Sept. 8 is International Literacy Day, when the United Nations raises awareness of the importance of literacy. I’m writing this article to do the same thing in my own small way.
I hope your children did their summer reading because school’s back in session. On the same week that school started in Modesto, the results of April’s standardized STAR tests were released. Only 56.4 percent of California students passed the English portion of the test. In 2012, 57.2 percent passed.
A successful child is a literate child. When a child understands words and images, they understand the world. One of the best ways for children to improve their literacy is reading.
In the United States, one out of four children grow up without ever learning to read. These illiterate children become illiterate adults and are more likely to be poor. Stanislaus County had an illiteracy rate of 21 percent in 2003. While 4 percent of adults in poverty are highly literate, 43 percent are highly illiterate.
Your child might be unwilling to read at first. To them, learning to read is boring and it takes too long. Even more worrisome, they might find the learning experience intimidating. If that’s the case, the best way to get your child to read is to make it enjoyable.• Stimulate their imagination: A good first step is to improve your child’s “visual literacy.” To do this, show your child some images and let them guess what they mean. For example, you can show a picture of a running dog and they might guess that it’s chasing a cat. There’s no right or wrong answer. The point of this exercise is to develop their storytelling skills.
• Read anything: Have your children read any words they can find. Some great sources include street signs, billboards and even cereal boxes. You can even make a game out of it by having them find certain words. Your child will be reading before they know it.
• Read together: Set a good example for your child by reading in front of them. Show them that you enjoy doing it. Ask them to read a word they might know. When they see you read well, your kids will want to try it out.
• Don’t overload them: It always helps your child to have them read with a clear mind. Allow them to take a break if they need one. Take over the reading for a while if your child has problems. They can get back to reading once they’re ready.
• Animal companion: You can even have your child read to their pet. A pet’s calming presence provides a great morale boost for the most reluctant readers. That is the basis for the Stanislaus Library’s Read to a Dog program. Even a stuffed animal may provide the same comfort.
• Positive reinforcement: Always praise your child’s progress in reading. This one is really important. If your kids are reluctant to take that important first step, take them by the hand and walk with them. Let them know that any progress is good progress. They’ll want to continue as long as they know they’re doing well.
Teaching your child to read is a step toward their future success. How far you go with it determines how far they go with it. Work with them, praise their success and you will see the rewards.