—by Stephanie Walstrom, Golden Apple Fellow—
As a kindergarten teacher I foster in children a love of reading; it’s one of the best parts of my job! Along with amazing pre-K teachers, kindergarten teachers lay the foundation for success in school and lifelong learning habits. Education happens at home too, and parents of incoming kindergarten children often ask what they can do to prepare their children for kindergarten.
While there are many fantastic resources and ways to prepare a child for school, my initial response is always the same: Read… Read a lot! This can be solo or family reading, but reading is paramount. I have often joked with parents, “Read until your mouth hurts!” Okay, reading IS and should be fun, not painful. Reading aloud to children is a prerequisite to early independent reading success and is enjoyable for the entire family. In fact, research suggests that before beginning to read a child should have heard on average 1,000 books read aloud. Summer is a time for families to get extra time to read for enjoyment, which helps build overall reading fluency and comprehension – skills that are necessary for academic reading throughout schooling. For older students, summertime reading is a way to maintain crucial reading skills in addition to being a form of cheap, beneficial entertainment. Books are windows and mirrors for children. All children can find themselves in a story, and they take us on endless and limitless adventures. Here are some ways to encourage and enjoy summertime reading!
Model the love and thirst of reading. It is important for children to see their families enjoying literature. Modeling the reading process and sharing your enthusiasm encourages them to adopt similar behaviors. It doesn’t matter what you read or write, just make it a part of everyone’s day!
Read for enjoyment and don’t be too picky about what you read. Let’s face it. Children enjoy reading most when they get to choose what they’re reading. Sometimes families ask me if “book level” matters. There are many ways books are leveled and teachers use these to help guide instruction and track reading strategies used and needed. Students will often give up quickly on books they don’t enjoy and also on books that are too difficult. I encourage parents to worry less about “level” and more about how engaged their child is with the literature, whether they are reading it to themselves or listening to it read aloud. If your children love graphic novels, a specific author or series, funny picture books, scary stories, children’s magazines, or nonfiction books about provocative/exciting topics, let them have access to what they enjoy. Building love of literature and reading will always require children to have access to the books they prefer. Make sure you utilize your local libraries, book fairs, book stores, and teachers if you need tips on unique or interest-based books or series.
Get to the library and go often! If you have a library, be sure to use it faithfully. Often libraries, such as the ones here in my county, have programs with incentives and activities for all ages. Other organizations such as restaurants and schools may also have similar programs and rewards. If libraries remain closed (as during the beginning of the pandemic), I recommend reading on a tablet or device as an alternative.
Celebrate reading! Utilize summer reading programs through your public library and other local organizations but also track and celebrate reading independently! Set a goal and a celebration for reading! Perhaps an ice cream sundae or a new book can serve as a reward. Through goal setting, children are more likely to stay on a consistent reading schedule and are more likely to read longer and build fluency along the way.
Bring stories to life! One thing that is important when reading aloud is to remember that quality matters. Voices, expression, guiding questions, and other connections with the story all add to engagement. Consider acting out some favorite stories. My husband and our three-year-old enjoy acting out their favorite chapters of Frog and Toad. It is a fun way for them to bring a familiar story to life and always leads to new stories and characters being developed. Acting out stories with toys, writing new stories, drawing or making character puppets, costumes, or even making a diorama of a story setting and characters are all ways to engage young children with print prior to independent reading!
Stephanie Walstrom, Golden Apple Fellow 2019