I’ve always been an advocate of getting children reading from a young age. My earliest memories are of bedtime stories; first as an only child snuggled up with Mum, then later as big sister hanging over the top bunk to see the pictures. It was a magical time; those last special moments before I dozed off to sleep would feed my dreams with faraway lands and mystical beings, with fantastic adventures and a sense that anything was possible. I remember that feeling as I saw those black squiggles on paper. They were the magic, the secret door to enchanted worlds and I wanted nothing more than to learn how to read them.
Needless to say, I have given my children a similar childhood filled with stories. I have watched their progress with the pride of a mother and the interest of a teacher. Every parent sees their own child as a genius, and I am no different, but my girls always surpassed their milestones with their speech and vocabulary, they were excited to learn their letters from a young age and have learnt to read and write quite effortlessly. All three have amazing imaginations, and like I did, they bring their story characters to life through their play. I know most of the credit lies with our fabulous primary teachers but I also know that giving them access to books and promoting a love of reading has played a huge part in their development.
Recently I went to parents evening at my daughters’ school. I came away a proud mum, but most of all because all three of the teachers spoke about how my girls excelled at literacy. They commented on the breadth of their vocabulary and understanding of the texts. One of the new teachers smiled and said, “We can always tell the children who’ve read at home from a young age.”
We chatted about the best ways to support reading at home to help my little ones progress from decoding readers, who read the individual words but don’t necessarily understand the whole text, to fluent readers who gain meaning from whole sentences. Every child develops at slightly different rates but as a rough guide, these are the milestones:
Emerging pre-reader 6 months to 6 years old
Novice reader between 6 to 7 years old
Decoding reader between 7 – 9 years old
Fluent, comprehending reader between 9 – 15 years old
The two main techniques that stood out were helping children to show their understanding by recounting the story in their own words and promoting the use of Wow words.
Recounting the story
Reading the title, looking at the cover and reading the blurb with your child is a great way to aid their understanding. Ask your child to predict what the story will be about. What type of story do they think it will be? Will it be adventure, fantasy, family, space, school…?
At the end of each section / chapter, ask your child to recount the story so far. If like me you read a chapter book over several nights, you could start by asking them to tell you what has happened so far. These memory joggers not only aid understanding and enjoyment of the book, but show your child you are sharing the reading experience with them. If you are reading with younger children, you may want to give them hints:
- What was the giant called?
- Where was he?
- Who was the giant meeting?
The important thing is that they recount the story in their own words and you can fill in the gaps if they can’t remember. As you use this approach to reading, children will focus more until they can recount the story unaided.
My girls’ teachers stressed the importance of discussing the stories with children when they read at home. Pause occasionally and question them about what they think will happen next, why they think the character behaves in that way, or what would they do in that situation. Stories are often great platforms to prompt discussions about wider interests and issues children face.
In addition to supporting the literacy lessons in our schools, all these activities help children to develop their listening and concentration skills. Most importantly, any time spent reading with your child is a precious bonding moment, where you can show you are interested in their ideas and opinions.
I hadn’t heard this term before so I queried it with the teacher:
Once upon a time there was a dragon that lived in a cave. He was a nice dragon. One day he went for a nice walk in the woods… Boring!
But with Wow words:
Once upon a time, there was a tiny red dragon that lived in a dark and dingy cave. He was a kind-hearted and cheerful dragon. One glorious day, he went for a stroll in the cool shady woods… More interesting? The Wow words help you picture the character and the scene and give you the mood of the story.
In school, children are taught to pick out the Wow words from the text, think about their meaning from the context, and use a dictionary to check the meaning of any unfamiliar words. They are also encouraged to use Wow words in their own writing, but this is only possible if they have the vocabulary to do so.
As a parent and a writer, I never dumb down language for children. Children love to question. If they don’t know what something means, they’ll ask! Yes, they can drive us mad with the incessant questioning but for every word, you explain you are increasing their vocabulary and supporting their literacy skills.
When you read together, ask your child to pick out the Wow words. Prompt them, how did the character move/talk / look?
Instead of walk, did they amble, stumble, stagger, sprint, shuffle, march, plod, wander, stroll…?
Instead of talk, did they shout, whisper, exclaim, cry, remark, demand, ask, state…?
Ask your children if they can think of other Wow words they know to describe the characters or the settings in the stories. Discuss the meanings of any unfamiliar words with your children. Gradually, your children will develop a diverse and interesting vocabulary that they can use to enhance their writing in school.
Quick Guide to Reading at Home
- Read to your children – share a love of reading and enjoy the experience together.
- Get them to tell you a story – with little ones, let them use their imagination and just make it up. With older ones, ask them to recount the story or continue it in their own words.
- Listen to your child read – show them you are interested and give them your full attention.
- Ask questions – who was it about? What happened? What were there favourite bits?
- Make reading a regular activity – encourage reading as something fun your child looks forward to. Set aside some quality time and build it into the family routine.
In my experience as a parent and a teacher, I have witnessed the huge advantages early reading has on shaping a child’s mind. The benefits are too numerous to name but the best of all is seeing the delight on their faces when it is story time. So read to your children, expand their world to one of adventure and excitement and know that you are instilling a love of learning in the most wonderful way.
In this magazine, you will find many fabulous examples of children’s storybooks that are packed full of wondrous Wow words. Happy reading!
Sylva Fae is a married mum of three from Lancashire, England. She has spent twenty years teaching literacy to adults with learning difficulties and disabilities, and now works from home as a children’s writer and illustrator.
Her earliest memories are of bedtime stories. It was a magical time, those last special moments before dozing off to sleep would feed dreams of faraway lands and mystical beings, with fantastic adventures and a sense that anything was possible. She now wants to share that love of stories and inspire children to create their own magical adventures.
Sylva and her family own a wood and they escape there at every possible opportunity to enjoy the peace and fresh air. Adventures in their own enchanted woodland, hunting for fairies and stomping in muddy puddles, inspired Sylva to write stories to entertain her three girls.
Sylva has published several children’s books and also writes a blog, Sylvanian Ramblings. Her debut book, Rainbow Monsters won the Chanticleer Best in Category award.
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