I stood at Parsons Green station awaiting a train this week, watching fresh schoolchildren tumble down the steps onto the platforms, with scooters, nannies, blazers and energy, new haircuts and shoes already bearing the marks of their returns to school. I strained to see what the older children were reading; there were a lot of boys from a nearby secondary school. The younger children were carrying proud book bags home. It took me back to the not too distant past, of new readers and new readers’ parents.
It’s imperative to get reading right, right from the start. Getting it right is not about how it sounds. We do not read aloud unless we’re Sophie Raworth. We read in our heads. Even when we ARE reading aloud, we are reading ahead in our minds. We work to make sense of what we read. That is the crux of reading- sense.
It’s why I argue back with my Sat Nav or the recipe book. It’s why I have to read back over pages of some books to retrace my steps and check I have established the plot, the characters and their relationships sorted out. Most importantly, it’s why early reading behaviour is a greater barometer for starting reading.
When your child selects the same book for the 99th time in the week, she or he is seeking to make sense. Rereading is about making sense. Hearing the story when you read it, again and again and again, establishes the sense of the story, ‘the rightness’. Your child is likely to choose to read that same book alone; she may not be really ‘reading‘; rather what you see is your child remembering, following learned behaviour, turning the pages as you did, following and possibly reciting the text that you read. Possibly she’ll look for the same clues in the pictures- picture clues, or picture context, are essential to making sense. Actually, your child IS reading.
When they have initial reading skills of their own, you may see your reader rescan, i.e., reread by looking back. Maybe they trace the line with their finger and draw it back. That’s a time to light the fireworks, for your child is demonstrating one of the most important reading developments, the ability and need to check back, independently, that their reading makes accurate sense.
When you listen to your child read, do not linger over the correctness of each individual word. Do not inhibit the flow of reading through your need for mechanical accuracy. When your child falters, tell them the word quickly, to enable pace, allow them to move on. At the conclusion of the book, if your child is not exhausted, look back over it, reread some of it, point out a few words at that stage, but do not make it an exercise about accuracy. Reading is like driving, but more important, in that you need to get moving!
We move when we read by predicting. Our brains are reading ahead, anticipating the plot development, the sense, the flow, the story. We use full amounts of text/ words to make sense- that’s context. We use the pictures to take clues and make sense also. It’s another reason why the step-by-step, word-by-word, need for accuracy is so agonising and off-putting for a new reader, for they need to make sense while the whole mechanical exercise is teeth grindingly dull and horrible. There is no sense to it!
Let your child read at a pace, review the book at the conclusion, offer words to maintain the flow, review, if they’re not shattered, and look back over the book at another time. Encourage the sense, the flow, the use of text and picture, the joy, the story and reinforce your shared experience of text.
Never force your child to read when they are tired or emotional. Rather, try to have a routine for every day in that your child returns with a snack and drink, a chance to change and refresh, before having some time when she or he reads to you. Try to make it the same time. If it’s not working for whatever reason, read the book to your child, if you cannot take turns. School, especially at the start of the new school year, is exhausting. The nights are drawing in, it is colder, and all the new routines and people and experiences of school can prove physically and emotionally exhausting. It is not a race for you or your child. Take time and care. That bonding, when you ease your child into the routine reading before all the other school week routine activities, is essential. It’s even more essential later in the day, at bedtime when you have your regular bedtime story experience.
The most essential advice I offer to families of new readers is to ensure that your habits are the best habits your child can adopt. If your child sees you enjoying reading, they will enjoy reading. If you have a library or book choosing habit, they will be book selector. If you demonstrate a devotion to the bedtime reading routine, they will build the same devotion to reading at bedtime, and will take real pleasure from reading- the ultimate aim. If you are a reader of quality books, so your child will be a reader of quality books.
So, lovely Bookwagon readers, that’s the end of the Bronnie, old teacher, lesson. It’s heartfelt, based on my wonderful training and years of happy experience. Reading is one of the most important and wonderful experiences we can offer our children and our society. You, dear Bookwagon readers, hold the key.
We’ve been busy this week. We estimate that we have added around 40 books to the wagon site. Have a look at Latest Titles in the drop-down menu, and hit the filter for newest titles to see what’s available. Meanwhile, here are a few, new favourite bedtime reading books we recommend:-
Tickle My Ears
I Want to Be in a Scary Story