For many years, educators tried to determine reading readiness—that is, when children were ready to learn how to read. They believed that visual and listening abilities, personality development, interests and experiences, emotional stability, language achievement, and certain other characteristics indicated reading readiness. The experts generally agreed that by the time boys and girls reached 61/2 years of age, the various characteristics had developed enough for children to learn to read. As a result, most schools offered formal reading instruction to youngsters beginning at that age.
Learning in the home. At home, parents and other adults can promote the growth of a child’s language-related abilities in many ways. First, they should make sure that the child is physically able to read by watching for vision or hearing problems that could be treated or corrected. Adults should also spend much time talking to the young child in an appealing and clear voice. Such attention will likely arouse the youngster’s interest in language and provide opportunities to distinguish various sounds and to build vocabulary. Some adults move attractive objects before a baby’s eyes to encourage alertness and to exercise developing motor skills (controlled movements) of the eyes and head.
By reading aloud to a child regularly, an adult can help a child learn to love books and reading. Even a child too young to understand the words will enjoy the closeness of the activity. In selecting reading materials for older children, adults should consider the child’s maturity and interests. The youngster can become involved in a story by asking questions or by trying to guess what will happen next. Above all, frequent reading aloud to the child enables the adult to demonstrate the enjoyment that language and reading can provide. Adults can also show how much they like to read by setting aside time to read for their own enjoyment.
Working with the school. Schools build on the language learning begun in the home. Teachers encourage reading development by reading to children, telling them stories, discussing childhood experiences, and providing them with new experiences. Teachers can also give children many opportunities to express themselves orally, and they can write or type simple stories the children dictate. Reading programs in the early elementary grades stress basic skills essential to gaining independence in recognizing and understanding new words. Such programs also help children use the words in meaningful sentences and develop interests and attitudes toward reading as a satisfying experience.
A child’s progress in becoming an independent reader depends heavily on cooperation between parents and teachers. Parents can reinforce the school’s reading instruction by learning about their youngster’s school experiences. As the child learns to read, adults should continue to show that they view reading as important, enjoyable, and worthwhile. For example, they can read often and regularly themselves. They can also provide interesting and appealing reading matter in the home.
Parents and other adults should find out which topics and school subjects especially interest a child. The information will help them determine how well the school’s reading materials serve—or could serve—the youngster’s particular interests. Adults themselves may then be led to provide reading matter that the child would gladly turn to. For example, the parent of a teen-ager might mention what a critic said about a new pop singer in a magazine. A copy of the magazine just happens to be on the coffee table, where the teen-ager can later discover it and verify or challenge the critic’s comments.
Children who care little about school and perform poorly might not have developed the necessary reading abilities to succeed, or they may simply lack interest in the subjects covered. Forcing a youngster to read seldom provides a lasting solution and almost certainly does not contribute to developing a good reader. But appealing to young people’s interests and showing how reading can serve them have proved to be successful.