Making Reading a Routine Reality

 Reading with kids

Last month’s blog, Enjoy Reading with your Child, reminded and re-motivated me to put into practice more of what we know about reading. Yet reviewing the Top 10 Tips has given me room for greater reflection and left me with some food for thought. By sharing here, I hope that we might encourage and learn more together.

1. Make books part of your family life – Always have books around so that you and your children are ready to read whenever there’s a chance.

We have a few low bookshelves dedicated to our kids and they’ve always enjoyed being able to access them freely (even if it sometimes drove us to distraction during the early toddler years!). Though we have books around the house, I must admit that we don’t actually read them very often, especially since having our 3rd child last year, and our three- and five-year-old can see that 90% of our reading is on a screen. So, in order to change that, I’m going to make a concerted effort this week to establish my own reading routine that involves sitting down with a book.

2. Join your local library – Get your child a library card. You’ll find the latest videogames, blu-rays and DVDs, plus tons and tons of fantastic books. Allow them to pick their own books, encouraging their own interests.

To be honest, I don’t know if we have a local library here in Malaysia as I’ve not looked into it (yet?), although there are some books shared via our local community hall. Fortunately, we’ve also been given and found plenty of books over the years but I’m nonetheless looking forward to showing Dino Books to my kids this week, too. And, I’m especially excited by the variety of stories from around the world. We always let our children choose what to read for a bedtime story or any other time so I wonder what they will choose next.

3. Match their interests – Help them find the right book – it doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, poetry, comic books or non-fiction.
On rare occasions when our children haven’t been able to choose, we’ve made suggestions that have almost always been well-received, perhaps because they’re still so young! One thing that has been noticeable, however, is the relative lack of lead characters and role models for girls, although this has been gradually changing over the years. For anyone interested, A Mighty Girl, is a great resource.

4. All reading is good – Don’t discount non-fiction, comics, graphic novels, magazines and leaflets. Reading is reading and it is all good.

We encourage our kids to read anything from signs and car registration plates to whatever they notice and ask us about. That said, I think we could still point out and ask them more, as well as play more reading games to develop their letter recognition and phonics skills. Oxford Owl, for example, offers a host of age appropriate ideas.

5. Get comfortable! – Snuggle up somewhere warm and cosy with your child, either in bed, on a beanbag or on the sofa, or make sure they have somewhere comfy when reading alone.

Happily, this usually seems to be an easy and enjoyable one to achieve, though sometimes us parents have trouble staying awake.

6. Ask questions – To keep them interested in the story, ask your child questions as you read such as, ‘What do you think will happen next?’ or ‘Where did we get to last night? Can you remember what had happened already?’

Usually, I’ll ask them about the pictures, e.g. Who do you think that is? Why is he in trouble? What should he do? At the moment, we finish 99% of the books we read in one go, but when we start reading longer ones, the other questions here will definitely prove useful so it’s good to keep them in the back of one’s mind.

7. Read whenever you get the chance – Bring along a book or magazine for any time your child has to wait, such as at a doctor’s surgery.

As my mum did this with me, I’ve done the same with our kids and keep a book with their medical records, another in the baby bag, and with their spare clothes – all good to go. Now I just need to remember to change them from time to time, too!

8. Read again and again – Encourage your child to re-read favourite books and poems. Re-reading helps to build up fluency and confidence.

Like many if not most kids, ours will ask to read something they like again and again (though less often as they’ve gotten a little older, thankfully). To save myself from getting bored after the nth time, in addition to trying different voices and speeds, it can be fun to add and/or change bits, and see how they react. Asking different questions each time has also been interesting and surprising at times.

9. Bedtime stories – Regularly read with your child or children at bedtime. It’s a great way to end the day and to spend valuable time with your child.

For us, we may be out right up to their bedtime at the weekend, meaning that the kids fall asleep in the car on the way home. During the week, I guess that we have bedtime story on 2 nights a week. This is definitely an area that could benefit from commitment and effort to establish a reading routine, and setting myself a concrete goal of 3-4 out of 5 week nights plus Sunday night is the first step to making that a reality. Dino Books can also offer me a ‘Plan B’ on nights where I’m alone with the kids and our one year-old needs prioritizing.

Incidentally, if you’re looking for extra motivation, research by Professors Kalb and Van Ours in 2013 indicates that the effects of routine parental reading can be quite significant, increasing not only reading but other cognitive skills at least up to 10-11 years old. For example:

“Children four to five years old who are read to three to five times a week have the same reading ability as children six months older (who are read to only twice or less a week). Reading to children six to seven days a week puts them almost a year ahead of those who are not being read to. It was also found that reading to small children has a positive effect on the development of numeracy skills.” The Sydney Morning Herald, March 3rd 2013

The benefits seem to continue for the rest of their lives and, notably, “The results indicate a direct causal effect from reading to children at a young age and their future schooling outcomes regardless of parental income, education level or cultural background” (Kalb and Van Ours, 2013).

10. Rhyme and repetition – Books and poems which include rhyme and repetition are great for encouraging your child or children to join in and remember the words.

Luckily, quite a few of the books we have are written in verse, and they are indeed fun and memorable. Songs and nursery rhymes can also provide excellent opportunities, of course, for rhythm, rhyme and repetition.

Over the past month, whilst I felt that I made some progress in reading with my children, it seems mostly due my unconscious mind seeking to follow up on what we know to be important. However, taking conscious action during the next month should further help. So, what’s helped and helping you to make routine reading a reality?

