As an early childhood teacher with 18 years experience, there was nothing new for me to discover in Louise Park’s 7 Steps to get Your Child Reading. The only good and encouraging thing I learnt was that since my teaching training days, thirty years ago, they have finally realised that just teaching the whole language approach is a mistake.
When I was at Uni the whole language way was drummed into us relentlessly. Yet, I had very vivid and fond memories of my own kindy teachers taking us through the phonics approach. I loved learning about the sounds and their blends and how they went together.
The whole language approach is great for kids who already know how to read, or who are well on the way to reading independently. But if you still can’t make sense of the all those squiggles on the page, you need some phonics to get you going.
I made the slightly daring decision to teach both methods when I started my career. Within a decade, Jolly Phonics made its first appearance into NSW classrooms, followed by the Reading Eggs program, and I felt vindicated.
However, Park’s book is much more than an educational evaluation of the various teaching methods. This is after all, a book for parents, despite it’s rather juvenile cover.
In particular, it is a book for the parents of Gen Alpha. Gen A includes those kids born from 2010 onwards. They are the first generation of kids to be fully immersed in a world of ipads, smart phones and apps for learning. How on earth do you get your fully switched on, modern data kid to interact with such an archaic thing as a book? How can you make reading a book as fun and as interesting as a colourful, noisy app designed to capture your imagination?
This book is full of bite-sized facts and figures and tips and tricks to do just that.
But the main thing everyone needs to know is quite simple really – read to your children, early and often, for as long as you can.
Pick books that you love, with colourful pictures and interesting content and language and start reading from the day they are born. Be prepared to read the same books over and over again (which is why I always stress the bit about picking books you love too). Your love and enthusiasm will spill over onto your child too.
As the child gets older, Park’s provides suggestions on how to help your child select their own books. She stresses how okay it is for your child to read easy comforting books to help them gain competence and to keep reading fun. She only talks about stepping things up with more challenging texts, if your child is still reading those same books, at the same easy level, for years.
One easy way to step things up, is to continue reading aloud with your child all through the primary school years. Even at this age, if you love the book you’re reading together, chances are, they will too.
Schools will provide the explicit literacy learning within a group situation, but as Park’s says,
The reality is that the one-on-one sharing of quality literature has to come from the child’s family, extended family and out-of-school environment.
There is simply not enough time or opportunity for this kind of one-on-one approach in any school. The hard part for the modern parent, is to detach ourselves long enough from our devices, to model another way. Children, always have and always will, model the behaviour they see.
The benefits of being a reader as overwhelming. From imagination to education, from connection to understanding, from belonging to empathy. A book can be a friend in good times and bad.
In these politically heightened times, the words of Barack Obama ring ever truer than before,
the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of greys, but, there’s still truth to be found, and that you have to strive for that, and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with someone else even though they’re different from you.