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Love, Children and the Joy of Literacy

By Sarah Pietrzak - 6th July 2010

Over my many years as a teacher I would sit on one side of the table at Parent Teacher interviews waiting to see queues of parents to discuss their child. I didn’t have children of my own then and I look back at the way I gave advice and feel a little bit proud. Because really, I didn’t know what I was doing a great deal of the time. I wasn’t a parent then. But the advice I gave? Turns out I was right!

The reasons parents came to the meetings varied, sometimes the parents would simply just want to “check in,” others would be there because I had requested it I could address specific concerns, still others because they really wanted to be involved with their child’s schooling and were looking for practical ways to do that.

Every interview was unique. There was the mum who flew in to the large hall where the meetings were being held, only to slip on her stiletto and break her ankle, through to the parents in the early throes of a divorce who sat with their clearly uncomfortable daughter wedged between them, as they icily ignored each other.

The recurring question was always: “What else could their child be doing to improve their reading/writing/comprehension skills?” It didn’t matter if the child was in year 7 or year 12. And my answer was nearly always the same. “Get them reading.”

A short and succinct answer that deserves a little more in depth discussion really. However when you are allocated five, maybe seven minutes to chat and you still have to go over their exam results and encourage revising for tests, it’s hard to do.
I have always been a believer that if children and teenagers are reading widely, it improves their own writing and comprehension skills.

Teachers can teach skills such as writing in full sentences, how to use punctuation appropriately and spelling rules. Children are assessed on these specific skills in the NAPLAN and they are crucial to their developing literacy.

However, reading ensures that children are exposed to seeing these skills used in a concrete form in a variety of genres. If that occurs, then the skills taught by their teacher will become an embedded, and hopefully innate part of their writing. In a way, if it becomes part of their subconscious then it is manifested in their actual writing.

It’s always fascinated me that whenever I offered to read a passage to my students in class they preferred that to reading independently. When I asked why that was so, the strugglers would say something like: “It’s just easier Miss” and the more able ones would say: “I can hear it properly.” I understood what they meant, they not only heard the passage they could understand it as well.

I have a child who struggled with developing his early literacy skills. I agonized over it and did all I could to help him. But I learned a valuable lesson that I had to step back and let his teachers work with him in that way.

"...we have visited secret gardens and dived with dolphins and whales."

Instead I spend time reading with and to my son. Together we have climbed a faraway tree, we have fought with wizards and dragons, we have visited secret gardens and dived with dolphins and whales.

In the time we have spent doing that my son’s reading and writing ability has steadily improved. He has learned through play, which is the easiest and best way to learn. I worked to ensure the books we read catered to his interests and our local library was a great source of material for us.

Reading time was a great jumping off point for discussion about his day. He would confide his fears, his joys and his feelings about things honestly. Reading time was a place where he felt completely safe. There was no pressure for him to achieve, to learn or to have to “be” something. And the beauty of that was it did the same for me.
As a teacher who read to their class and now as a parent who reads to their child I can see the importance of this. Children, regardless of age see reading to them as a means of escaping and relaxing. Better yet, they get to do it with someone they trust. If it’s a positive experience for a child in a classroom, the benefits for the parent child relationship are immeasurable.

In the “olden days” at Parent Teacher nights, I always encouraged parents of teenagers to read the books their child chose to read as a valuable jumping off point for discussions at dinner time or on weekends. And as it turns out, this works just as well with seven year olds as it does with seventeen year olds. Reading is awesome. Everyone should try it.

Comments (2)

Jodie at Mummy Mayhem's picture

Spot On

Sarah - a great article.

I've always believed the books you read can influence the way you communicate and write. Our 8yo son has always enjoyed Harry Potter and Deltora Quest, but over the last year, he started reading damn Pokemon books and the like. It showed in his writing at school. Short, punchy sentences, rather than longer, flowing, descriptive ones. Even though we were always also reading "to" him Roald Dahl books etc, it is getting him to read the text himself which makes a big difference. We're reading Danny Champion of the World at the moment, and I'll often stop and say, "Now, listen to how Roald Dahl describes [this] and [that]." And I'll read it and re-read it. I'm hoping it's sinking in!

Essentially, we are a big reading family. Stories every night, and from a very young age (babies). One of my favourite photos of my 8yo was taken when he was about 6mths old. He's lying on his tummy on a rug, a Spot book open in his hands, and pointing to the text as though he's "reading" it. Gorgeous.

xx

Children's Literature

I'm a married mother, of two, and I started life (as I know it) as a single mother of one.
I went to school as a "mature age student" to prove that I could, I got into Uni with the idea of becoming a teacher - even though I hated school and had very few teachers I actually liked / respected - however one of my first units studied was Children's Literature.
Peter Pan, Harry Potter, The Wizard of EarthSea and other fantastical works were studied; basically after a semester of reading we discovered academically that imagination was the key to a child being a child.
Let them read, teach them to read, read with them... it helps a child grow academically, emotionally, socially, and more - mind you i must admit I don't read every night I am often too worn out and tired and can't wait to tuck them in, kiss those itty bitty cheeks and turn out the light!

So while I agree that reading is great, I never liked teachers still don't and still aspire to be a great teacher, in the home I don't read as much as I could! By the way I was a A grade student yet never finished high school, and in my first semester of Uni as a sole-parent with no support I managed a Distinction + 2 credits.

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