I showed you my 4 points fridge magnet in a previous post; now let me tell you about it!

I designed it to be a simple reminder to parents of the things they can do to help their children be ready to learn to read when they begin school. I selected points that required little or no prep, that could be done even when a parent was tired, and that could be done in many settings (while waiting at the doctor’s office, while shopping, while in the car or on the bus, etc.).

I also selected points that research shows really, truly DO make a difference AND that are not rocket science. Any parent can do these–and I mean any. Illiterate, low literacy, low education, low income–even the high income, much too busy parents. Non-English speaking parents with access only to English books could also do the 4 Points and make a difference in their children’s lives.

First, TALK:  Children who are talked with develop larger vocabularies. How many words a child knows when he or she enters school is a predictor of reading ability in later years. Vocabulary is one of the six early literacy skills. Children acquire vocabulary through conversation. This does not include giving children commands or saying “no.” It means conversing with your child. How big a difference are we talking about? The difference between 3,000 words and 20,000 words!

Second, GET BOOKS:  You don’t even have to do anything with them. Just get them. Have them in your home. And it doesn’t have to be just books–newspapers, magazines, comics, cookbooks, any kind of printed materials. Just having printed materials in the home increases a child’s chances at becoming a reader. Why? Partly because one of the early literacy skills is print motivation or liking books. It’s hard to like books or be interested in learning to read them if you’ve never seen them or had them around. (Folks, don’t kid yourself. This is more common than you’d think. It’s why our Friends of the Library gives books to homeless kids.) And remember, books are free from the library!

Third, TIME WITH BOOKS:  This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Allow children time to flip through, gaze at, look at books. Take books with you wherever you go. Turn the TV and the computer off for a little while every day. Put them in the bathroom (they are a great “aid” to potty training, btw). Let kids “stay up late” as long as they are quiet in bed with a book. 😉 And finally, sit down yourself and spend time with a book. (Tell folks that if they can’t read, pretend; it’s that important).  Being a role model for reading is essential–especially for boys. Boys need to see men reading!

Finally, the one you’ve been expecting, READ ALOUD:  Children who are read to become readers. Period, the end. And continue reading to them even after they learn to read. It prepares them for the next level because they hear words and syntax above their current reading level, making it easier to decipher it when they get there.

And I tell parents who are poor readers, who don’t like reading, or who can’t read that when their child is between the ages of birth and five, they can too read to them. Pretend. Snuggle up with kiddo, go through the book as if reading, look at the pictures and talk about them, maybe even make up your own story to go with them. Kiddo can’t read; they don’t know. They just know that you are spending time with them and that this must be important and fun or you wouldn’t be doing it with them. Those are the important factors that grow readers. Not whether or not the parent can actually read the book!

So print the 4 points off. Put it on your fridge as a reminder. Share it with others. Use it as a visual for talking about early literacy. Be passionate!