The Department of Education encourages parents to read aloud to their children 20 minutes a day at a minimum. The idea is to read aloud to them for longer stretches and more often as you are able. It’s also suggested that you continue to read aloud to your children long passed the time you thought they’d listen. Children who read aloud through high school do better on Verbal SATs than those that read to aloud through middle school, and those who read through middle school better than those that do through grade school.
I know most parents reduce their reading aloud time as children become more fluent, independent readers. The trick is to give time for both. When my older daughter wanted time to read to herself, we added that to the bedtime routine rather than replacing our read aloud time. So they got 20 minutes of read aloud, and an additional 20 minutes of reading books independently.
There are lots of good ideas to help read aloud continue:
- Keep it part of the daily routine – This way you don’t have to find the time each day, it’s already there. It also makes it expected. If you stop reading aloud for a long stretch of time, children may be more hesitant or think “it’s for babies” when you try to start again.
- Let your children pick the books – At any age, it is helpful if children feel they have some choice in the matter. Letting them pick the books is an easy way to give this. When the girls were little, I’d read the same books 20 nights in a row if that’s what they picked. Now we take turns choosing chapter books. I almost always pick a classic because they never do.
- Take turns reading aloud – Once they are fluent readers, it can be nice to take turns during this read aloud time.
- Occasionally read more active participation books – This might be a fill in the blank book or a quiz book. This might be something along the lines of the Choose Your Own Adventure series that let the reader make plot decisions throughout the book.
- Shake up the types of books – As they are older, some children are drawn to biographies or sports books, others to how-to books or articles from magazines. You might also try poetry or plays. Any reading is fine.
- Read picture books longer – Once you start chapter books, it’s good to include picture books occasionally. There are so many picture books that really are aimed at older kids. You might try Stripes or Mr. Peabody’s Apples.
- Occasionally, read their homework aloud – Not often as they need to be doing this reading, but I think it’s fine once in a while to read their homework aloud. I’ve done this, especially when they are struggling with a topic or the reading seems particularly dry to them.
Any other ideas? Please share them here!
The Common Core State Standards, which help to guide what education is provided by our public school system, has left teaching cursive off the list. There are SO MANY REASONS to teach children cursive, and each is as compelling as the next.
- Helps children with spelling – Because the letters are connected, cursive helps children to learn common letter patterns. It also provides improved muscle memory which reinforces correct spelling over printing the words.
- Boosts their letter recognition – Cursive heightens the differences between letters that are more similar in print including ‘b’ and ‘d,’ or ‘p’ and ‘q.’ This provides a benefit to early reading skills.
- Fewer reversals and inversions – As cursive helps differentiate letters, children who learn cursive tend to make fewer reversals and inversions in their writing overtime. Children who rely on printing more commonly make these mistakes and do so over a longer period of time.
- Additional boosts to reading – When a child prints, they are thinking about reading one letter at a time. Cursive encourage the brain to think about whole words at a time. Reading with fluency requires children to take in and think about whole words.
- Often more legible than print – Because of the connections between the letters, cursive encourages more spatial planning between letters and words. This focus tends to make a child’s overall writing more legible.
- Increases their ability to concentrate – As cursive writing takes sustained effort and attention overtime, it gives children active practice at staying on task.
- Benefits to fine motor and visual-motor coordination – The start and stop movements of printing are very different from the flow of cursive writing. Cursive builds muscle endurance and dexterity beyond printing. These are all skills that are beneficial over their lifetime.
- Benefits brainstorming and note-taking – As cursive is faster and more efficient, it allows more flexibility in brainstorming and more detail in note-taking. Handwriting lecture notes is better than typing in that the physical process itself supports retaining information.
- Supports creative writing – Fourth grade students who write stories in cursive tend to write longer stories and express more complex ideas than students who keyboard.
- Higher SAT scores – As if those weren’t reason enough, it’s reported that students who write the essay portion of the SAT in cursive tend to score higher on that section than students who print. It may be that the writing itself is allowing students more time to focus on content.
Please, encourage your schools to teach your children cursive. If not, teach them cursive at home.
I’d also like to thank my 4th grade teacher Ms. Rhoda-Jo Stress for challenging and not so gently encouraging my cursive.
