The library is a very special place. The hushed tones and walls of books to explore make it a wonderful haven for any child. But in this fast-paced world when everyone is so busy, a trip to the library can feel like a luxury of time you just can’t afford.
Well, maybe it’s simply a case of re-prioritising. Are all those things you have to do as important as helping your child discover the magic of finding and choosing the amazing books they want to read?
Now, we’re not trying to make you feel guilty at all – but wouldn’t it be nice to give yourself a break too? A visit to the library is one thing, but rather than rushing in and out to swap over your books, why not treat yourself to an hour or two, just sitting and reading in that lovely quiet space in companionable silence with your child?
Get to know your librarian
Once your library visits become routine, you will both look forward to your time there, and as a regular, you will likely get to know your librarian quite well. He or she may start to look out for books they know you will like and keep them aside for you, and you’ll get to know when new books are coming in.
Teach your child how the library is organised
The library is not just a nice space to read books! It’s a place for creativity, learning, researching and even exploring technology. For school age children, you can combine your trip to the library with completing a homework task. Show your child how to use the library’s system to find the books they want to read, and information they need to find. Your librarian will probably be very happy to help you.
Encourage your child to keep a record of their reading
It’s a good idea to have them keep a small journal and enter the name of the book and the author as they finish each one. Ask them to write a few sentences about the book, maybe stimulated by a few questions such as:
What did you enjoy most about the book / story?
Who was your favourite character, and why?
What did you learn that you didn’t know before?
Would you like to read more books by this author?
This way, your child will be able to articulate the kind of books he or she likes to read. You can use this record to find similar books you know they will like or challenge your child to seek out something new and very different.
Get to know your school librarian
Helping your child to feel comfortable navigating the library is a wonderful way to familiarise him/her with the library, and will also encourage them to make full use of their school library. It’s a good idea to make contact with the school librarian and help nurture that relationship. School librarians love to help children get the most from this wonderful resource.
Make the most of activities
Many libraries offer a schedule of learning activities for children, which you can take advantage of, and where your child will meet other children and make new friends.
The knowledge that the books they are reading do not belong to your child, and they must take very good care of them introduces children to the concept of responsibility. Having their own library card adds another layer of responsibility, which comes with expectations that must be upheld.
Preparing for the future
Exposing your child to the library on a regular basis from a young age will help them learn what resources are open to them for the future. Once they need to tackle some complex projects in middle school, they will be unfazed by using the library for research and even studying there from time to time to complete their tasks more effectively. These projects and assignments will become more intense as they grow, and their research skills will prove invaluable in well preparing them for fully utilising their university library when the time comes.
The library is full of hidden gems. Aside from the obvious access to an enormous amount and variety of books, some libraries offer children the opportunity to join book clubs and engage in fun learning activities. The earlier your child is introduced to the library, the more they will benefit, thereby setting them up for future success.
For more ideas on how to foster a love of literacy in your child, check out our previous article…
As Albert Einstein famously said “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library”.
Letter writing is a wonderful skill to master – especially when it’s hand-written, which shows you care and that you are happy to dedicate the time and personal attention to the recipient.
There is something very special about writing or receiving a letter. In today’s fast-paced world of email and text-messaging, the time it takes to write a letter, seal, address, and stamp the envelope, and take it to the post box to send across the state, the country, or the world feels somehow sacred, and is very satisfying.
But aside from the acquisition of a useful skill, letter writing can play an important role in your child’s reading development. Here’s why:
Learning the art of letter writing from a young age will prepare your child well for the communication skills they will need in their adult life. Once they understand how to craft that most personal of communications, thinking carefully about what they want to say, and how they want the recipient to feel, will be an invaluable skill that will set them apart from their peers.
Putting pen to paper to communicate directly with another person, teaches children how to express their thoughts and feelings more clearly. Unlike sending a short email, your child needs to focus, and give the matter their undivided attention.
Writing letters makes your child think about the things they want to say, and to order those things in a logical manner. This really stimulates their creativity and helps them to find ways of getting a point across succinctly. The more your child practises letter writing, the more their critical thinking and problem-solving skills will improve.
All good writing requires a structure to be able to engage and inform the reader, and letters generally have their own particular, natural order and structure: a greeting, an introduction to the topic of the letter, often an update of the writer’s recent events, possibly followed by questions asked of the recipient. Topics the writer wants to communicate can then be written in order of importance, before closing with a summary, and good wishes.
Because writing letters to friends and relatives becomes something your child comes to enjoy, this will naturally influence and improve their writing at school and will build their confidence.
Writing is very therapeutic and can be a wonderful way for your child to express him/herself and capture their thoughts and feelings. It helps to clarify ideas and even to get problems off their chest. You may find your child is happy to write letters to an imaginary person or begin keeping a diary that helps them articulate their private thoughts.
Taking the time to write traditional thank you letters to friends and relatives for their kind birthday or Christmas gifts is a wonderful way of reminding your child how many things they have to be grateful for. You might even encourage your child to write a letter to his or her pet, sibling or teacher to thank them for all the things they do to help them and bring them joy.
Writing regularly helps your child to retain information, improves penmanship, and strengthens language skills. Combined with regular reading, this will boost your child’s performance at school across the board. Getting your child used to taking notes in lessons will also aid his or her retention of information and ability to perform better during tests.
The key to success in this endeavour is to start with short letters, or to begin writing their personal thoughts in a journal or diary. If your child is young, you can start with small hand-written notes, and progress to letter writing over time.
Encouraging your child to write often and write freely, will flourish into a love of literacy and is a gift that will reward them time and again through their whole life.
For more ideas of how to develop your child’s love of literacy, read our article on the subject…
The subject of homework – especially for young students – is increasingly a contentious one. That said, the majority of schools do persist with homework programmes. And for the most part, parents appear to accept that the school / education system must know best and do their part to support the policy.
We place a lot of faith in the education system, but how much time have our educators or institutions spent researching the concept, challenging the status quo, or trialling innovative alternatives? Is homework really good for children, or is it time for a re-think?
