My daughter Ashley started kindergarten this year. For several weeks before school began, she was very excited and practiced putting her notebook in her backpack and getting dressed in her new school clothes. Every day she would ask, “Can I go to kindergarten today?”
Her older siblings started school a week before, and she was very sad. It was difficult for her to wait to visit her classroom, meet her new teacher, and play with her new friends. Finally, the first day of kindergarten arrived.
Ashley woke up very early, before anybody in the house, and quickly put on her new school clothes. She got her backpack and stood by the door a full hour before it was time to leave. Finally, she was able to go to kindergarten and had a wonderful time.
This was an exciting time for her and also for me as a parent. It was gratifying to see her excitement and eagerness to learn. Many parents have similar experiences with their children as they start kindergarten. Parents hope their children will continue to love school and learning. Probably the most important predictor of how well a child does is what happened at home before school. Early learning activities — such as reading, singing and creative play — prepare children for later school success.
I direct the Weber State University Family Literacy Program, which works with parents of young children in Head Start. Family Literacy facilitators make regular visits to these families and share ideas on how to help children be prepared for school. A major focus is to encourage the parents to use dialogic reading strategies on a daily basis. Dialogic reading is when reading stories together is interactive, or a dialogue. Sometimes, parents are scared that they read books the wrong way. There really is not a wrong way to read a story with children, but there are some strategies that work better.
• Make time for reading every day. Take at least 20 minutes each day to read stories together. Make it part of your daily routine.
• Make reading time interactive and fun. Ask questions as you read the story together. For example, you can ask: What color is that? Tell me what you think about the story? What do you think will happen next? What was your favorite part of the story? Can you point to the ball?
• Make it an opportunity to connect. Help your child to associate reading with warm and loving experiences. Cuddle together on the couch and hug your child as you read.
• Start early. Start reading stories to your infant. Obviously, your baby won’t know what you are saying, but she will start to learn language and literacy through these interactions.
• Choose age-appropriate books. Choose books with lots of colors and pictures for younger children. Books should be interesting and fun.
Reading with your child from a very young age is one of the most important things a parent can do. When children are better prepared for school (and excited like my daughter Ashley), they will enjoy it and learn more. Take the time when your children are young to create a strong foundation by reading and playing together every day.
Paul Schvaneveldt is a faculty member in Weber State University’s department of child and family studies. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WSU.