the age of 2.  My advice, for what it is worth is two very simple things…

1. Talk to your child!

Words are so very important! There has been research galore about the link between the spoken word and success.If you are interested you might want to read Betty Hart and Todd Risley’s work but for this blog I am quoting Andrew Biemiller from the University of Toronto:-

“Vocabulary has long been recognized as a strong determinant of
reading success. We cannot leave vocabulary acquisition to incidental factors such as oral language, chance, and TV.”

I couldn’t agree more!During my 18 years at the chalk face I noticed a real drop in children’s speaking and listening skills. Many children were starting school without being able to string a sentence together.  They knew fewer animal names, colours and shapes.  Early reading uses a lot of picture clues but if you don’t know what a pig is you won’t even be able to guess at the word under the picture of the pig.  This bothered myself and many of my colleagues.  We started to discuss it and search for answers and many of us came to the same conclusion. Technology has a lot to answer for!

Ever since the mobile phone became a daily essential for everyone over the age of 10 (though why you need an iphone at that age is beyond me)I have seen a real difference.  At risk of sounding ancient and like a grumpy old lady…it wasn’t like that in my day.  When I was picked up from school, my mum would ask about my day. We’d talk about things we saw on the way home.  She would show an interest in what I had done.  Contrast that with many children who are now completely ignored at the school gate as their parents talk to someone on the phone and just beckon to the poor child who has his or her prize painting to show off.  The painting is pushed in the tote bag, the child’s hand is grabbed and the walk to the school gate accomplished without the phone leaving the parent’s ear! Not one word has been exchanged between parent and child! What a missed opportunity for talking and vocabulary. As for smart phones, ipads and tablets, I really couldn’t believe at a family meal out over Christmas when I saw a child who can have been no more than 2 at a neighbouring dinner table with his ipad set up in front of him. Around him, his family were enjoying a conversation yet he was completely ignored.  I’m not saying the tablet doesn’t have its place. Of course it does, just not, in my opinion, at the dinner table. Dinner tables are a rich source of conversations, discussions and sharing ideas.  
If  you encourage your child to talk and ask questions they will have a thirst for learning. 
So I say again…talk to your child!

2. Rhymes and stories

I can not stress enough the importance of rhymes and stories for early reading! Rhymes and jingles and silly songs expose children to a rich vocabulary. And because they rhyme and sound a bit silly, children love them and more importantly, remember them! It makes perfect sense when you think about it.  How many of us can sing along, word perfect to the songs we loved as kids? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself singing along to a tragic 80’s tune that will never be forgotten no matter how much I would like it to be. I never studied these songs or filled out a worksheet for them yet despite this, the lyrics have remained to this day. This is also one of the reasons I chose to write the Little Lamb Phonics poems.  Children really do respond to rhyme and often, the sillier the better!

As for stories.  THESE ARE VITAL! They expose children to a wonderful, creative, imaginative world. It allows them to journey to outer space, meet dinosaurs, fly with fairies or sail the seas with pirates. Not only does this build up their vocabulary but it also exposes them to other key skills for reading.
  • story lay out.  Even very young children who have been read to or told stories quickly realise that stories have a clear beginning, middle and end.  Usually, One day, once upon a time, long long ago gets things started. This seems simple to us but imagine learning a new language and reading a story book. If you knew that the stories always started in one of a few ways you’d feel a lot more confident about having a go at reading. Then there is normally some kind of adventure or event in the middle and as for the ending? Easy, we all know “they all lived happily ever after”!
  • characters.  Children like to identify with the characters in a story. They will quickly learn what they like to eat, their name and most importantly, what that name looks like written down.  Bingo that’s one word they already know! 
  • pictures – these are fantastic clues for children.  If there is a picture of a bear in a wood you can make a pretty good assumption that the words will probably say ‘A bear in a wood’ or something similar. Early reading books really are as simple as this.
So there you have it. My little take on what can help children with reading.  I’m not in any way shape or form taking away the important role that teachers play.  I’m simply pointing out that reading shouldn’t be something you only learn at school. It can start from the minute your baby arrives with lullabies, rhymes, songs, and stories.  And best of all, you will enjoy it too!

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