Dad's Playbook: Coaching Children to Read (page 2)
Be the Best Coach You Can Be!
Every minute you spend reading and talking with your child pays off. But dads can use some simple skills to help their kids be even better readers--like knowing what kinds of questions to ask when you're reading a story together.
Getting in the Game
Reading: Easy as ABC, right?
Most kids learn to talk by talking with other people. They hear--they listen--they speak. Learning to read? That's harder.
Reading doesn't come naturally. You have to learn it. The sticks and circles we call letters are symbols. Basically, letters stand for sounds. In the big picture, they help us communicate when we can't talk face to face. If we couldn't read, we'd never know the wisdom of William Shakespeare, Langston Hughes, or Yogi Berra.
Our alphabet has only 26 letters, but it's one of the most powerful tool kits on the planet. When you put letters together, into syllables, words, sentences, and paragraphs, you get the script for Star Wars, a Martin Luther King speech, The Grapes of Wrath, a letter, or instructions for how to build a tricycle.
Reading lets us into the whole world. It gets us in the game. Reading is power. And, let's face it, good readers make more money.
Teaching someone to read is complex. But while teachers are doing their thing in the classroom, parents can do things to make time with their children pay off in big ways.
Reading with your child every day certainly helps, whether it's a book, a street sign, or a cereal box. But researchers have found that parents can help even more by building five skills that kids need to become readers.
Third Grade: Why is it so important?
Educators have discovered that if a child can't read fluently by the end of third grade, he may not become a strong reader. And the road ahead will be much more difficult.
"In fourth grade, students start using their reading skills as a tool for learning other things," said Dr. Sandra Baxter, director of the National Institute for Literacy. "They have to read well because the subjects get harder. Teachers have less time to help kids catch up on reading skills they don't have."
That's why parents need to stay in constant touch with their children's day care providers and teachers from kindergarten through grade three. It's important to make sure that children's reading skills are developing "on schedule."
In fact, research has shown that children who aren't strong readers by the end of third grade are more likely to drop out of school later on. "We should all pay attention to that," said Dr. Baxter. "Fortunately, the research has also shown us the best ways to teach reading, and how parents can make a big difference in helping their children learn to read."
How they help their kids learn to read!
Yes, guys read. And they can give their kids the best shot at a bright future by helping them learn to read too. Here are stories of dads from around the country, talking in their own words about how they do it. Many of these dads discovered they were already doing a lot of the right things, and doing it in personal, special ways.
Cable TV technician
Father of three, 2 years, 3 years, 5 years old
I have three children and I read to them in English so they can learn more. At the same time I read to them, I also am learning better English myself. My father is illiterate and I taught myself how to read. I want my children to know how to read for themselves. I read the newspaper in English, and for my work, it's all in English. I'm a cable TV manager technician and I teach others how to fix cable TV.
I buy books for my children at a bookstore in Tijuana. If there's a book sale, I'll buy books at a store. I have been coming to the library (family literacy program) for three months. I pay attention to my children. It's most important to know who they are and what they like and don't like.
We practice writing out letters and I teach them the sounds of the letters. I'll sound out the letter and have them practice writing it out, while sounding it out themselves.
To get their interest, I sing songs with them first, like the ABC song and other word songs and songs in Spanish to motivate them to read. I sing it wrong and they correct me. I go into detail and explanation of letters and sounds to my children. I also do homework and math games with them. They ask me questions and I help them. If I don't understand a word myself, I'll look it up in the dictionary.
Father of two, 5 years, 12 years old
I want my son and daughter to be able to read and understand what they're reading instead of just going through and then later on ask questions. I want them to understand that in this day and age if you don't read and learn a lot of things, someone can be like a wolf in sheep's clothing. If you don't read the fine print and understand what's going on, then you're basically putting yourself in a hole.
I like reading to them and seeing how they are bent on your every last word, waiting to see what the outcome is. I like seeing their reactions. I love sitting down on Sundays. There's just something about Sundays. It's my time to sit around with the family.
I want them to be very articulate. There's a lot of different words in the dictionary that many people don't really know. It's about being able to comprehend--being able to see a word and if you don't understand it go in the dictionary and figure it out. I try to tell them the importance of speaking clearly and understanding how people perceive you when you speak. A lot of that has to do with reading. You can't extend your vocabulary if you don't read.
My daughter is in kindergarten so she brings songs home from the school. She starts humming and singing and we're like, "what's that song?" She might not be saying a lot of the words right so it brings us back to our childhood. We sit there arguing about what the words were.
My daughter has a diary. She'll come home and she'll ask for her diary and she'll be jotting little letters down and she'll say, "Daddy, read my diary." And I'm looking at it and it doesn't spell anything but I try to make her think I know what it says and try to keep her motivated. And my son, he's 12, he'll say, "That doesn't spell anything." But then I'll ask her to tell us what it says. And she'll say, "I can't tell you." But she'll whisper in my ear. So it just helps her out just to jot things down.
