[CUA Office of Public Affairs]

Three Key Skills Involved in Reading, Educator Says

Reading to children often and from an early age, exposing them to language and experiences, and emphasizing reading for pleasure are the most effective ways to build reading readiness, says a literacy expert at The Catholic University of America.

Parents are often anxious about making sure their children are successful readers, says Nancy Taylor, associate professor of education. "Parents recognize that reading is the foundation for everything else a child will do in school," she explains.

And many parents, eager to see their children reading early, turn to flash cards, videos and computer programs in an effort to give kids a head start on reading. That’s not necessarily what children need, Taylor says.

"Reading is more than just recognizing words," she notes. "Children have to be able to make meaning from the text."

Three fundamental skills are required for kids to be successful readers, and parents can help develop each of these skills, Taylor says.

· Language is the basis for reading. "The more extensive a child’s vocabulary, the easier it is to begin developing reading skills," Taylor says. "Talk to children all the time – have real conversations."

· Life’s experiences build the knowledge a child needs to make sense of what he or she reads, says Taylor. Enriching a child’s preschool years with varied and interesting experiences – from taking trips to the zoo to hunting bugs in the backyard – provides the knowledge base a child brings to books.

· When children read, they’re not just decoding individual words, Taylor points out. They need to place a sentence in context, make predictions about what can happen next and understand story structure. Reading stories aloud, beginning in a child’s infancy, prepares children for reading. "Stories have established patterns," Taylor says. "If children are read to frequently, they will internalize that pattern and reading will be a very natural and comfortable process for them."

In her work with public schools, Taylor encouraged "print-rich environments" that make reading and writing an integral part of every school day. Parents can use the same methods at home by encouraging children to add items to the grocery list, help find products at the store and use deposit slips from the bank to fill out "deposits" for a child’s piggy bank.

Rhyming books – Shel Silverstein’s "Where the Sidewalk Ends," for example – are a good way to help children build phonemic awareness, the ability to attend to patterns in words and understand word families.

How soon should children begin learning to read? Children reach that developmental milestone at different stages, but Taylor doesn’t believe parents should force reading on a child who is clearly not ready to learn.

"Provide the opportunity and watch for the signs," she says. "But most of all, share your love of reading. Then you do more than help your child learn to read. You help your child become a reader."


For interviews, contact Nancy Taylor at 202-319-5810.

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