International Research Studies
Edutopia.org have helpfully summarised findings from some of the most prominent homework research studies as follows:
In general, homework has substantial benefits at the high school level, with decreased benefits for middle school students and few benefits for elementary students. (Cooper, 1989; Cooper et al., 2006)
While assigning homework may have academic benefits, it can also cut into important personal and family time. (Cooper et al., 2006)
Assigning too much homework can result in poor performance, (Fernández-Alonso et al., 2015)
A student’s ability to complete homework may depend on factors that are outside their control. (Cooper et al., 2006; OECD, 2014; Eren & Henderson, 2011)
The goal shouldn’t be to eliminate homework, but to make it authentic, meaningful, and engaging. (Darling-Hammond & Ifill-Lynch, 2006)
During the above-mentioned Cooper study, conducted at Duke University (Carolina, USA), researchers reviewed more than 60 studies between 1987 and 2003. The analysis concluded that overall, homework does have a positive effect on student achievements (such as test scores). However, it was noted that the focus of the research was based on achievement rather than evaluation of the effect of homework on the process of learning, and the benefits were mostly observed in older students. It was also noted that many other factors may have contributed to academic success, and could not necessarily be attributed to a routine of regular homework.
Positive outcomes identified in Cooper’s analysis included improved study habits and self-discipline and increased inquisitiveness and independent problem-solving skills.
However, some of the studies highlighted increased physical and emotional fatigue, more prevalent negative attitudes to learning and limited leisure time for children as a result of homework – noting in younger students the argument for homework was weak.
Looking closer to home, review studies on homework in schools have been published in New South Wales and Victoria. Both these reviews were unable to demonstrate that homework improved academic performance for primary school students in itself. However, results did suggest that homework has the benefit of engaging parents with their children’s learning, which was perceived to be beneficial.
Interestingly, despite the ongoing debate, findings from Census at School 2008 to 2013 revealed that Australian children spent more time doing homework than in the preceding five years.
The Homework Myth
A popular book by Alfie Kohn examines the ‘accepted’ notion that homework appears to lead to higher achievement, that it can reinforce learning, and teaches study skills and responsibility. But Kohn asserts that these are simply ‘assumptions’ that are not borne out by research, logic or experience.
Kohn’s concern is that the school day is a long one for children and being subjected to yet more work once they get home, leads to stress, frustration, exhaustion and ultimately, conflict. He suggests that children need a break from a subject to avoid burnout and loss of interest, and that after school time would be better invested in spending quality time with family and recreational activities.
Kohn describes how many schools have demonstrated academic excellence without homework. He believes we need to “rethink what happens during and after school in order to rescue our families and our children’s love of learning.”
You can read more from Alfie Kohn on The Homework Myth here.
After considering the various studies available, here’s our summary of what we believe are the pros and cons of homework for younger students…
What is good about homework?
Even though students may have thought they had understood certain topics during class, having to complete homework on the same topic can often reveal gaps in their understanding, which only becomes apparent when they have to work alone at home.
Homework can be a good opportunity for students to connect with parents and/or siblings, to gain support and promote their learning.
Homework teaches responsibility and accountability, as well as time management and planning to ensure the work is submitted on the due date.
Homework consolidates what students have learned in class and aids retention of new concepts and tasks.
What is not so good about homework?
If children are tired after a full day working at school, having to do yet more work at home can lead to negative attitudes to learning, to their teacher and to the concept of school in general.
Fatigue and over-exposure to schoolwork can also lead to frustration and place a strain on family relationships.
Having to be constantly reminded, or ‘nagged’ to get their homework done, negates any potential benefit of building responsibility.
Too much work can leave children with no down-time, which could make them feel miserable. They need time to just be kids: to relax, to enjoy time with family, and re-charge to tackle the next day at school with enthusiasm.
If your child’s school does not set homework, there are a few alternatives, that may help develop his or her learning that won’t feel like work at all:
Encourage fun reading times, allowing your child to choose the book. Make it feel special and something they will look forward to with you. Check out our previous article for ideas on how to make reading time more fun.
Involve your child in the household chores – again, making it fun, which is another great way to teach responsibility. Another idea is to give your child the role of looking after the family pet.
Use everyday events to educate your child on a variety of topics, simply by talking about your day at home or work, and their day at school.
Take your child to visit the library, to a museum, to watch a children’s play, or sport – particularly if they display an interest in certain activities.
Make arrangements for playdates with friends, to develop your child’s social skills outside of the school environment.
Encourage creative play to expand their experiences.
To summarise, we believe it’s all about balance. Children may well benefit from short homework tasks once or twice a week in certain subjects. If they don’t have to do this every night, they are more likely to tackle the tasks willingly – even enthusiastically.
Poetry is often overlooked when teaching children to read, but the impact of poetry on your child’s reading acquisition and development can be significant. In fact, the power of good poetry can even be the catalyst that makes reading a reality for some children. Poetry is a valuable tool for both teachers and parents to help kids explore phonemic sounds in different ways, and an enjoyable resource in any young reader’s literacy journey.
Here some of the ways poetry helps children improve their reading skills…
Unlike books, which some children find daunting, poems are generally short. They are often whimsical and fun – even funny, which makes poetry reading something they want to do. It doesn’t feel like a chore for them.
Poetry is motivating and Digestible
And though they are short, poems can be loaded with important literacy elements and techniques that will help to improve their overall reading skills. Rhyming, for example, is a technique we use routinely in our early literacy programmes, because it is an excellent way of developing phonemic awareness.
Rhyme helps children to understand that language has not just meaning and message, but also form because rhyming words have the same end sounds. A good tip is to read a poem in a whisper but say the rhyming words aloud and draw attention to their sounds. You can even encourage your child to make up some rhymes to compound their recognition of the sounds. It doesn’t matter if the rhyme sequence is silly or even if the sounds are real words at the early stages.
Another reason children love poetry is their musical rhythm, which can remind them of their favourite songs. So, if you are struggling to engage your child in reading a poem, try singing it together instead.
A ‘Sound’ Education
Reading poetry helps children learn about important elements of reading such as sound, voice, pitch, volume, emphasis and inflection. Because poetry teaches young readers about speech patterns, it can give them cues to help decode the words on a page, while rhyming helps them to identify sounds in words and to recognise word families.
