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Lorna Hillman had the perfect reading teacher as a child - after all, her father, William Murray, created the Ladybird Key Words Reading Scheme, delivered through the unforgettable adventures of Peter and Jane. After 20 years of teaching in the United Kingdom - five of which involved teaching children with special needs, many of whom had difficulty in learning to read.

The 58-year-old has this observation, "Good readers tend to come from homes that respect the love of verbal and written language, where there has been free and spontaneous interaction between parents and children. "On the other hand, poor readers or those who dislike reading may have had little parent-child interaction and suffer from impoverishment of verbal language."

The Right Environment

Contrary to popular belief, reading does not come naturally; it needs to be taught. However, the good news is that children can be groomed to become successful readers. Before good reading habits can be cultivated, though, parents need to provide their young children with a stimulating environment to encourage language and, thereafter, promote reading and writing.

Lorna, who learnt to read sitting on her father's knee, advises parents to provide a wide variety of reading materials. She suggests good quality picture books, a graded, structured series of readers that use the most-used words in the English language, as well as fiction or non-fiction books on topics which their child shows an interest in. If funds are limited, there is always the wealth of books available in libraries.

"Never discourage a child from reading and pursuing his own interest through books. Use computers where interactive skills increase vocabulary and use of written language. It's important to not only teach children the mechanics of reading, but also instil in them a love of books, " Lorna stresses. Parents also need to show good habits like reading in front of their children. If children see mummy or daddy reading books during their free time, they will most likely imitate them.

Reading Strategies

The basic sequence of learning to read begins with phonetics and word-recognition. The former hinges on recognising sound values represented by letters and letter combinations. Over time, a child will be able to make out the sounds of the words to decode and learn how to read them. 

Subsequently, once children are able to take in a whole word at a time, word recognition becomes effective. With constant guidance and practice employing various word association tools (like picture-books and flash cards), a child will gradually be able to identify more word-shapes.

The key for such strategies, though, is that parents need to be consistent, patient and set aside time to help their children. Passionate about education and always one to encourage positive teaching methods, Different children learn to read at different ages but what is important is to ensure that a child's initial reading experience should be fun and not stressful. Even though babies have yet to understand what words mean, there is no reason why they cannot be exposed to books.

By six months, they may be able to gesture in response to a familiar picture or smile on hearing an amusing-sounding word. In any case, they will no doubt enjoy the bonding that goes along with each infant-reading session. Children aged three to four have growing vocabularies, and they learn how to rhyme.

By the time they enter Primary 1, they are relatively equipped to blend letter sounds together to `sound out' words and memorise sight words. They begin reading simple sentences and soon are able to muster `chapter' books. Tony, who has a special interest in child development and special needs education, feels that parents and teachers should bathe their children in language through spoken word, picture books, stories and reading books.

He suggests, "Children can, with their parents, make a first 'book'- a scrapbook containing pictures and words key to that child; their name, pet's name, family, etc. Nursery rhymes and fairy stories can be introduced at a young age." Through books, a child's imagination and creativity is stirred, but more importantly, it will certainly please parents to know that numerous studies seem to indicate how children who are readers tend to have better vocabulary skills.

Read It Again, Mum!

Parents Of Successful Readers Suggest

  • Use expression and tone of voice to bring to life the characters of the story and choose topics that interest your child.
  • Spot the mood and time for reading. A cranky child will not enjoy any book.
  • Do not rush through a book, even if it's the umpteenth time you are reading it.
  • Repetition helps a child recognise words, enabling him to read independently. 
  • Give lots of praise and encouragement. Criticism will discourage him from reading.
  • Set up a cosy reading corner at home where books are easily accessible. Encourage your child to read to you or take turns to read to each other.
  • Take any opportunity to read every day- in the car, buses, after dinner, etc.

What Books And When?

Babies - Books should be small, light and durable (e.g. board books or cloth books) Activity-based books, which squeak when squeezed or flaps that reveal colorful pictures are ideal.

Toddles - Look out for interesting topics that feature things they are familiar with. Words should be big and there should not be more than a few sentence per page.

Preschoolers - Books with pictures are still helpful but having more text in a page will eventually lead to independent reading. Pick books with artistically drawn pictures (i.e. not too babyish).


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