Why should all parents teach reading to their preschoolers? How does it work? What are the long term effects? In a brilliant essay entitled “How I Learned to Read,” 13-year-old Bianca Florence answers these questions and gives parents the “must do” strategies for raising a confident reader and academically gifted child. After explaining how to teach early readers, she explains why it’s important for both the child and the parent.
“How I Learned to Read” by Bianca Florence
I love reading. It has been an important tool in shaping my life. My advanced reading skills helped me throughout kindergarten, elementary, and middle school and I’m confident my advanced reading skill will help me in the future.
Here’s how it happened. My mom taught me to read when I was a baby and toddler using simple index cards with sight words handwritten on them. She turned learning to read into playing a game making up fun sentences with the cards. Learning this way was filled with a lot of laughter, fun and joy, and I never knew that we were doing anything unusual or that learning to read early was special. Then I got to kindergarten and I was the only one reading. At first—I admit—I hid the fact that I could read from my teacher. I don’t know why, but once my wonderful kindergarten teacher saw I could read she knew what to do. She made me feel special. She was proud of me. That had a huge impact on me wanting to be a great student. Since then, reading has not only influenced my work in school but also other areas in my life such as my daily routine.
An Early Bedtime Routine
All of my life, I’ve had a consistent bedtime routine that I looked forward to. My parents would read to me in bed and we would choose stories that had to do with recent activities or a special holiday. Every Halloween we would read The Teeny Tiny Ghost and near Christmas it was The Mouse Before Christmas. We read them over and over, every year, and I looked forward to the different seasons and the corresponding books. This joy of reading has stayed with me ever since, and I think of reading as a part of my personality. It has helped me to stand out in school because I am able to add to class lessons. Since I have read so many books on a wide variety of topics, my teachers can always count on me to get the discussion going.
Reaching Reading Independence
While I always loved reading with my mother, it was during first grade that reading independently really clicked for me. I read my first A to Z Mystery, and I was completely hooked on the idea of reading a series. What’s more, my first grade teacher was a wonderful reader; when she read to the class, she would use different character voices that completely captured my attention. When it was time to write my first book report, my teacher handed me a copy of The Meanest Doll in the World and I started reading on the drive home from school. I read all 304 pages in a few days; I couldn’t put the book down! I felt so proud finishing such a thick book and it really built up my confidence to tackle more challenging material. Nowadays, every time I read a good book it’s like a perfect vacation that takes me on any excursion I could dream of. Books are my vacations from a tough day in school or a perfect distraction during a long car ride.
I’m in middle school now, and I like to read stories about girls who do amazing things. I look for books that challenge me, not because of difficult vocabulary or the number of pages, but books that have strong female characters that push the boundaries of their lives and accomplish their goals. I just finished reading Between Shades of Grey. It’s an inspiring story of survival and the close bond that the main character Lina shares with her family. It’s definitely a new favorite.
Tips for Parents for Raising Lifelong Readers
Here are some tips I have for any parent looking to instill a lifelong love of reading in their child:
1) Most importantly, read every day. My mom read to me from the day I came home from the hospital. Read even if you think your child doesn’t understand what’s being read or that they won’t remember it when they are older. Even now that I’m a teenager, Mom and I still read aloud to each other at night. This month we are reading Between the Lines. It’s written by a mother and her high-school-age daughter, and it’s perfect for reading time. It’s like we have our own book club!
2) If your child has special interests, incorporate them into reading. Here’s an example. I like to sing, so Mom and I would look up the lyrics to a new song and sing it together over and over following along with the words. Singing it over and over until I could read the words by myself was important. Mom also picked up on my interest in games. Even today we play games like Mad Libs and get everyone in the family playing together. It’s a fun word game where a paragraph is given to you, but some of the words are taken out and you get to replace them. The only clue you start with is the part of speech.
3) I suggest taking regular trips to the library so there is always a good selection of reading material on hand. We always had a stack of books my mom found and the rest were whatever books looked interesting to me. I recommend including some non-fiction too, as I always enjoyed reading about historical figures such as Helen Keller and Albert Einstein in the Who Was series of books.
Here’s a summary of my recommendations:
- Start early—even at birth.
- Make reading a routine.
- Make reading fun with songs and games.
- Be proud of your child’s efforts.
- Provide lots of repetition.
- Make plenty of books available—libraries help!
- Pay attention to your child’s special interests.
- Read both fiction and nonfiction.
Reading Together Creates a Special Bond
The greatest impact on how I feel about reading was created by learning together; my mom and I are so close to this day because of all the time we spent reading together. The mother-daughter bond we have created is everlasting, and it started the day I got home from the hospital after birth when she read to me. Looking back on my entire childhood, I’ve realized that friendships come and go, so do teachers, but my mom—my best friend and partner—will always be by my side. When parents are involved in the learning aspect of a child’s life, something happens to the child: they see their parent as a teacher—someone who is striving to help them on their life’s journey and better themselves as a person.
From Dr. Gentry
Dear Bianca, I Italicized your last sentence because it’s a poignant message for parents. Thank you, Bianca, for sharing your wonderful story. And thanks to your mom and dad for figuring out how to teach reading at home. I have a PhD in reading education and it took me twenty-five years of academics plus five years working with successful parents to figure out what parents of preschoolers need to do. Your story gets to the heart of it. You and your mom figured it out on your own.
Dear Psychology Today blog readers, if you know a parent with a preschooler send them the Psychology Today link to Bianca’s powerful message. How Bianca learned to read is something every parent of a preschooler needs to know.
Dr. J. Richard Gentry is the author of Raising Confident Readers, How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write–From Baby to Age 7. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and find out more information about his work on his website. His new seven-book series co-authored with Jan McNeel and Vickie Wallace-Nesler, Getting to the Core of Writing: Essential Lessons for Every [Kindergarten through Grade Six] Student is now available.