Consider the poem, The Letter A by Darren Sardelli – here is a short excerpt – you can read the full poem here https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/145937/the-letter-a
The letter A is awesome!
It simply is the best.
Without an A, you could not get
an A+ on a test.
You’d never see an acrobat
or eat an apple pie.
You couldn’t be an astronaut
or kiss your aunt goodbye.
See how you can use this poem to help your young readers practise the short and long ‘a’ sounds and really think about the sound the letter a makes in each word.
You can really make so many literacy games with poetry. Check out out Resources page to access our Literacy Guides, where you’ll find some helpful tips for sound development and rhyming.
Though any form of reading will introduce children to new words, due to the rhythmic nature of poetry it is easier and more natural for children to understand cadence, and introduces them to new words in new contexts.
The nature and construction of poetry creates surprising new connections between words, which increase a child’s vocabulary, particularly with the rhyming words.
Let’s take a look at a few lines from The Pied Piper of Hamelin, by Robert Browning:
You should have heard the Hamelin people Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple. “Go,” cried the Mayor, “and get long poles! Poke out the nests and block up the holes! Consult with carpenters and builders And leave in our town not even a trace Of the rats!”– when suddenly, up the face Of the Piper perked in the market-place, With a, “First, if you please, my thousand guilders!”
Your child may well be familiar with the word “people”, but “steeple” might be new to them. The same principle applies to “builders” and “guilders”. You can talk about the new word and explain its meaning and how it can be used. Now your child has added some new words to their vocabulary, which they will recognise and understand, not only the next time they read the poem, but also when they come across the word in other texts.
Many children are not keen to read books and stories aloud, but for some reason, they seem to have less reservations about reading poetry aloud. Reading aloud is an essential skill in language development because it makes children focus on the sounds of the words they are reading. Using poetry is a great way to build up their confidence and lead to improved literacy skills.
Being expressive and fun, poetry is a good choice for reading in small groups. Children can read a line each, and enjoy putting emphasis on certain words, varying pitch and volume, and learning from each other as they go. You could have all the children chime in to read each of the rhyming words together, for example. Having fun with poetry in this way is really engaging and children learn so much more, and more easily when they’re engaged and having fun.
When we read poems to our children, they begin to understand that words may sound similar but have different meanings. Depending on the poem you are reading, children can be exposed to word families and begin to understand more about phonetic patterns.
The repetitive nature of poetry encourages children to recognize patterns and strengthen memory. Not only do these skills develop their literacy acquisition but they will also be helpful in learning maths, foreign languages, and much more.
Poetry is a perfect medium to help children tap into their creativity by exploring the relationship between words, writing their own poetry, or even just playing rhyming and other word games. They can even use these games as a way of creating a poem. The artistic nature of poetry can be more forgiving to the young reader / writer, giving them greater freedom of expression – and because they don’t feel restricted, you might find their writing really blossoms in a way that wouldn’t be possible for them when writing something like an essay or reflection.
Reading with your child is a precious gift, and poetry, in particular, can help strengthen your relationship and allow you to bond in a unique and special way. Because poetry is so much fun, your children will love to read with you and look forward to your time together.
But poetry also gives children a variety of fresh and often idiosyncratic perspectives of the world, giving them a glimpse of different points of view and possibly even an understanding of different cultures and beliefs as well as empathy and thoughtfulness.
If you haven’t tried readying poetry with your child, please give it a try – start with short, silly poems and have some fun together and it will grow from there.
Good literacy is not just about learning to read. While reading is indeed the foundation and the cornerstone of literacy acquisition, a full immersion approach is required to really help your child to thrive throughout the whole spectrum of their education.
What we call the ‘total literacy learning experience’ includes spelling, grammar, comprehension, creative writing and oral presentation skills. This holistic approach will create so much more than competent readers; students who learn through the total literacy method become confident in every aspect of the English language, and the effects of this will reach every aspect of their education and development.
Consider how difficult maths might be for a child who struggles to read well. They may actually be quite competent with the mathematical challenges themselves, but never manage to excel in the subject, simply because they cannot fully understand some of the written instructions.
If a child seems to perform quite well in school, but finds maths homework difficult, the issue could very well be one of literacy. In class he or she has the benefit of the teacher’s explanation, but at home, must rely on the written instructions provided.
If you have seen your child’s progress in maths (or any other subject) deteriorate during the recent periods of home learning, it may be due to the increase in written instructions they were required to process, versus direct teacher interaction.
We see time and again the incredibly positive impact the total literacy learning concept has on the general education and confidence of a child. Confident readers with competence in spelling, grammar, comprehension, creative writing and oral presentation skills tend to excel across the wide range of subjects that form their school education.
The power of mastering the English language in this comprehensive manner cannot be underestimated. It is truly the vehicle that will drive your child’s whole education.
In addition to reading acquisition, let’s look at these other vital elements of a child’s literacy learning.
The key to good spelling is the ability to decode and construct words. That’s why it’s critical that any reading acquisition programme develop your child’s literacy through sounds, and pre-reading skills. This method avoids memory-dependent techniques and instead focuses on how the brain processes information from sounds to sight.
This means students learn how to ‘really read’ unfamiliar words and are able to spell successfully from their understanding of how words break down into sounds, rather than attempting to memorise their spelling. Decoding words in order to read them and encoding and spelling words are two sides of the same literacy coin. They go hand in hand to advance your child’s reading and writing abilities.
Grammar can be confusing, but once the rules are understood it’s a breeze for students. Children learn to identify parts of speech and how to use them effectively, when and how to use apostrophes, commas, prepositional phrases, colons and semicolons, and much more, as well as applying correct homophones suffixes. Grasping the rules of grammar is essential for reading comprehension, and creative writing.
Comprehension in reading is often the biggest challenge for school students. Being able to read a text does not always mean understanding it. It can be especially difficult for children to pick up on content that is inferred or implied. If you find your child does not fare well in reading comprehension, consider that the issue is much wider than the subject of literacy itself. Full and clear comprehension of written instructions, text books and assignment briefs for every subject may also present problems for them.
