What Experts Recommend to Encourage Childhood Literacy at Home

Experts encourage parents to read to their children things they're interested in.

This is a photo of a young girl and her mom reading on the couch.

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Alabama has been trying to raise the literacy scores for younger readers in the state through legislation and support from the Alabama State Department of Education. The Alabama Reflector asked experts in the state what parents and guardians should be looking for and doing for their own children’s literacy.

Look at how your child pronounces a word

Sonya Yates, the associate policy director of early literacy for Excel in Ed, an education policy nonprofit launched by Jeb Bush and based in Florida, said that making sure parents understand bad habits might be the easiest way to explain.

Yates is also the chapter vice president of the Alabama chapter of The Reading League, a nonprofit that aims to advance understanding of literacy instruction.

Yates said that it’s important to make sure a child sounds out a word. But if they also guess off of the first letter, Yates said, those skills might cancel each other out.

Yates also recommended to see if some specific strategies, such as guided reading or “daily five” are used.

“All of those are the ones that are talking about if you look at the first letter, literally, look at the first letter, close your eyes, open them and guess,” she said. “So, you know, and as an avid reader, I’m not sure that that would ever work for me.”

If a child doesn’t know a word, she said, have them say the sounds.

Read to your child things they are interested in and speak with them

In school, reading should be based around grade levels and specific skills. But when reading to a child at home, they should be reading something they want to read.

“If you’re just reading to your child, then you find something that’s in the interest of them because that’s building the other part of the science of reading,” Yates said. “We have the word recognition skills, and then the language comprehension.”

Yates said that parents or guardians reading to children is what helps build up the vocabulary skills. Parents should be reading books that “stretch” their child, she said, so that their oral vocabulary is at a higher grade level than their visual one.

“If a child comes to a word and they sound it out, for example, the word automobile, if they don’t have that word in their oral vocabulary, they’re never going to be able to pronounce it correctly because they’ve never heard it correctly,” she said.

Ruth Ann Moss, executive director of Birmingham Talks, an early literacy program, said that young children need to hear around 21,000 words a day for optimal brain development.

“So, when a child says something, a parent says something a child says something and then a parent says something that serve and return is six times more impactful on brain development than just hearing words,” she said.

Make sure your child knows letters

Yates said that spelling helps with the link between auditory and visual learning for literacy.

“Because that linkage between the visual and the auditory or the sound and the letters that we have to make sure that we’ve created those linkages for our children,” she said.

Yates said that, in some literacy programs, it’s like students learn formulas for spelling and sounds.

“In the word cake, that ‘A’ says its name because it has an ‘E,’” she said.

Moss said that something she is doing with her three-year-old daughter right now is using letters in the bathtub.

“It’s a really low pressure way for us to pick up a ‘M’ and say, ‘Do you want sound this letter makes?’” she said. “This letter says ‘Mmm.'”

More information on literacy, including family resources, can be found on the Alabama State Department of Education website.

Alabama Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alabama Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Brian Lyman for questions: info@alabamareflector.com. Follow Alabama Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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