In celebration of Read Aloud month, I am thrilled to be interviewing my oldest daughter’s pre-K teacher, Mrs. Valerie Bos. I have always valued the feedback that Mrs. Bos provided as I watched my daughter begin to read on her own. She helped me to understand that the most important thing parents and caregivers can do to help prepare a child for reading and learning is to read aloud.
Hi Val! Thanks for joining me today on my blog. Tell me about you path to becoming a Pre-Kindergarten teacher?
Well, we are glad you decided to switch to Pre-Kindergarten. I know that one of my daughter’s proudest reading milestones occurred in your classroom when she read Hop On Pop aloud to the class for the first time. Tell me about the process of preparing pre-K students for reading?My father worked as a college professor. He brought home worksheets, workbooks, textbooks… he even installed a full-sized chalkboard in our basement! I would set chairs up in rows for my stuffed animals and teach them. Once in college, I knew I would go into education. I started as an English/Spanish major, got my Master’s in Secondary Education, and taught high school for five years. After my children were born, my interest moved to Early Childhood, so I switched to Pre-Kindergarten, where I’ve been the last four years.
I remember that day! Learning to read begins with your baby’s first babbles. Babies listen intently to speech; before birth, they can differentiate between their native speech sounds and foreign ones. As they grow, they strengthen their recognition of their native language’s vowel and consonant sounds. By preschool age, they’re naturally engaging in whole language study as they begin to appropriate the vocabulary that’s being used around them: “shoe” or “doggie,” for example. By four years old, they are developmentally ready to learn the finer points: letter sounds (what does S say?), blending sounds (d-o-g), and word parts (syllables).
So what advice would you give to new moms and dads out there? How can parents help with this process?
Read, read, read to your children! At the end of the year, I often asked my high school students who was read to as a child. Consistently, those who were read to had higher verbal and written ability, as well as higher cognitive ability for understanding the content of their reading. Turn off the background TV: babies can differentiate language sounds easier without auditory competition. Narrate your daily activities. Point out objects and name them. (See the dog? The dog is brown.) It can feel like “talking to yourself” when your child is too young to respond, but soon he’ll be old enough to parrot you. You will strengthen his vocabulary as well as his phonological awareness (how he understands letter sounds and word parts). His Pre-K teacher will then hone his phonemic awareness – the relationship between the word’s meaning and the printed letters on the page.
I know that for my oldest daughter, when she first began reading on her own, she wanted to hide it because she was afraid we were going to stop reading aloud with her. It took us a long time to figure out why she would get so upset when we would ask her to read to us at bedtime. What are some common mistakes parents make as their children learn to read?
I once had a parent who complained that his daughter was cheating when she used the book’s illustrations to help her understand the story’s text. Support for emergent readers is not a crutch; shortened text and highly illustrated pages fosters the child’s interest and feelings of success, which is crucial.
Parents often underestimate the child’s need to work through the steps of reading. Language is a code: there is no natural reason for T to make the letter sound that it does. Children have to take our word for it, memorize it. They must internalize that code of letter sounds and shape, then understand that words can be broken into parts. They must recognize the left to right directionality of print, how to visually identify where one word ends and another begins – all before they can begin to read. It’s a complicated process, and exposure and repetition is the key.
In the beginning, simply reading to your baby is best. Snuggle her in your lap and read, even while she’s a tiny infant. Later, introduce interactive books, such as touch-and-feel and lift-the-flap books for toddlers’ exploring fingers. As she grows, there are some wonderful literacy websites: Fisher Price has free games for learning the alphabet (http://www.fisher-price.com/us/fun/games/abc/). Sadlier Oxford’s Bookflix is a membership site with phenomenal video books. Starfall is another site with numerous interactive games for learning math and reading. Most of the site is free. ABC Mouse is a subscription-based website that many public schools use as well.We will have to check those out. I had never thought to check out the Fisher Price website. What are the top five children's books all parents should add to their children’s libraries?
There are so many good books out there! Five of the best are: Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss. The playful text encourages recognition of rhyming words while the simple text is just right for toddlers’ attention span. Cat in the Hat also facilitates discussion of good and bad behavior choices; kids love to point out what the cat does wrong! Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar has engaging illustrations while introducing some science. One of my very favorites is Megan Montague Cash’s What Makes the Seasons? She succinctly explains the complexities of weather and the illustrations are gorgeous. I have great success with Eric Litwin’s Pete the Cat series in my classroom. The children love jumping in to recite the text along with me, and Pete’s experiences offer a starting point for discussing how to handle disappointment.
My mother still groans a little when she remembers how often she had to read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham to me!
To me, reading aloud is a metaphor for the parent/child relationship. When they’re little, we hold them close – teaching, encouraging, and introducing them to the world around them in the same way that we hold them in our laps to read to them. When they’re older, we gradually allow them to move and explore on their own, just as my own children read books alone now that they’re older. It’s exciting to see your children coming into their own skills as young people, and reading is part of that as they take ownership of their book choices.I completely agree. It has been so exciting seeing my daughter come running into the kitchen to tell me about something she has just read. Thanks so much for taking the time to share such great advice with my readers.
Ms. Valerie Bos has been a lead Pre-Kindergarten teacher for Primrose Schools for four years.