Learning to write well is a natural progression for a student who has been taught how to read the right way. The ‘total literacy learning’ method enables students to learn how to write a sentence, when to paragraph, how to use figurative language, how to write persuasively, create engaging openings and compelling arguments, and how to write creatively. Combining a structured teaching program with freedom of expression, creates significant results. It’s hard to overstate the importance of producing well-written material to a student’s success through school and university, and beyond into their working life.
At I Can Read, we pioneered the concept of a fully integrated total literacy learning concept, which includes our unique and proprietary reading system, based on years of professional research and studies by our educational psychologists.
If you want to give your child the very best chance of academic success – contact us to find out more – we always love talking literacy!
We talk a lot about the importance of reading tuition in the early years of a child, but what about those children who didn’t benefit from that early intervention and their delayed reading skills become apparent as they enter middle or even high school?
What happens to them?
If a student manages to progress through primary and early secondary school but has delayed reading skills, then the predicament is likely to be one of unnecessary and delayed academic progress.
The good news is that students with a variety of reading difficulties can be taught to read successfully. In most cases the solution is quite simple for a specialist reading teacher, because many students with reading difficulties have ‘acquired reading difficulties’. This suggests that their difficulties in becoming fluent readers have likely been caused by poor teaching methods rather than by any inherent issues.
This is not to be critical of the teachers, but of the teaching methods they, themselves are taught. To cut through the issues quickly and definitively, you will need to seek out specialist support.
For more information on this subject read our previous blog, “Why the Australian education system is failing your child, and what you can do to help.”
So, is it possible that children may have ‘gotten by’ in primary school with limited reading ability and the problem only emerges as they become more reliant on having to read and comprehend in middle / high school?
In our experience this can absolutely be the case – most people can ‘read’ around 2500 words using recall and memory and little else. A child with a strong visual memory and good recall can ‘get by’ up to late primary and even into high school. Frequently they will be clever enough to avoid being identified as a delayed reader with difficulties and while theircomprehension abilities may need addressing, they often progress through school without receiving support or without a clear identification of their difficulties – often even making it to university and beyond.
Quite a few children make it through all stages of school life and are able to evolve strategies that mask their real difficulties with reading. This is not to suggest they don’t have problems, they do, but they manage to develop strategies to work around them. Tragically, some children who are unable to develop such coping techniques will find school an unproductive and even stressful experience.
The unfortunate result is that many of these children avoid heading towards careers that might require a lot of reading, whereas they may have excelled with a little expert tuition.
Is it ever too late to teach reading?
The short answer to this question is no – it is never too late. In fact, this story illustrates the point perfectly…
Some years ago, an editor from a well-known fashion magazine presented with reading difficulties. This mature age person was an intelligent individual with a remarkably well-developed visual memory and had been able to avoid the humiliation and embarrassment that might have occurred through his lack of reading skills. He came to us at I Can Read, because he felt embarrassed when he realised that he couldn’t read words contained in legal texts as he had returned to university to take on a new degree. It wasn’t long before the veil had lifted for him and the simple joy of being able to read confidently had an incredibly positive impact on his life and career.
How can the gap be closed at this later stage?
We firmly believe, and can attest through results, that anyone at any age (over 4 years old) when taught properly will learn to read fluently. At I Can Read, we have worked with over 300,000 students over the past twenty years and while most learned to read quite as expected, even those who had grown up with an ‘acquired reading difficulty’ managed to read fluently after our learning programmes.
This does not necessarily mean that such individuals gained a passion for reading. Some never really enjoyed it, but certainly appreciated the confidence and opportunities their literacy skills afforded them.
Yet many others do develop a passion for reading and for literacy in general, which gives us a great sense of fulfilment. Surely there is little more magical than to escape to another world simply by turning a page and immersing yourself in a book that no one else will imagine the same way as you. We all bring our own experiences and perspectives to any book we read, which makes it such a personal pleasure.
Giving any child the opportunity to fulfil their literacy potential is truly a gift that will last them a lifetime.
The long summer holidays are drawing to a close and the time now approaches for parents to prepare their children for their return to school (hopefully refreshed and energised for the year ahead), or a ready a new cohort of Kindergarteners to attend school for the first time. And let us not forget our pre-schoolers who are about to start their learning journey, where literacy skills significantly contribute to a child’s future success at school.
Children returning to school after the long break usually have a sense of anticipation as the start date looms. Their attention will typically be focused on the progress of their friendships and social life, rather than the advancement of their learning. Though their education is paramount as a measure of outcomes achieved by attending school, remember that if your child enjoys going to school and is happy there, they will be more likely to succeed academically.
Alongside the excitement, children will undoubtedly feel nervous and uncertain at the start of a new school year. They will have a different teacher (or teachers), new classmates, new subjects, and new challenges. With all these unknowns, your child will feel better knowing that they are equipped and ready to tackle their daily challenges. This includes ensuring that they have all their required equipment to support them. Also, parents might bear in mind that each year brings its own ‘must have’ stuff and each year is likely to be different from previous one.
Take Year 4 (children aged around 8+), for example. This is the year to encourage children to embrace their curiosity as they observe and analyse the world that surrounds them. Even though Year 4 is often the start of prepping students for later school, it’s important to remember that developmentally, fourth graders are still children. Play remains important and creating a classroom that’s nurturing is always vital. Technology plays a bigger role in the Year 4 classroom, too, as students begin to hone their research skills. Make the most of the march to middle primary as you prepare your child for Year 4. Your child will likely know the ‘must haves’ so have a chat with them to determine what you as a parent or caregiver is prepared to allow.
If your child is returning to school, it will help to:
Make sure they have all the essentials. The school should advise on writing implements, required books, etc. Your child will feel much more confident if they feel fully prepared and well-equipped.
As a parent or caregiver, you probably have a good idea how your child feels approaching their return to school. Their anticipation will most likely reflect the success or failure of their previous experiences. Children with a store of positive memories will approach their return differently from children who have not had positive experiences previously. It’s best that you do not minimise your child’s concerns, but talk to them, listen, and offer strategies that will help them to navigate and manage situations that may arise.
Be positive and encouraging by focusing on things your child enjoys about school. Primary aged children (ages 6-12) have little sense of the importance of learning and are unlikely to take seriously the importance of being literate or numerically competent. They are starting to develop social connections as their prime requirement.
