30 Aug It Starts At Home
By Erin Trenbeath-Murray
I recently had an enlightening conversation with the young Vietnamese immigrant mother who is an acquaintance of mine. She was telling me about her oldest child, a 5-year-old boy who was starting 1st grade in the fall.
“I thought he was reading great!” she exclaimed in confident but heavily accented English. “He always reads books at home to his little sisters. The teacher tells me he’s just pretending, looking at the pictures and making up the words. He’s not reading at all.”
“Do you read with him at home?” I asked.
“I can’t – I can’t read English,” she admitted reluctantly. “I want to read to my younger kids so they do better in kindergarten.”
We had stumbled upon an essential component of kindergarten readiness – reading in the home. My friend likely doesn’t realize it, but she’s hardly alone in her struggle to read with her children. Parents from every walk of life are unaware that they are their child’s first educator, and they don’t know what it means to prepare a child from kindergarten.
At Utah Community Action Head Start, our ongoing mission is to prepare children for kindergarten. Some of these low-income children come to us with letters, colors, shapes and animal sounds down pat. Others need much more instruction, and in some cases more time than we have with them, to truly be kindergarten-ready. Education from birth to age 3 is critical for giving young children the preparation they need for success in school.
So what are some ways parents can work with their children in early childhood to prepare for a pre-K program or for kindergarten itself?
- Read with your children from their earliest days. Numerous academic studies have shown that early literacy provides the firm base for all other instruction. Children should sit with their parents, hold the book, and turn the pages. Parents should point out simple words and letters, ask questions about comprehension, and help the child follow the flow of the story.
- What if, like the mother in this story, the parent is unable to read English? There are wonderful programs for adult literacy all around the country, and one of my favorites is Daily Dose of Reading. You can also teach children about letters and numbers in their mother tongue. This early exposure to the written word will help them catch on to similar concepts once they attend school in English.
- Use your vocabulary. Talk with your kids, and try to use words beyond “baby talk.” Explain what it means when you use a word a child hasn’t heard before, and listen to the words your child is using. If they make a mistake, repeat the phrase they used with correct grammar and in more mature language.
- If your household speaks a language other than English, you can still impact your child’s school success in their mother tongue. As with reading, teaching what you know in your native language helps children understand larger concepts like grammar, vocabulary and parts of speech.
- Surround them with books. Teach children to see books as “toys” they can play with for entertainment. Give books as gifts on special occasions, and make regular trips to public libraries. Bring home colorful, fun stories that will help them get excited about reading.
- Many public libraries hold free “story time” for children. Children love to listen to the stories, and librarians are wonderful educators who can help kids get the foundation they need to learn to read.
So much of a child’s success in school and later in life starts before they ever set foot in a classroom. It must start at home first. Parents who take an active role in their child’s education are setting them on the path to self-sufficiency.