A new study in Social Science Research, reported in the Guardian by Alison Flood, has found that people who grew up in a home filled with books have “long-term cognitive competencies spanning literacy, numeracy and ICT (Information Communication Technology) skills.” The study doesn’t focus on whether the respondents were read to as children, they were simply asked about the number of books in the house when they were 16.
The study goes on to show that teenagers with only lower levels of secondary education, but who came from a home filled with books, “become as literate, numerate and technologically apt in adulthood as university graduates who grew up with only a few books”. The university graduates who grew up with hardly any books around them had roughly average literacy levels. So did those whose schooling ended in the equivalent of year nine (13-14 years old), but who grew up surrounded by books. “So, literacy-wise, bookish adolescence makes for a good deal of educational advantage,”
Obviously, if there are a lot of books around there is more opportunity for a child to become literate. And a home filled with books is an indication of the parents’ focus on reading, learning and knowledge. But what if your child says they don’t like to read, or has problems comprehending what they read?
Here are some good practices, found in Additude Magazine, to instill early with your child a love of reading and the power of words:
- Read to your child.
Even if your child can read on his own, there is value in reading aloud to him. A child’s listening skills are usually stronger than his reading skills, so your child can comprehend more if he reads along silently as you read the book out loud.
Begin with short passages, and extend the time if your child maintains focus. Books on tape, with accompanying texts, provide another way to pair reading and listening.
- Engage the imagination.
While your child reads or listens, encourage her to visualize the events in the story, creating a picture or movie in her mind. After a few pages, ask her to describe it.
- Show how books are organized.
Textbooks are often structured in a way that highlights and summarizes important material. Show your child how paying attention to captions, charts, section headings, and sample study questions can organize his thinking and provide valuable facts.
When your child reads fiction, train him to look for the five W’s: Who are the main characters, where and when does the story take place, what conflicts do the characters face, and why do they act as they do.
Although newspaper and magazine articles don’t always contain a narrative, information about the five W’s typically appears in the first paragraph or two.
- Ask for predictions.
When reading a book with your child, stop occasionally to ask what she thinks might happen next. This requires her to integrate what she has learned so far about the characters and storyline – and about the way stories are typically organized – to anticipate the rest of the plot.
If she’s reading a Harry Potter novel, for example, asks what she thinks will happen the next time Harry and Draco Malfoy face each other in a Quidditch match. Or get her opinion on what she thinks author J.K. Rowling will write about in her next book.
It doesn’t matter if her hunches are correct: Asking for predictions encourages her to pay very close attention to what she reads. What’s more, it helps you gauge just how much she’s comprehending.
- Show interest in what your child is reading.
Ask her to tell you about the book or chapter she just finished. What was the main idea? Who was her favorite character? Why did she like or dislike the book? Did it remind her of other stories she’s read or of experiences she has had?
If it was a textbook chapter, what did she learn, and how does it apply to what she’s learning in school? Having to verbalize what she has read requires her to make sense of it.
If your child is unable to provide a coherent summary, read the book yourself. Engage her in a discussion of your favorite parts and characters, and talk about how you connected parts of the story so that it all came together.
- Encourage note taking.
Have your child keep a notepad or index cards nearby to jot down important information as he reads. Note-taking pushes a reader to make sense of the material, and the cards become terrific tools when studying for a test later on.
If a book belongs to your child, permit her to mark relevant details with a pencil or highlighter. Do this together the first few times — it’s an opportunity to demonstrate how to pick out important facts.
Does your child learn best visually? Help him create a chart with boxes for the story’s setting, characters’ names, and major themes and events. Or show her how to make a mind map — a diagram that uses key words, colors, and symbols to represent ideas and information.
- Increase word power.
The stronger your child’s vocabulary, the better his comprehension — and the less frequently he’ll put down a book to ask about a word.
If you know that a passage contains unfamiliar words, define them — or have him look them up in a dictionary — before he begins to read.
- Translate figures of speech.
A child with a language-based learning disorder can be overly literal: Reading that a character “took the bull by the horns” or “looked like he’d seen a ghost” can stop him cold.
Help your child understand that a phrase that seems out of context may be a figure of speech. Together, compile a list of expressions and what they mean.
- Teach your child to read between the lines.
Point out sentences in which information is implied, and ask her to fill in what’s missing. She should understand that the statement, “George was excited about winning top prize at his school’s science fair for the second time,” means that George has won the science award once before.
- Build up background knowledge.
It’s easier to understand subject matter that you know something about. Help your child select reading materials that reflect his interests, and encourage him to bring his own experiences to his understanding of a book.
- Form a book group.
If your child has friends who enjoy similar books, get them together to discuss what they’ve read or to collaborate on a project, such as a mural or a skit about the story.