Appreciate areas where your child might require extra support such as with reading skills.
When children are preparing to commence school for the first time around age 5, again their expectations will determine how they anticipate this event. Your child may feel excited, nervous, worried, or most likely a combination of many emotions.
To help your child take starting school in their stride, you certainly should be:
Upbeat about the adventure and chat about the many wonderful things that could happen: things like making new friends, enjoying reading, gaining some writing skills, sport, etc.
Reassuring about what to expect. If your child is anxious about their first days at school, it might help for them to know that everyone else in their class is also just starting. It’s a brand new day! There will be many things to celebrate at school and tell them that you’ll be supporting them so they are free to share their days with you. However, if you ask children, “What did you learn (or do) at school today?’” don’t be surprised to hear “Nothing”. So don’t make it an interrogation. Keep it light and chatty.
Enabling connections. If your child already knows another child or children that will be going to the same school, try to arrange some playdates so they will feel more comfortable when they arrive that first morning. They will likely make their own friends once they settle in but seeing a familiar friendly face or two in the early days will help them feel more at home.
Below is a list of things which educators generally believe your child should be able to manage. You can help prepare them by:
Making sure they can write their own name. Use pencils, not pens. You can get them in the mood by doing lots of colouring with them. Learn what an effective pencil grip looks like.
Talking to them about the sounds of the alphabet. They could be learning the alphabet which might be helpful. Play the ‘I Spy With My Little Eye’ game with them.
Learning simple songs and rhythms helps children develop learning skills. Don’t be embarrassed about singing to your child, and do it often.
Encouraging social skills – the earlier your child learns to get on well with others, the better. You can start by congratulating them for sharing toys with other children. A selfish child will never be popular.
Teaching them basic mouse skills and allowing them to a computer under supervision. If you don’t have a computer, go to a library where they can use one.
Ensuring they know the difference between right and wrong. They need to be told from a young age that hurting another child is not acceptable or appropriate.
Boosting their confidence by taking them to activities, or to the park where there will be other kids around, to help them get over any shyness.
Making up stories (even if they make no sense). You can do this while you’re driving, on the bus or before bedtime. It helps develop their language and communication skills, and you may be amazed at how much you enjoy making up a story.
Encouraging independence – you need to let your child do things for themselves. If they’re trying to build something with Lego don’t be tempted to help, unless asked.
Spending time together. Family time is important, so have dinner with your child as often as possible. If you’re too busy on weekdays, get the family around the table at the weekend. And let children help prepare the food. At a young age, children have a short attention span but if this does not change as they get older, they will suffer at school.
Encouraging them to do activities they enjoy, such as painting. This will help them learn to concentrate.
Making maths fun. For example, put three potatoes on your plate, have your child eat one and ask how many are left. Try counting everything for a day, including all your steps to the supermarket and the number of trees you walk past on the way.
Helping your child understand the concepts of past and future. Ask them about what they did yesterday and what they are looking forward to at the weekend.
Giving them the attention they need. Kids go through a phase of asking why all the time, but never ignore them; be patient and reward their curiosity. And if you think they’re asking why for the sake of it, then ask them a question in return. This engages them, and gets them thinking about the world.
Asking questions that refer to different categories. For example: “Why are some of these trees losing their leaves?” “Which animals eat meat and which don’t?” Your child will learn about groups and categories without realising.
Working on Jigsaws together, which are great for developing logic skills. If your child gets tired of them, box them up and resume another day.
Talking to your child about different healthy and unhealthy foods and allowing them to eat a variety of foods in moderation. If they know they can eat sweets, but not every day, you will be amazed how often they choose to eat healthy fruit or veg instead. Let them get involved with cooking too.
Encouraging your child to play a musical instrument. This gets them moving and it’s good for spatial, reasoning and motor skills.
There may not be one particular approach that will guarantee your child’s success at school, but every child has unique qualities and individual talents. Show your children how every imaginative act is creative and inspiring. Share stories and show them how you value education and they may come to value it too.
As literacy specialists you would expect us to highlight reading as one of the most important factors in your child’s education, but all parents, teachers and children themselves understand how reading accomplishment drives their learning. Once a child masters reading skills, school becomes much more manageable for them.
Encourage reading skills from an early age, starting with letter sounds. It’s important to focus on sounds initially and avoid trying to match them with letters to aid phonemic development. Enrolling your child in a pre-school reading programme will get them off to a great start at school. You can also access our free Literacy Guides and work through the exercises at home.
If you would like to learn more about our unique Total Literacy Learning System, and core programmes, you can read course outlines here.
We all understand that reading and writing play an essential part in learning – in fact, literacy is a fundamental foundation and framework for all aspects of education. Literacy development is the key to your child’s ability to engage, not only in education, but in society in general. Literacy skills give children the confidence to communicate with others, to think analytically, engage in critical thinking, and grasp new concepts with cognitively flexibility. Without these basic skills, children are unlikely to excel in school and in later studies.
With a very long holiday looming, you have the perfect opportunity to really explore literacy with your child in a way that will create a passion for books and reading and instil a love of literacy that really will last a lifetime.
Accomplish this and see how their general education begins to take flight when they return to school.
It’s a well-known fact that children have a much larger capacity for learning than adults, which is why it is so important to create the desire in your child to seek out books early on and engage them in a continual process of wanting to learn new words and literacy skills.
If you needed a further incentive, according to a study by the UK Literacy Trust, children who are the most engaged with literacy are three times more likely to have robust mental well-being.
So, here are a few ideas to keep you busy this holiday…
Explore the art of storytelling
We all know how children love to play and use their imagination to tell stories, create elaborate ‘play’ scenarios, and express themselves generally. Notice how they love to tell you all about new words they have learned, and how excited they are to put these new words into practice.
Leverage this natural ability by encouraging storytelling. This is a powerful strategy for improving children’s writing and creative thinking abilities as it does not offer any restraints. For younger children who have not yet learned to write, just have fun making up stories together and exploring the sounds of the words they are using. You can also use this method to build vocabulary, by discussing the meaning of a word and looking at different ways of saying the same thing.
