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Encouraging a Love of Literacy

It’s back to school, which means it's time to hit the books.

It’s the insurance for success in every academic subject: Reading. And after a long summer hiatus from the daily grind of school reading and writing, it’s hard to entice your child to read.

But experts insist that if your child has a strong foundation in reading, it’s likely to spread. To succeed in most other subjects, such as writing, math, social studies and English, reading and comprehension must be automatic.

Only 17 percent of low-income fourth-graders read at grade level nationally, and only 10 percent in California, according to Grace Jordan, development associate with Reading Partners, which has offices in Silicon Valley.

Sixty-five percent of low-income fourth-graders in California lack even basic reading skills, and based on these statistics, the state has the worst record for literacy among children from low-income households of all 50 states with more than 1.5 million children struggling with literacy state wide.

But Jordan insists that one of the best ways to guarantee a successful scholastic experience for your child is to encourage a love of literacy—and it starts at home.

“Try to carve out some time to read to your child every day,” says Jordan. “Your child will begin to look forward to the time with you and will be exposed to more literature that way.”

Reading Partners is a national non-profit organization that works at local schools to pair students and reading volunteers one to two times per week at the student’s school site. On average, Reading Partners students gain 1.6 months of reading skills for every month enrolled in the program. This translates to roughly one grade level of skills gained in just 26 hours of tutoring, according to Jordan. At this point, there are 12 Reading Partners programs in schools on the Peninsula and South Bay.

According to Heidi Long, youth services library manager with the, it’s important that your child have the space and time to read and get lost in a book. “With such busy schedules and so many competing interests, it is often difficult for children to find the stillness they need to engage with a book.”

Long suggests reading books that have a specific interest for a child. “We work daily with both avid readers and reluctant readers. If the kids have the right book, they will read. If they have the wrong one, they will not. The great thing about the library is that you can try many books without losing money.”

Finally, Long says, make sure that your kids see you reading for fun as well. Make the time to read for pleasure yourself. Talk to your kids about the books you are reading and why you love to read.

Here are some additional pointers you can use in hopes of having your child pick up a book instead of a seat in front of the television:

  • Read with your child for at least 30 minutes a day. Make the process interactive by asking questions to ensure your child is comprehending what your reading. Make this process a routine.
  • Read yourself. If your child sees the enjoyment you gain from reading yourself, chances are it will rub off.
  • Make up additional endings to a story, this helps your child to use his or her imagination and eventually will lead to your child’s understanding of plots, characters and the author’s message. Learning through imagination will help a child gain insight to story sequence.
  • Before you read the text of a story, do a “picture walk.” Look at the illustrations and guess what might happens before reading the book. This will also peak a child’s interest in a book.
  • Choose books for your child based on interest. If your child loves scuba diving, chances are that any book on the topic will be interesting to them. The act of reading becomes second to the subject matter itself.
  • Talk about books you like and dislike. It’s important for your child to see that it’s OK to not like a story, that’s how you determine what book you would like to read next.
  • Make homework time family time. Sit down with your child and give them some time to ask questions and make the homework experience a positive one. Have education and homework be a part of a child’s full life instead of only his or her school life.
  • Use the “Five Finger Test” when choosing books to read. “If your child gets one word wrong on the whole page then the book is too easy but four or five words incorrect then its too hard. You want to stay within the two to three words challenge so they can learn but yet remain engaged. Keeping your child reading age-appropriate material will bolster confidence.
  • For youngsters, read street signs or material posted at stores – anything that will engage your child and help them put together sounds. Learning how words are strung together will help your child to develop strong phonics skills.
  • Remember to talk to your child about punctuation. Learning when to pause for a comma or that there is vocal inflection with quotation marks will help with reading fluency. Punctuation marks are aids for comprehension.
  • Chunk syllables: Use a ruler or bookmark to hold over parts of large words to break up the long word. An example would be the word Volunteer. Cover everything but the ‘vol’ and then add the ‘un’ and later the ‘teer.’ Then have the child put the words together. This will aid a child in putting similar syllables together for other words.
  • Use a bookmark or ruler to also separate the sentence you are reading from the rest of the text on the page. This will help isolate the sentence and train your child to read from left to right and also stay along the sentence line. 

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