Emotion language provides children a tool for managing social exchange. By the time they get to Kindergarten, I want children to be able to look at their friend and say, “I am mad at you. You took my block,” rather than clobber them. There are many ways to teach children emotion language, here are a few:
- Use I messages – I messages are a productive way to label and share your emotions. They are also considered a foundation step of positive discipline. I messages label your emotions and explain why you feel that way by putting blame on the behavior or thing that happened rather than the child. Let’s say a child runs through the living room, and knocks over and breaks your lamp. An I message might be, “I am angry, my lamp is broken,” “I am upset, people are running in the house,” or “I am frustrated, no one is listening.” The blame is passive (my lamp is broken) or global (no one is listening, and people are running). This AVOIDS blaming the child, “I am mad at you, you broke my lamp. You never listen.”
- Give empathy – Empathy is validating your child’s emotions and why they feel that way. Often this can happen in the moment, and it’s also fine to provide following an emotional exchange, once all is calm. Empathy sounds like, “wow, you are angry. You didn’t like that game,” or, “I know you are upset, it’s so hard to be left out.”
- Talk about others’ emotions – Discuss the sad baby you hear crying in the grocery store or the angry child who was having a fit at the playground. Label emotions, talk about things that make them feel that way or what others could do to help.
- Be sure to include causes and consequences of emotions – At least occasionally in these conversations, discuss what came before the emotion or what happened as a result.
- Read about emotions – There are so many good children’s books on emotions. There is a list on my blog at: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/childrensbooks/#emotions.
- Tell your own stories with emotional content – If you are at all creative, tell your own stories with emotional content. When our girls were little, we told a lot of Amy and Catie stories. Amy was remarkably like our daughter Alicen, and Catie just like our daughter Claire. When Alicen and Claire had an upset at the swingset, that night Amy and catie would have a similar upset at the sandbox. Your stories should all provide examples of positive ways to manage and express emotions and ways to calm.
- Ask hypotheticals – As children are four and five years old, you can ask hypotheticals related to their own experiences. If your child gets angry over sharing toys, you might ask, “what would you do if you really wanted to play with a particular car, and your friend was using it and kept saying ‘no’ to giving a turn?” If needed, help brainstorm good choices and discuss possible outcomes.
- Role play emotions – Go back and reenact emotional situations. If it was an upset with another child, take turns being each child involved and think of ways it could have gone better.
- Give puppet shows – Most kids love a puppet show. Again it’s good to make these about familiar exchanges.
- Play emotion charades – Play charades, just be sure to include emotions as a category.
- Make emotion faces in the mirror and to each other – Talk about how we know someone is angry, excited, sad or happy.
- Make an emotions poster – Divide a poster board into six squares labeled happy, sad, excited, mad, surprised and scared. Provide assorted magazines, then help children cut out and paste emotion faces and things that make them feel each way. You might write in each box additional things that make them feel that way or any other thoughts they have about that emotion.
- Listen to and discuss emotional music – Listen together to sad, exciting or happy music. Talk about what each song makes them think of and how it makes them feel.
- Paint emotion pictures – You might paint while you listen to the emotional music.
- Sing emotion songs – We sing “When You’re Happy and You Know It” and include movements like clapping for happy, stomping feet for mad and crying for sad.
For more ideas you can read Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children by Lantieri or Parents’ Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children by Blaine. You can also attend or listen online to our workshop on emotional development and emotion coaching.
There are many ways to encourage early language:
- Provide Running Commentary– Running commentary is talking about all the things your child is seeing, doing and feeling. Be sure to use lots of labels. This sounds like, “oh, you have a ball. You rolled the ball. That ball is rolling fast. I have it; I caught the ball.” At the grocery store, “mommy is putting the red apples in the bag. One, two, three apples are in the bag.”
- Read and Sing Aloud Everyday– Read board books and picture books with your child. Label and talk about the pictures. Have children’s books available on every level of the house and with you in your diaper bag. Sing songs with your child often, particularly songs with movement.
- Avoid Anticipating Their Needs – When the child points to their cup, rather than just giving it to them, you might hesitate for a few seconds asking what they need. If gestures and points are able to fully communicate, there may be little need for language. I wouldn’t wait to the point of frustration, but enough to encourage them to use words.
- Use Echo Expansion – Echo expansion is reflecting their language intact and adding to it. If they say, “milk?” you say, “more milk?” If they say “more milk?” you say, “you would like more milk, please?” You are validating their language effort and modeling using more.