To help you keep the ideas flowing, try offering your child a few random objects (or pictures of objects) and ask them to create a story around them. You can make it more fun by making a bag of different items and asking them to select one ‘blindly’ from the bag. You can even create separate bags of ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ contents and have them pick an object from each bag. For example, this could form the basis of a story about a space man, who has a purple monkey and lives in caravan. The stranger the objects, the more creative their stories will be!
Put on a show
Many children love to perform for you, so another fantastic way to engage your child or children in talking and storytelling is to have them put on a show! Give them a framework to work to, which encourages them to write or plan a story first, then act it out using props, or maybe even puppets. As well as fostering creativity, this will help boost their language skills and build their vocabulary in a way that simply feels like play. This also has a very positive impact on their general self-confidence.
Simply does it
Now, we know you won’t be in the mood for story games and pantomime every day of the week, so mix it up with some very simple activities that are also extremely effective.
Activities such as singing nursery rhymes, playing a game of “I spy”, rhyming word games, treasure hunts with written clues etc.
Make writing fun
Finding ways to make writing exciting for children is often a tricky task. Try making up some prompt cards they can use to get started and write sentences or short stories, depending on their ability.
These might include openings such as:
I went to the beach, and I played…
When I was at the zoo, I saw…
If I could fly I would…
If I was invisible, I would…
One day I want to visit…
You can encourage your child to talk about their ideas first, then write them down and draw pictures to make it more fun.
If you have more than one child, or your child has friends over, try having them write a story together by each writing the first sentence, then swapping or rotating and have the children take turns, swapping after each sentence to create the story. This is a great way to get them thinking about what has already been written and make decisions on how to continue the story. The stories will naturally be weird and wonderful, which will provide much amusement and engagement. We bet they will continue doing this of their own volition once they get the hang of it.
One inventive mum we know of used to write her daughter a note at the end of each day, to tell her what she had enjoyed that they had done that day, something that made her laugh, or how proud she was of something her child had achieved. She would leave this by her daughter’s bed every night so she could read it in the morning. It wasn’t long before her daughter started to reciprocate and leave a note for her mum before she went to bed. This is a lovely way to encourage writing and exploring new words to properly describe what your child wants to say, as well as creating a very strong bond between parent and child.
If you do try this though, please don’t ask your child to reciprocate, they will do so in their own time, and you may jeopardise the initiative if you push it too soon.
Draw me a picture
If your child prefers drawing to writing, you will have more success engaging their creativity with drawing games, rather than trying to force the issue with writing. If they feel comfortable, their skills will develop, and they will get to writing as they progress.
Ask your child to draw a picture of some favourite stories and ask them to just write names or some words that help to bring the story to life with their picture. Again, you can use the pictures to have your child re-create the story with a new twist and add more pictures and new characters, which they will need to name. How about having your child draw each of the characters in the story individually, then creating new scenes and mixing up the characters to create a new story?
If your child is very young, you can even download printables from the internet and ask them to colour in the pictures if they don’t feel so confident in drawing pictures of their own.
Revitalise reading time
One of the best ways to improve literacy skills is by encouraging a love of books and maintaining that love. Interaction when reading is important, even for babies and toddlers, so start off with board books, lift the flap books etc., that have tactile elements and sounds.
Using finger puppets or characters can also help to bring the story to life and make the experience more enjoyable. As your child gets older it’s fun to encourage them to try different voices for different characters. You can also weave discussions into your reading sessions and ask them questions about each character, what they think about the places they live or visit, what the weather is doing, etc. This helps them engage much more in the story.
If your child is tired, or is not keen on reading generally, don’t underestimate the value of reading to them. Listening to a story will help your child develop their vocabulary, as well as their ability to listen and concentrate and connect sounds and words. You can stop and discuss the story at intervals to check their understanding, and discuss words and their meanings, as well as sounds and similar sounding words. If you read a favourite book regularly, discuss how they might make the story more interesting by adding a new character, or making a different ending to expand their imagination.
By introducing children to a diverse range of books, including fairy tales, funny stories, adventures, factual books, poems, and historical tales, you will improve their ability to understand a wide variety of concepts and the world around them.
Team up with technology
With devices such as iPads, smartphones and e-readers present in everyday life, we certainly cannot ignore technology. There are some good literacy apps and websites out there but beware of any that rely on memory-based learning and word acquisition and seek out those that focus on letter and word sounds.
Here are a few we would recommend: Word Mania and Hopster are fun and educational apps that will engage your young child.
For older children, word search games and crossword puzzles are beneficial too.
Our final thoughts
As a parent, your role in establishing fertile ground for the growth of your child’s literacy learning is a vital one and will help them to thrive at school. Your main goal should be to develop an enthusiasm for literacy, creating a rich and inviting environment that fully immerses your child in the learning experience with joy. Achieve this and you will be well on the way to helping them acquire the all-important skills and knowledge that will have them set for life.
At I Can Read, our approach to learning is fun and experiential, in very small groups, which will give your child the essential skills required for literacy success. We love working in partnership with parents to establish total literacy learning. You can find more information on our programmes here.
And if you are looking for holiday activities for your children that are both educational and great fun, check out our holiday programmes here.
You can also request our series of Literacy Guides that will help to keep your child engaged and entertained during the break.
Wishing you all a magical Christmas and New Year break.
Certain research studies have identified strong links between children’s working vocabularies and reading achievement. Furthermore, it is suggested that vocabulary is not only a valuable predictor of early years reading success, but also of achievement levels in secondary education.
So, here’s our opinion on the subject…
We believe this is true to a certain extent. A child with a large or comprehensive vocabulary base will have a larger semantic capture. This means they will be able to use vocabulary to reflect that wider base, which may be an asset in the reading acquisition process.
But the relationship between having a large working vocabulary and being able to read is quite a large-scale question. The reading process is about reading words and groups of words, combined with an appreciation of context and semantics. A beginning reader might be able to pronounce a new word, such as for example, ‘comprehensive’ by sequencing the letter string and blending the sequence to articulate the word ‘comprehensive’. With nothing more, this exercise is somewhat futile, leaving the reader articulating the word ‘comprehensive’ but having no notion of what it means. If, however, the unfamiliar word appears in an accessible context for the beginning reader, some progress may occur, and the reader will acquire a new unit of vocabulary.
