Dillan was a smart pre-kindergarten child who loved everything related to science and math. Soon after arriving in his classroom, he gathered with his pals to get the counting dinosaurs and play by the manipulatives area. He would spend hours in that corner of the classroom if it were not for the teachers’ interference.
Books were among other materials Dillan esteemed—the ones with animals caught most of his attention. He would sit in the reading corner and discuss the images with his classmates, and astoundingly, when asked to “read” segments of the books, he blew us away with his literacy skills, which proved above his age and developmental stage.
Dillan was one of many children in that suburban school (where children came from the most diverse backgrounds) in which I used to teach. He was clearly ahead of the game, and what contributed to set him apart besides his natural curiosity was the role his family played in nurturing his literacy through school life and overall activities.
His story was not meant to elicit comparisons between children in any way. There is no question about each child’s uniqueness and how children’s development follows different courses. I wanted to illustrate a scenario of how children could thrive if provided with the right resources.
A summary from the National Literacy Trust suggests that parents’ involvement in their children’s school life, especially in the youth literacy activities, has a long-lasting impact on school performance and attitude towards children’s studies starting in primary education.
Talking to Dillan’s parents, my co-worker and I found out their attitude at home aligned with notions educators, child specialists, and researchers have been recommending for years. They were providing a myriad of opportunities for Dillan to flourish, which not only included reading to him but also engaging with him.
A few of these steps seem minuscule, but if put to good use, they will make a difference in children’s school progress down the road. Here are a few examples of how to nurture children’s literacy:
1) Child observation
This is not a task done only by teachers and schools. Organizing the child’s time and taking any opportunity to observe his or her activities carefully is a crucial task for parents as well.
When parents take a step back and get into the role of observers, they can catch nuances of children and their play they wouldn’t be able to catch if they were focusing on something else. This exercise allows recording the child’s strides and can be used as a basis to create opportunities for new challenges to stimulate their strengths.
I count many times when ecstatic parents talked about their child performing a task they never saw before just to find out the child had reached the milestone well before, but the parents hadn’t noticed.
2) Homework help
Often underestimated, strong homework support makes a huge difference in children’s school performance, and most likely when youngsters advance to their later school years.
This is invaluable when stimulated since a young age. For instance, checking children’s activities (printables, child’s daily reports, teacher’s notes) from nursery school and engaging the child in the activity are significant ways to prepare them for what is ahead.
When children get used to this routine, it makes it easy for them to see the activity as a responsibility when they grow up, therefore easing the homework task when they become a teen or young adult. Parents also aid in their child’s vocabulary‑building and numeric literacy by engaging with their child this way.
3) School-related talk
This one is built on the previous point. Parents engage in meaningful conversations with their children and listen attentively to their answers. Parents have a myriad of opportunities to interact with children when asking questions such as:
- “How was your school day?”
- “What happened in school?”
- “What did you learn today?”
- “Was there anything special happening in school?”
- “What made your day good/bad?” and
- “Was there anything bothering you?”
When parents interact with their offspring in a thoughtful way, children are most likely to respond positively to this communication, and parents will be amazed at what they can find out. Besides becoming aware of their children’s daily activities, it gives them a chance to nurture children’s literacy and engage children in building vocabulary, oral skills, and resilience, not to mention the bond it creates between child and parents.
4) Purposeful reading
This one relates to not only reading to the child but also to creating an enriched reading environment that prompts the child to act. For instance, when reading Little Red Riding Hood, ask your son/daughter questions, and let him or her predict what comes next.
If there is a rhyme, prompt the child to rhyme with you. One idea that sounds fun for the little ones is the use of props. That allows them to build their creativity and help in their emergent literacy. Plus, let’s face it, children love it when adults are silly and have fun with them. It is a win-win situation.
In the end, parents are children’s first role models and their most important support system. Because what parents do makes a lifelong impression in their offspring, deep parental involvement, with meaningful activities (read-alouds, play chess and other board games, pretend-play, among others) that engage their little ones, is crucial to nurture children’s literacy and for their development. By infusing small, simple steps on a daily basis and consistently building upon that, parents pave the way to a bright future for their children.