Reading and writing seem like such basic skills we assume our children will one day learn, but helping them get there can be anything but straight forward.
As Book Week rolls on in this week, Babyology speaks to two experts with some helpful tips for parents to help develop their children’s literacy.
Learning Made Easier’s Christine Killey wants parents – and schools – to take the guessing out of writing lessons and improve the nation’s spelling.
As a phonics instructor, Christine’s main passion is the relationship between letters and sounds.
“The ‘whole language approach’ is getting the children to have a go, and I know when I was at school that meant we were just told to write,” Christine tells Babyology.
“Often the spelling was not corrected, it was just ‘let’s have a go and do the best you can’.
“When you think about it, that’s like asking an adult, who only knows English, to write a story in Japanese.
“If you don’t know the sounds of the letters and you don’t have the language, how can you possibly do it?”
Christine says by sounding out words, children develop a greater understanding of how letters work.
“With phonics you are explicitly teaching the child to listen to the sound, it’s about hearing,” she says.
“So you say the word ‘dirt’, and make sure the child can hear it and say it, and then they’ve got to know which letter or symbol makes that sound.
“You’re not just teaching a child to have a go and guess.”
Christine says reading is fantastic for enhancing a child’s vocabulary. but we also need to be instilling good habits early.
“Half our nation can’t spell and that’s proven, we need to teach children how to spell,” she says.
“I often hear teachers say ‘they are a really good reader but they couldn’t spell to save themselves”.
Christine has two basic tips for parents to help their children at home.
- “When you’re talking to your child and you say ‘oh look at the fish, what letter does fish start with?’. Instead of saying what letter, say what sound does fish start with.”
- “When you teach your child to write their name, teach them to write the first letter with a capital and the rest lower case because it can be such a hard habit to break.”
Kristin Gill is the co-founder of The Kids’ Bookshop, an online bookstore providing parents all over with support to choose books best suited to their children.
A former teacher with more than 20 years experience in children’s publishing, Kristin tells Babyology it is never too early to start reading to your child and encouraging a love of books.
“Book Week gives us a moment in the year to say, ‘this is what it is all about, this is what reading is all about, this is what storytelling is all about’,” Kristin says.
“It’s also a great reminder to parents of the great importance of reading really good books with their children.”
She says while parents can help introduce and reinforce literacy skills they will develop at school, they should not get bogged down in the finer details of phonics and other teaching methods.
“I would hate for parents to think they have to spend all those preschool years trying to teach their children to read using phonics because the best thing they can do, and the most important thing they can do, is read to their children as much and as often as they can.”
Kristin’s biggest advice for parents is to make reading a pleasurable experience.
“It needs to always be a fun and loving activity, it should never be a punishment or a chore or bribery,” she says.
“It should just be something that happens regardless of what is going on in any family member’s life – whether it is busy parent or naughty child, we’ve got to put all that aside and the most important thing is to sit down and read.”
Kristin says while a child’s interests should definitely influence book choices, the books that really promote good literacy outcomes have rhythmical and repetitive text elements, making them perfect to read aloud, and illustrations that encourage children to interact with the text.
Here are the authors and illustrators Kristin highly recommends.
- Mem Fox – “Every single one of of her books has that repetitive, rhythmical element to it that she takes the time to get right.”
- Alison Lester – “She really understands children’s minds, their favourite animals and things to do.”
- Nick Bland – “He loves humour and crazy kind of aspects of childhood.”
- Aaron Blabey – He is also known for introducing really good humour to kids.”
- Pamela Allen – “She creates text that really comes alive on the page, lots of movement.”
- Janet and Allan Ahlberg – “They produce really beautiful and fantastic books.”
- Eric Hill – “He does all the Spot books.”
- Eric Carle – “The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a popular favourite that has been around a very long time.”
- Jackie French – “For her Australian kind of approach.”
- Jane Godwin and Anna Walker – “They are absolutely stunning books and both work together well to ensure the illustrations talk to the text.”