For instance, the sentence, “His talk covered all or nearly all elements or aspects of [something], and it was comprehensive.” Because the sentence first details how the talk covered “all”, or “nearly all elements or aspects”, our beginning reader can assume that the summary of it being ‘comprehensive’ might mean that the talk was all-inclusive.
However, in order for a newly acquired word (increased vocabulary) to be integrated into a person’s vocabulary effectively, it should be extracted from where it was first acquired and applied across any number of applicable contexts. Once students are able to apply this word to new sentences, and the word makes sense in the new context, the person may have acquired new and applicable vocabulary. It is still going to take some time and practice for the student to use their newly acquired word confidently in a variety of contexts.
As a parent, what can you do to help grow your child’s vocabulary and reading skills?
Like many things, vocabulary is essentially acquired through repetition, application and usage. It helps to link known vocabulary with the newly acquired vocabulary. Your child may use his or her established vocabulary to acquire synonyms and antonyms. For example, if a child knows the word ‘kitty’, he or she may acquire the word ‘cat’, then ‘feline’ as newly acquired words (expanded vocabulary). The best way to help your child expand his or her vocabulary is to read to them, exploring words as you go, and connecting words for them – like the kitty, cat, feline example. Encourage your child to learn how to read and from around 3.5 years, it is worth investing in a professional reading acquisition programme to prepare them well for school.
Is there a benchmark of how many words a child should know by age group?
Of course, children learn at different rates, but generally, most children speak their first word between 10 to 14 months of age. By the time your baby is a year old, he or she is probably speaking between one and three words. These will be simple, and possibly not complete words, but you will know what they mean. While most children may have acquired a vocabulary of 150 to 300 words by the age of two, gifted children may have surpassed the 100-word mark by the time they are 18 months old.
Extensive vocabulary acquisition is definitely linked to positive outcomes associated with intelligence, social advancement and overall success, but lack of vocabulary is not necessarily a precursor of failure.
By age 3, a toddler’s vocabulary is usually 200 words or more, and many children can begin to form sentences of three or four words. Children at this stage of language development can understand more and speak more clearly. By now, you should be able to understand around 75% of what your toddler says.
As children approach 7 years, a gap in acquisition begins to appear. The top 25% of students have learned around 7000 words by this stage, adding around three new words every day, while the bottom 25% know less than half that amount – around 3000 words. Furthermore, this group are only acquiring one word per day, continually widening the gap.
Clearly this presents a significant problem in the educational system, and parents who are concerned that their child may fall into this category may need to seek a professional programme to help their child catch up. Concerningly, the methods currently employed by schools Australia-wide will do nothing to address this issue. Read our previous blog, “Why the Australian Education System is Failing Your Child” for more information on the subject.
How does your own vocabulary affect the language development of your child?
A 1980s study found that “Children of professional parents would have experienced 42 million words by the time they were 4 years old!” The study suggested that, consequently, the children of professional parents went on to gain a higher vocabulary, and sooner than their contemporaries.
Considering this, how important is it for you, as parents, to pay attention to the vocabulary you use day to day in front of your children?
The answer is very, but it’s not about exposure, which in isolation will do little to develop a child’s vocabulary. Think about it this way: You wake up in a foreign country where they speak a completely incomprehensible language as far as you are concerned. Over a few years you have listened to 42 million words. If you have no context to derive meaning, no encouragement to use newly ‘acquired’ words, it is not going to be simple to use this exposure in a meaningful way.
Your role as parents is very important because you can articulate a context for your child, encourage the acquisition of new vocabulary and reward its use. Meaning is central to vocabulary use but also relevant as part of the acquisition process. Context is more applicable when a person is able to understand what context is or at least how it impacts the word or words in question.
Is good vocabulary an indicator of overall success at school?
Some studies have suggested a link between a good vocabulary and success across the whole spectrum of school subjects. Having spent the last twenty years developing and teaching young children to read as part of a total literacy education, we doubt that to be the case. It might help a child even impress a teacher, but an extensive vocabulary alone will do little to further education. A fully rounded acquisition of literacy that includes good spelling, grammar, comprehension, composition and articulation is the key to strong educational development.
Worryingly, grammatical errors are popping up all over the place in today’s world, including many of the modern news presenters of major national channels. While some of their vocabulary might sound impressive, their use of grammar is often woefully inept.
To summarise, vocabulary acquisition involves and depends on a number of factors, some of which are available in a specialised literacy learning centre. At an I Can Read centre, a child will hear and acquire new words (extend their vocabulary) and once they learn to read, then the sky’s the limit. They will go on to advanced literacy skills, which include vocabulary development.
But parents also play a vital role in this process, as important factors such as repetition, use, and familiarity with context, etc., require a little more than one hour a week at an I Can Read Centre. Their hourly lesson is critical in establishing process, tools, skills and disciplines required for successful acquisition, and combined with homework and continual support from parents, a child’s fully rounded literacy development will accelerate.
Considering the context of falling rates of literacy proficiency in Australia, it’s clear that children are not gaining a meaningful education in vocabulary development, or the English language in general. Every year, more and more parents are taking their child’s literacy education into their own hands and turning to specialist education centres for help.
The year seems to have flown by us and Christmas is right around the corner – again!
We don’t know about you, but books are among our very favourite gifts, and are truly the gift that keeps on giving. Any kind of book makes a fantastic gift, but we thought we’d pull together our ‘top 10 picks’ list of Christmas themed stories that your children will love and treasure.
Books like these are often kept as mementos, passed on to siblings, and even kept for your children’s children, to be passed down through generations.
While some are aimed at older children, don’t be put off buying them as ‘bedtime story’ books that you can read to your child to bring the magic of Christmas alive in the festive season. As these stories become an integral part of their own Christmas ritual, they will be keen to read them for themselves as their literacy confidence grows.
