If you want to help your toddler, preschooler, or kindergartner learn to read — in fun and satisfying ways—Raising Confident Readers is the book for you. If you want to increase the odds that your young child will not suffer from reading disabilities, Raising Confident Readers is the book for you.
Written by Dr. J. Richard Gentry, an outstanding literacy educator, Raising Confident Readers organizes and simplifies an enormously complex, daunting task—teaching children to read. One way that Dr. Gentry does this is through his Pyramid for Beginning Reading Growth. The Pyramid organizes beginning reading into five phases that roughly mirror birth through age seven. For each phase, Dr. Gentry provides a wealth of activities. But he doesn’t stop there. He shows you how to determine the phase your child is in so you give him activities he enjoys, learns from, and looks forward to.
If you’re worried that following the Pyramid will take hours a day and will require lots of formal instruction, don’t worry. Generally, Pyramid activities take very little time, often less than two minutes. And they don’t require formal instruction. In fact, Dr. Gentry makes a compelling argument that formal activities backfire with young children; they need short, informal activities they find fun.
To give you an idea of what Pyramid activities look like, here, with a little rephrasing, are parts of three activities, along with snippets of Dr. Gentry’s comments:
Phase 0 (Birth to 3): Reading Aloud. Start at birth... Remember, in teaching reading at Phase 0, feelings come first. Reading aloud is all about affection and attention.
Rules for Reading Aloud:
Keep books simple and provide lots of repetition.
Use face-to-face contact.
Make conversation with your baby/toddler about the book.
Use elaborations, make connections.
Use affirmations but don’t make corrections.
Phase 0 (Birth to 3): Labeling. Start at six to twelve months and beyond. (If you start early and establish a routine it will be easier to keep the baby interested. Waiting eighteen months or later may make it harder to get the toddler interested in this activity.)
In this activity you post and point out word labels [start with five simple words] in your child’s room that you have created, and you engage in labeling play by using sight, sounds, and action in the here and now to draw attention to the words. Reading Around the Room is a good way to focus your child’s attention on individual words.
The ‘Reading Around the Room’ game has four basic steps:
Use words that your baby sees and hears in favorite books or hears in conversation.
Make labels and post them in your child’s room.
Use the left-to-right finger-tracking procedure [described elsewhere].
Make the word viewing interactive and fun.
Phase 2 (3 to 6 years): Ring Clips for Sight-Word Practice. The directions are:
Write the words your child can read on an index card.
Collect these words on a ring clip.
Practice them over and over.
Put each word on an index card and punch a hole in the top left-hand corner. Make a game out of practicing the words and have ‘Look What I Can Read!’ celebrations. Your child will enjoy showing how many words he can read to others and this builds confidence. If you want your child to be a reader, he has to feel like a reader! Keep a list of the words your child can read automatically and replace words that may have gotten torn from the ring clip or lost. Choose other books that give your child exposure to the same high-frequency words that he is currently learning. For example, read several cat books, pig books, or books on the same theme to provide repetition of familiar words.
The above examples are incomplete. Raising Confident Readers gives you far more information, enough to make it easy to skillfully carry out the activities. Moreover, because Dr. Gentry writes so clearly and interestingly, his information doesn’t overwhelm. It informs.
Another way that Raising Confident Readers will help you and your child is its highly effective READ principles, principles that will help you whenever you’re with your child. READ stands for Repetition-Enthusiasm-Attention-Drawing. Here are snippets of each:
Repetition. Joyful repeated readings of favorite books are a hallmark of early reading success. Long after you are exhausted rereading favorite books, your baby or toddler will thrill in reading them over and over again. Hang in there. Your child is still learning. Her brain loves repetition.
Enthusiasm. Your own enthusiasm for literacy activity will create your child’s motivation to engage in literacy... Your enthusiasm inspires and instills your child’s internal desire to write and read by surrounding literacy activity with positive feelings. Your enthusiasm makes every literacy activity fun, interesting, sociable, and enjoyable... Here are some tips for setting a tone for amusement and merriment, and for avoiding negative feelings...
Attention. The guiding principle for choosing what activities to concentrate on and how to direct your child’s attention during reading or writing is to be a good ‘kid watcher.’ If your child is having a lot of fun with a particular activity, then this is a good one for the stage he is in right now. If he is distracted or bored, he may not be ready for that activity. Choose the activities that engage his interest and attention... Many of the decisions regarding how to direct your child’s attention will be easy because the activities and recommendations in the phase chapters will guide you directly.
Drawing. Your child might be ready to scribble on paper before you thought... At thirteen months of age, Danielle was already keen on making marks with different colors of pens on paper. In the weeks that followed, she began drawing with inexhaustible curiosity, demonstrating a love for artistic expression. Soon she was drawing pictures and talking about them in baby talk... These drawings set the beginnings of literacy in motion... Experts agree that drawing almost always opens the gate to early literacy.
What I’ve shared with you just touches the surface of a complete, well-written book on Raising Confident Readers. By engaging in its creative activities, if only a few minutes daily, you increase the odds of helping your child become a successful reader, and along the way, a successful person. And so I’ve just bought a second copy for my daughter, as her daughter, my granddaughter, just turned 15 months and is ready to become a confident reader.
Gentry, R. J. (2010). Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write from Baby to Age 7. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press.
© Reading2008 & Beyond www.reading2008.com
Howard Margolis, Ed.D., is Professor Emeritus of Reading and Special Education at Queens College of the City University of New York. He is former editor of the Journal of Psychological and Educational Consultation and for the last 19-years he has edited the Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties. Howard and Dr. Gary G. Brannigan, Professor of Psychology and Chancellor’s Scholar at the State University of New York-Plattsburgh, have recently published a book on reading and advocacy for parents, Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds. This column was originally published at www.reading2008.com/blog.