In an ever-growing world of computers and gadgets, it is often easy to overlook the importance of good old hands-on learning. As a parent, it is easy to assume that your child will learn everything they need to know scholastically from their teachers. However, with the amount of children who are currently identified as ‘special needs’ in our school system, it is difficult for any teacher to meet the needs of all of their students.
In Canada  AND the United States of America, approximately one out of two adults has insufficient reading skills and is functionally illiterate. Furthermore, this rate is expected to drop as the population ages. Thus it is important to begin changing these statistics by changing the emerging patterns of child readers. Studies clearly show that children who read with their parents at least three times per week develop into much stronger readers than those who do not experience that luxury. Imagine what those children could do if they were not only read to, but were taught to read before entering kindergarten.
With an abundance of emerging reading programs, it can be difficult to decipher what is mostly advertising and pretty colours from what is an effective reading program. Currently, there appears to be an over-abundance of computer-based reading programs, along with yet again an over-abundance of single-word flashcards that you can give to your child to examine. However, let me begin my list of criteria by stating that parental interaction is very important with children of a young age. It is the parent they look to for clarification, for facial cues and verbal encouragement. Thus, implementing a reading ‘program’ between parent and child can be the most beneficial of all.
Most young children are very visual learners, and it is therefore instrumental to have a very visual program to present reading. The use of large flashcards ensures the child can see every aspect of each word, and the use of a bright color provides visual stimulation which attracts the eye. When presenting each flashcard, it is important to state the word clearly and precisely, ensuring the child receives a very clear example of what each word represents. Begin with words that can be associated to something visually, as this confirms comprehension of the printed word. For example, you may begin with names of the people in your family that they are familiar with. Then move on to things in their environment, such as rooms in the house, food items, etc.
Words only need to be shown for approximately one second each, as the brain will take a snap-shot and store it for later retrieval. Only show the child a few cards at a time. This will keep them wanting more and not bore them by overloading them with too much new information at a time.
After mastering each single word, take the flashcard and examine the phonetic components of each word. I consider this equivalent to seeing the entire picture of the puzzle, and then sorting it by shape and color. With words, they are sorting the letters and sounds and understanding how they make up the word.
Once the child comprehends single words, begin to pair them with other single words to create ‘couplets’. Again, this will continue to ensure reading comprehension is attained, while beginning to work on reading fluency. Begin to add modifiers such as colors and opposites which enable you to string even more words together to form phrases and finally working up to sentences.
This simple, effective teaching method can be used for children of any age, but works especially well with young children who are eager to learn, and children who are visual learners. By spending only ten minutes a day teaching your child words, you will be giving them a tremendous advantage in their years to come!