So here’s our top 10 in no particular order…
The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore
This poem was first published anonymously in 1823, enchanting children with the story of St. Nicholas climbing down the chimney and filling the childrens’ stockings with gifts. It was, in fact written by Clement Moore for his family, and he never intended for it to be published. A family friend quietly submitted his poem to the editor of the New York Troy Sentinel newspaper, which was subsequently re-printed and published all over the world. One hundred and eighty years later, The Night Before Christmas is the most-published, most-read, and most-collected book in all of Christmas literature. This glorious book presents the poem, faithfully reproduced, alongside a series of beautiful, nostalgic illustrations by renowned American illustrator, Charles Santore. This edition is truly one to be preserved and cherished. Booktopia list the age group for this book as 0 – 99 years, which tells you something about its well-loved, widespread appeal. Perfect for reading to younger children, who will love to read it for themselves as they grow, and will likely be read by every adult as well – every Christmas.
Around $30 from all good book stores.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Another classic we simply couldn’t overlook in this list. Again, perfect for reading to younger children and excellent for discussing the moral themes within the story. One of the most captivating Christmas stories ever written, this book is surely another keeper. The hard cover editions from either Penguin or Wordsworth Collector’s Edition both make lovely gifts for safekeeping. Another option is a luxury edition, illustrated by Quentin Blake, who also writes a forward for the book.
All three are priced under $25 from all good book stores.
Enid Blyton’s Christmas Stories
Enid Blyton is always a favourite, and her stories continue to delight children to this day. This paperback, containing 25 short Christmas stories makes a terrific stocking filler, full of the mystery, magic and mischief that is the trademark of Enid Blyton’s inimitable style. While this is a light, and inexpensive book, it is also likely to be another favourite that your children will want to keep for their future families and enjoy for many Christmases to come.
Around $18 from all good book stores.
An Aussie Christmas Gum Treeby Jackie Hosking
A beautiful hardcover book for the younger ones, aged 3-6 years by Australian author, Jackie Hosking, and lovingly illustrated by Sydney-based Nathaniel Eckstrom. Possom and his bush friends will delight young children in this rhyming read-aloud story as they pursue their quest to decorate their own Aussie Christmas gum tree. Eckstrom’s bright and appealing illustrations complement the prose of Hosking in the celebration of Australian flora and fauna. Its light-hearted, rhyming text, is great fun, and also good for developing language skills.
Around $18 from all good book stores.
Christmas Always Comes by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley
A new story, collaboratively published in October of this year from two of Australia’s best-loved picture book creators, Christmas Always Comes, is the heart-warming story about a country family living through the drought in 1932. Based on their dusty farm, Joey and Ellie wonder how Santa will find them and what Christmas day will bring. An inspiring and uplifting Australian Christmas story, of love, joy and miracles, this wholesome tale is sure to become a family favourite. A wonderful book for children aged 3+. Around $20-25from all good book stores.
Little Bilby’s Aussie Bush Christmas by Yvonne Mes
Another new book, and another Aussie story – this time for the littlies, aged 1 – 4 years from Children’s author, Yvonne Mes, and Illustrated by artist, Jody Pratt. A Joyful rhyming picture book that includes a bonus puzzle page and Christmas craft activity. Your little ones will love this magical adventure as they join a group of little bilbies, hunting for decorations to transform their bushland home into a Christmas wonderland.
Around $18 from all good book stores.
Christmas in Australiaby John Williamson
Continuing the Australian Christmas theme, iconic singer-songwriter, John Williamson brings us this entertaining family Christmas yarn based on one of his songs, “Christmas Photo”, expertly brought to life by illustrator, Mitch Vane.
Williamson’s anthems have captured the spirit of the nation for more than 40 years, and this Christmas story is no exception.
Created for children aged 3 – 5 years, and a perfect Aussie stocking filler.
Available from many bookstores, but if purchased from the John Williamson website, you’ll receive a personally signed copy by John, along with a download for the song on which the book is based.
$15 from https://johnwilliamson.com.au/store/john-williamsons-christmas-in-australia/
The Christmas Pigby J.K. Rowling
An enchanting, page-turning adventure about one child’s love for his most treasured possession, this story won JK Rowling her 16th literary No’1.
Described as a tale for the whole family to fall in love with, from one of the world’s greatest storytellers, taking the reader on a magical journey with protagonists, Jack and the Christmas Pig with all the exuberance of the reader’s own imagination.
A beautiful story of love and friendship, of loss, and of miracles.
Available in stunning hardback featuring decorative gold foil artwork, with rich cover and internal illustrations by renowned artist, Jim Field makes this a perfect gift for children aged 8 – 12 years.
Around $30 from all good bookstores.
The Christmas Unicornby Anna Currey
Millie’s magical encounter with a unicorn, on a snowy night just days before Christmas is the spellbinding theme for this heart-warming story.
Away from her friends, and without her Father, Millie is destined to spend Christmas alone with her Mother and Grandpa, until her mystical new friend, Florian, the unicorn. Florian transforms Millie’s Christmas, filling it with dazzling surprises and new-found friendship to make her Christmas dreams come true. Anna Curry brings us this beautifully crafted and illustrated picture book that will delight the whole family.
For ages 6+ years.
Paperback around $14 from all good bookstores.
Emily Dickinson, Poetry for Young People – edited by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin and illustrated by Chi Chung
OK, we cheated a little with this one – this last literary marvel is not a Christmas book, but in our opinion, a perfect Christmas gift.
This collection is an ideal way to introduce young readers to poetry, which offers definitions and commentary, accompanied by beautiful illustrations.
Allow your children to see the beauty and magic of the everyday world through the eyes of Emily Dickinson, one of America’s best-loved and most renowned poets with this curation of over 35 poems, described by Parents Magazine as “nothing short of breathtaking”.
Though Dickinson sadly died without fame, having had only a few poems published in her lifetime, her legacy was later rescued from her desk. She had produced an astonishing body of work, much of which has since been altered by editors and publishers over the years.
While Poetry for Young People is perfect for your younger children, for those of you with older children, or even for yourself, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R.W Franklin, promises to be the closest thing to “the real Dickinson” that anyone will ever get, remarked as “unmolested by well-meaning editors and thoughtless publishers.”
Paperback “Poetry for Young People” is around $14.00.
Paperback “The Poems of Emily Dickinson” is around $40 – $50 from all good bookstores.
All prices are based on the average we have found. You can, of course, purchase e-book versions cheaper in most cases, but they are pretty tricky to wrap!