So, I’ve been asked many times in the last year for my thoughts about young children playing on iPads or reading on Kindles. My answers always lean towards it being better to play with toys or each other and read books rather than screens. Even when it’s just to occupy them because you need a minute, I would much rather parents hand their three-year-old a crayon and piece of paper than a phone with an open app. When it comes to early reading, my sense has been there is value in experiencing the book, in turning the pages, taking in the pictures and talking about the story. Thankfully, my favorite technology writer Lisa Guernsey has pulled together a fuller answer in her Time Ideas article titled Why EReading With Your Kid Can Impede Learning http://ideas.time.com/2011/12/20/why-ereading-with-your-kid-can-impede-learning/?xid=gonewsedit. If your pre- or early reader is already on a screen, check this out for tips on how to use it better and consider setting and enforcing time limits.
Lisa Guernsey is the director of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative and author of Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age Five. Great book!
Once they are talking, there are many ways to build a child’s vocabulary.
- Continue giving running commentary – Talk about all the things they are doing and seeing. Be sure to include functional definitions and adjectives.
- Continue echo expansion – When they say, “more juice,” model back, “you’d like more apple juice, please?” Keep their language intact and ad on. Model longer phrases and more descriptive language.
- Plan-Do-Review – If you are going to the pumpkin patch this weekend, before you go get out the pictures from last year and discuss the details or check out a few books from the library about pumpkin patches. This is the “plan” part. While at the pumpkin patch give them running commentary about all that is happening. This is the “do” part. After, talk about what was their favorite thing to do or discuss the day when you get the pictures printed. This is the “review” part. Children are benefitting from having the language before, during and after.
- Encourage emotion language – Label their and your emotions. Talk about the causes and consequences of emotions. Discuss how people calm and how people cope.
- Play word games – For the beginner, this includes “I spy” and rhyming games. As they get older, this is 20 questions, telephone and Mystery Garden.
- Practice following directions – By two years old, we expect two-step directions. By three years old, we expect three-steps. A three-step directions is, “go to the kitchen, get your shoes and bring them to the front door.” If you are unsure, play the Crazy Directions game. This is where you say things like, “find the cat, kiss his nose and jump up and down. Ready, go.” This is more fun and serves the same purpose.
- Give a vocabulary word a day – There are many websites and calendars to build vocabulary, and the idea is to present and discuss a new word each day with you child. See how often you can each use it.
- Continue to read aloud – Plan to do this long past the point they are reading to themselves. Yes, it is nice to give them time for that, but plan to do both. Everyday have some time spent reading independently and some time spent reading aloud.
There are many ways to encourage early speech. Here are a few ideas:
- Pair Gestures with Your Words – Nod when you say “yes,” wave when you say “hi.”
- More True Toys, Less Passive Toys – If there are speech concerns, do away with all the electronic toys that do the talking and make the noises for your child. When a child plays with the Fisher-Price Farm, the child should be doing the “mooing” and “baaing” not the toys.
- Echo Expansion – When the child says “juice?” say, “more juice?” If they say, “more juice?” say, “more juice please?” The idea is to give back their language intact and add to it. You are not requesting or requiring longer phrases, just modeling them.
- Provide Running Commentary – Running commentary means you are talking about all that you are doing, seeing and feeling. In the grocey store I might say, “we need some apples. Mommy is going to put this red apple in the bag. Now we have two apples in the bag. I am putting the bag in the cart.” Use labels often, rely on repitition, provide functional definitions. If the child points and says “bus” giving a definition would be, “yes, the school bus takes children to school.”
- Give Language to Their Pointing – When the child is excited and pointing, but not able to come up with the word that is needed, many parents are quick to fill it in. Let’s say the child sees a dog at the park and is pointing and saying “uh-uh-uh.” It can be tempting to say, “thats’ a dog.” Rather than that, pause, point and say, “look,” or, “what’s that?” pause for a few seconds again before you say, “that’s a dog.” You are first giving language to their pointing and then giving them time to find the word themselves before you fill it in.
- Don’t Anticipate Needs – If all the child has to do is point toward the fridge to get a cup of milk, there is very little need for language. At least for a few seconds, not to the point of frustration, pretend to not know what they mean. Let them grapple a bit for the word.
- Don’t Repeat Mispronunciations – As cute as they are, if there are speech concerns don’t repeat mispronunciations. Now this shouldn’t feel like a correction either. If the child says “ram-baid” when asking for a band-aid avoid saying, “no honey, it is band-aid.” This feels like a correction, and now the child doesn’t want to talk to you. Just respond in the positive with what they meant and clearly anunciate. Say, “yes, you need a BAND-AID.”