 Philip Shigeo Brown

What Parents Want to Know about Bilingualism


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It’s generally recognized that most people across the globe are bilingual or multilingual and use 2 or more languages or dialects in everyday life. And the diversity of bilinguals within multicultural societies continues to grow. Beyond sharing fascinating facts about how this came to be (Bilingualism’s Best Kept Secret), Prof. Grosjean addresses 11 of the most frequently asked questions by parents and carers (collated by Corey Heller, founder of Multilingual Living). Here they are below with bullet point summary answers (but please feel free to click on the link for the original, full article):

What parents want to know about bilingualism
(Also published in The Bilingual Family Newsletter, 2009, 26(4), 1-6.)

How can one tell if children are getting enough exposure to each language?

  • Since there is no good measure of ‘enough’, maximize and balance input, aiming for a daily basis especially for children to be able to use, not just understand, languages
  • Interaction with people is better than just watching TV or DVDs
  • Ensure there are monolingual situations for each language where children have to use the same language (and cannot code-switch)

Which is the “best” method for helping children become bilingual (e.g. one parent – one language, the minority language at home, etc.)?

  • Prof Grosjean prefers and recommends minority language at home: Although one of the parents has to speak their second (or third) language, and the language will need to be reinforced by other people to give it a strong base, the majority (community/school) language has less problem finding its place; the weaker language (the home language) will receive much more input than if only one parent uses it, and it can be easier for the child to associate one language at home, another outside.
  • However, each method has its pros and cons and the effectiveness will depend on the child, parents, local circumstances, etc.

Is it all right to change from one method to another or one language to another in the home?

  • Changes in circumstances may require changes in method but the genuine, communicative need for both languages is fundamental to ensure their continued use (not just a ‘need’ imposed by parents!)
  • If children are old enough, discussing changes in strategy with them can help transition

What does research say, in layman’s terms, about the benefits of bilingualism / multilingualism over monolingualism?

  • More recent studies suggest bilinguals outperform monolinguals in certain tasks, for example, involving selective control; they perform just as well with analysis of representations; and sometimes do less well in monolingual vocabulary tests (where their other language may be dominant)
  • Prof. Grosjean warns people to be wary of older studies due to lack of control factors

Is it all right to raise a child in a non-native language, even if parents don’t speak the language absolutely perfectly (but well enough) and they don’t have a perfect native accent (but it is good enough)?

  • Again, having a genuine need to use the languages is key, together with supporting factors, such as the amount and type of input (as mentioned above)

Are there specific golden rules that every family should follow about raising children in more than one language?

  • Although every family and situation is different, Prof. Grosjean first highlights the value of understanding the factors that promote additional language acquisition, emphazing ‘the need factor’, language input, the roles of the family, school and community, as well as attitudes towards the language, the culture, and bilingualism. Again, Prof. Grosjean points out the importance of monolingual situations to facilitate genuine communicative need.
  • Support for parents and children to understand what it means to be bi-/multilingual as well as bi-/multicultural is also invaluable and often key to ensuring the process is mostly a positive experience, despite the inevitable challenges

Is it worth it for a spouse to speak his/her language even if they are only with the child a little bit of the time?

  • Even if exposure is limited, some is better than none, and one never knows what role a language may play in the child’s future

How should one deal with more than two languages in the family and how can one add an additional language to an already bilingual household?

  • Once again, Prof. Grosjean stresses ‘the need factor’ and setting up monolingual situations for each language 

What will happen to the children’s bilingualism when they start going to school in the community language?

  • The community language will likely become the dominant language
  • Children may try to use it exclusively with their parents, especially from around 6 years old until their early teens, often so as not to feel ‘different’ 

What should be done when children have been diagnosed with a speech impediment and they are told that their bilingualism / multilingualism is the cause? Is it all right to go against what the speech therapist / school therapist may say and still speak a native language at home?

  • “Bilingualism researcher and speech therapist, Susanne Döpke, states clearly that bilingualism is not the cause of language delay and language disorders”
  • Moreover, “…discontinuing the home language is not going to improve the bilingual child’s abilities in the majority (school) language; on the contrary, it may have other prejudicial consequences” 

What about cultural issues such as bilingual children assimilating into the community while also retaining their connection to the parents’ cultures?

  • Being mindful of what it means to be bicultural and how that affects children’s sense of identity is important
  • Some children reject one language/cultural identity over the other, and a few reject both, but most seem to eventually accept both to varying degrees and, “…biculturals who are allowed to be who they are, and who accept their dual heritage, are invaluable members of society who bridge the gap between the cultures they belong to”

 

As parents, we not only find ourselves thinking about questions such as the ones above, but also need to focus on the day-to-day practicalities and longer term. Our earlier blog entry, How to Raise a Bilingual Child, covers a number of key points in brief, from starting as early as possible with a consistent language policy (e.g. One Parent One Language or Minority Language At Home) to understanding individual differences and development, the critical period, and what motivates you as well as your child.

 

Fortunately, whatever your situation these days, there is a wealth of resources and support online, as well as an increasing number of multicultural communities and grassroots movements. For example, Multilingual Living, offers an excellent advice from getting started and teaching at home to being a non-native and addressing common problems. And for me, trying to raise our kids tri-lingually/culturally and not sure where we may go in the world, one thing that particularly stands out about Dino Lingo is that it’s actually much more than a bilingual site due to all the multilingual options.

Authored by: Philip Shigeo Brown

More about Dino Lingo learning sets for bilingual children