First Steps in Reading

In case you don’t know it, I’m currently on mat leave.  I have a new baby girl that is just over 2 months old now.  Her development astounds me.  Physically, she is about 4 pounds and 4 inches taller than she was at birth.  Her personality is coming through loud and clear too.  She’s been described as happy, content and even tranquil by others.  I would also add chatty and charming.

She loves new faces and will engage in talking with everyone.  So far, it’s just little cooing and “agoo” type noises.  Sometimes she sounds like a terra dactyl.  A lot of the time, I have to interpret body language, eye contact and facial expressions.  She already seems to have a lot to say.  She is talked to a lot and is being actively listened to as well.

Last night was the first night I realized she is actually imitating the sound back that I was saying to her.  We had a good back and forth conversation.  Then she had the same conversation with an overhead light, so maybe not.  It made me laugh.  I’m in a rocking chair trying to get her sleepy and she is having an excited and smiley conversation with an extinguished light above!  Then I took a closer look at it’s shape… Infer what you will!

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Already, she’s adding mood into her sounds – sometimes you can tell they are complaints and grievances.  She has mastered the bottom lip pout.  Other times, unfiltered, gummy smiles full of joy.  I had a great conversation with my girls (ages 6 and 9)  who were alarmed by her crying in the beginning.  It’s also communication.  Often, without tears.  Sometimes with tears if she is hurting or angry.

For me, all this early talk and interaction are the building blocks for reading.  She is focusing her eyes on things that interest her and reacting.  I’m going to move to start reading books to her this week.

As a parent, I’ve learned some things about developing reading in my children.  I’m convinced my older girls are good readers because of a few things:

1) They have a lot of people in our family to talk to.  And people pay attention to what they say.  They have a rich vocabulary because of this.  Sometimes a bit too colourful!  Lol.  They use the word “bloody” a bit more than they should.  I laughed because they used to say “grocery cart”, “vitamins”, and “margarine” like my mother-in-law who is from England.  But these are the voices and conversations that will help them understand books.

2) Many people in our family share the joy of books with them and take them to many different libraries.  I’m proud to say that Librarians know my kids by name and know their favourite authors too (Lambeth and Byron in particular).  They enjoy a good bus ride or trip to the downtown library too.

3) They have been read to from an early age. They have been listening to books for a long time.  This baby will be very lucky to have her older sisters read to her too!  My 6yo daughter has been working on the collection already on her bookshelf.  A few years ago, I would not let my husband give away the baby books because I can remember our favourites.  They’re special.  We even have framed pictures of the girls reading.  Books and reading are valued.  That message is loud and clear.
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4) They are exposed to great authors – Bill Peet is a favourite at our house.  There is always a book by him around.  Kate and I read some Ramona (Beverly Cleary) books together and both laughed so hard we cried when Ramona was being carried across the road yelling “I’m going to marry you one day Henry Huggins!”.  Roald Dahl is another favourite read aloud.  Boynton when they were young.  My husband just read the first Harry Potter with the girls.  He has some favourites put aside for when they are older…

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5) I did a few high frequency words with them through games that we have at home.  Some words just have to be automatic.

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6) I don’t judge their choices.  My one daughter has learned the most about reading independently through a Barbie book she chose.  It’s simple, at her level and of high interest to her.  It’s had some wear and tear too which is telling.

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7) Get them hooked on a series.  Some favourites of my 9 year old are “The Boxcar Children” and “The Nevergirls” more recently.

8) Let them form reading habits.  Both of my girls read after I put them to bed. I leave after a “cuddle” and shortly afterwards little reading lights and flashlights turn on.  They leave evidence of this nightly reading every morning under their beds.
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9) My husband and I share what we are reading.  There are piles of books on our nightstand and various reading places in the house.  The “special ones” are displayed on book shelves.  We read a variety of different books from Asterix books, to cookbooks, fiction and non-fiction.  My kids ask what the book is about, and I give them an age appropriate description.

10)  And one more thing I’ll share is that they are in a school that is 100% French until Grade 4.  It amazes me how much learning to read in both languages strengthens the other.  So much of good reading is beyond the actual language.  One of my daughters is still learning to read while the other is reading to learn.  They are being provided with great supports at school.  I give a lot of credit to their teachers.  They have encouraged and reflected all of the above in class too by showing interest in what they read, small groups, conferences…

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11) We listen to a lot of talk radio and music in our house.  My eldest can do a spot on “Debaters” Steve Patterson immitation.  My kids are drawn to songs with a story in them.  Most recently “7 years” and “Lost Boy”.  They follow songs at church.  They sing and are tuned in to rhyming, repetition etc. And meaning.

And as usual, I have questions:

What would you add to this list?

Who influenced who you are as a reader?

What can we learn from this and apply to our teaching?

How can we influence parents to instill book love into their children?

What can we do as educators if we know books are not valued at home?

How should I be fostering writing?  Am I giving it as much emphasis?

Finally thanks to Sue Bruyns!  Your post about Pax got me thinking about this today!

2 Responses

  1. mscasatodd at |

    Love this post, Jen. The part about repeating the sounds to the light made me smile! But I completely agree that so many reading habits are developed from infancy! We always spoke to our girls in adult language and so many people today marvel at their extensive vocabulary (my girls are 13 and 16 now!!). And my girls were in French Immersion as well and just last night we talked about how this has contributed to them being able to figure out the meaning of so many words based on their roots.
    I wish I was blogging when I was on mat leave–what a great way to reflect on these beautiful moments. Enjoy!

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