If there was one thing I wanted parents to know, it is that the amount of talk that happens in the home is correlated to the size of their children’s vocabulary as they enter school and that the size of their children’s vocabulary is strongly correlated to reading comprehension and overall academic success.
Letting parents know that they need to talk with their children is especially important for those parents who come from a culture where they think it is strange to talk to children and for those parents who grew up in homes without a lot of talk. I would also let them know that reading aloud to children (or discussing pictures for parents who struggle with reading) offers reasons to talk about many things with their children and that it will feel natural once a routine is set in place.
Reading aloud to children also builds knowledge of the world and knowledge of the word (vocabulary) which are necessary to make inferences (or read between the lines) while reading or listening. Not being able to make inferences (or connect-the dots) between what is written (or said) and what is implied (or left unsaid) means that comprehension cannot happen. Authors and speakers imply; therefore good readers and listeners must infer to make sense of the message. The more we know, the more quality inferences we can make.
To say this in another way, if parents do not read and talk a lot with their children before they enter school, their children will be at risk for school failure. It would be difficult for even the best teachers who use the best intervention programs to help these students ever catch up with peers who have had many stories read to them and who have heard a lot of talk in the home.
One thing I would always start with is a picture/text walk and making predictions. As I read, I would discuss whether the predictions should be modified, rejected, confirmed, or if it was still too soon to say. Of course these decisions should be based on evidence in the text and from our background knowledge, or personal experiences. That evidence should be discussed to help promote good thinking skills.
Making predictions may have led to a reason, or purpose, for reading the text. If it didn’t, I would be sure to set one and share it with the child. In other words, “Let’s read to find out _____.” Having a purpose for reading leads to more engaged reading. More engagement with the text leads to better comprehension.
Although it is not necessarily the most difficult “strategy” to tackle, I think one of the most important things we can do is to encourage children to wonder as they read and for us to share our own wonders, too. It is important to teach children that not all wonders can be answered, but that good wonders lead to great (and exciting) thinking. Discussing answers to the wonders in terms of what is possible and plausible helps build critical thinking skills. Discussing where the answers (if any) might be found helps develop research skills which are needed for academic success.
One Sentence Summary: Read to your child often and talk about what you read.
I’ve blogged about the importance of talk before. If you are interested, see What Happens in the Home Before Kids Start School Affects Their Vocabulary & Overall Academic Success for the research behind my thoughts.
If you could only share one thing with parents that you think would really have an impact on their child’s academic success, what would it be?