Experts’ Recommendations to Foster Childhood Literacy at Home

In an effort to improve literacy rates among young readers in Alabama, the state has implemented legislation and received support from the Alabama State Department of Education. The Alabama Reflector recently interviewed experts in the state to provide parents and guardians with advice on how to promote literacy in their own children.

Observe how your child pronounces words

Sonya Yates, the associate policy director of early literacy for Excel in Ed, a non-profit education policy organization founded by Jeb Bush and based in Florida, suggests that teaching parents about bad reading habits may be the most straightforward way to explain it.

Yates is also the vice president of the Alabama chapter of The Reading League, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing literacy instruction.

Yates emphasizes the importance of ensuring that a child properly sounds out a word. However, she warns that if a child also relies on guessing based on the first letter, it can negate the effectiveness of their sounding out skills.

Yates also suggests that parents look for specific strategies, such as guided reading or the “daily five” approach.

“All of those approaches involve looking at the first letter of a word, closing your eyes, reopening them, and guessing,” she explained. “As an avid reader myself, I’m not convinced that would work for me.”

If a child encounters an unfamiliar word, Yates advises having them break down the sounds of the word.

Read to your child material that aligns with their interests and engage in conversations

While reading materials in school are typically based on grade levels and specific skills, when reading to a child at home, it’s important to choose content that they are genuinely interested in.

“If you’re simply reading to your child, select something that captivates their interest because it contributes to the overall science of reading,” Yates shared. “We have word recognition skills and language comprehension.”

Yates explains that when parents or guardians read to their children, it helps build their vocabulary skills. She suggests selecting books that challenge the child, as this will expand their oral vocabulary to a level beyond their visual one.

“For example, if a child encounters the word ‘automobile’ and tries to sound it out, but they don’t have that word as part of their oral vocabulary, they’ll never pronounce it correctly because they’ve never heard it pronounced correctly,” she added.

Ruth Ann Moss, executive director of Birmingham Talks, an early literacy program, stresses that young children need to be exposed to around 21,000 words daily for optimal brain development.

“When a child speaks, and then a parent responds, this serve and return interaction has six times more impact on brain development compared to just hearing words,” Moss explained.

Ensure your child is familiar with letters

Yates emphasizes that spelling plays a crucial role in connecting auditory and visual learning for literacy.

“It’s important to establish the connection between the visual representation of a letter and its corresponding sound,” she said.

Yates noted that some literacy programs teach students formulas for spelling and sounds.

“For example, in the word ‘cake,’ the letter ‘A’ says its name because it has an ‘E,'” she clarified.

Moss shared an activity she engages in with her three-year-old daughter, where they use foam letters during bath time.

“It’s a low-pressure way for us to pick up the letter ‘M’ and ask, ‘What sound does this letter make?’ And we pronounce it as ‘Mmm,'” Moss revealed.

For more information on literacy, including family resources, visit the Alabama State Department of Education website.

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