Father of one, 2 years old
I have my daughter on weekends and we read every night while she is with me, mostly before she goes to bed. Isabel likes certain books and wants me to read them to her over and over again. We got a fish book when we visited the aquarium. It is an alphabet book and she likes it too. We read small children's books with colorful pictures.
My daughter walked and started saying her first words early. I think she has a big vocabulary for her age and that's probably because we read and talk to her a lot. I even read to her before she was born! I think her mother is more into the acting, maybe more animated when she reads. I do some vocal changes, but I'm more straightforward with my reading. Isabel likes to flip the pages.
I like to see her reactions, the way she picks up on things, like naming the animals in the pictures. We have fun with books and she makes up funny words. She likes to turn the pages and now she knows that you read a book from front to back. I sometimes run my finger under the words as I read so she will see how print goes from left to right.
She is only two, so she is not reading yet, but if she hears a word she doesn't know, she always asks what it means. I talk to her and name words and tell her what they mean. We play with words and she repeats everything I say. She learns fast. I want her to enjoy reading and to do it of her own free will beyond schoolwork. She sees me write in the notebook that her mother and I use to share information. She knows that we are communicating with each other through writing.
Father of one, 2 years old
This is my first child, so I want to do it right. I hope to have more children. Every kid will have something for me to learn.
I want my son to grow up and be able to read. Then he can decide what his goals are for himself. As long as he can read, he can learn more about it later. For me, the first time I was in the U.S. I was put into second grade. I didn't understand anything and they dropped me down to first to learn how to read.
My wife is more into books than me and she's stricter. He has to pay attention when she uses books with him. The only way my son listens to me is if I'm singing or dancing. His favorite book plays the chorus of Old MacDonald--"E-I-E-I-O!" is his favorite part, he loves that. If I start singing that to him, he starts dancing. My wife uses his ABC blocks. She says a letter in his name and he has to point to it. He repeats it back, but he doesn't know his letters yet. She will write out his name and give it to him. He just scribbles on it. My wife and I play Scrabble and he'll watch.
On the way here today, we made a quick stop at the store and I sang to my son while he danced in the shopping cart. Every time I sing a song in the store, he'll dance. We sing in both Samoan and English. We speak both in the house. TV helped me a lot to learn English and I like to use TV with my son. Right now, he'll grab a book if he really wants us to read it. I know my son is enjoying hearing me read when he's smiling and laughing. If you stop, he wants you to keep doing it over and over and over and over.
Father of two, 6 years, 8 years old
Reading was very, very scary for me at school. I remember when I thought I had to read, my hands would be so sweaty that the sweat would drop on the desk. They had me checked out and said I had a reading disorder. I got better in high school. I had a tutor in 10th grade who is still in my life if I need tutoring or help. It's very important to help my kids now.
My oldest daughter was struggling. I'm the one who can talk to her about that situation and can relate. If she doesn't know a word I break it down bit by bit and pronounce it in syllables so she has an idea of how to put it together. That's how I learned. When I first noticed she was having problems with her reading it didn't really affect her. She's unique because she was still wanting to learn even if she got frustrated. She loves to go to school. She's a fighter and doesn't give up.
I tell my children it is important to be able to read because, suppose you're traveling and can't read the road signs--you wouldn't know how or where to get off the highway.
I would really like to do a lot of traveling but sometimes I'm afraid because what if I couldn't read the signs. I could get lost. That's why I tell my children it's important to read and I try to read to them whenever I can.
I go over spelling words with them. They know how to write our name and address. I also help them with writing homework. When she brought homework with math problems she had to write out in words, we used the names of some of her friends in the class to write out the problems.
My wife and I take time for our kids to help them study, to help them learn--and that we are behind them 110%. I want them to have what I never had. I am successful, but it was a struggle for me and I feel that if I'm behind them, as their father, it won't be so hard for them. I know I have smart kids. I want the best for them.
Antique car restorer
Father of three, 6 months, 3 years, 5 years old
When I read to my children I try to make it theatrical. I try to put something into it to make it more enjoyable. I would call it trying to get them to imagine that they're actually there. I work on their imagination. You can see excitement in their faces.
We generally try to read at least one book apiece for each one of the girls. So they each end up getting two books read to them in one night. We haven't actually sat down and read to the baby yet. But he's in the room.
I know that for myself, reading to the girls has helped me read better. I was never one for reading. I didn't really like to read a lot. In the automotive business we're in, we do research. You have to be able to read the manual. If you're trying to diagnose a problem, or anything, a wiring diagram, you have to read. That's all the ability you really need to know well to learn how to do anything. You can be able to wire a light fixture, or put in a furnace or whatever--build a house, build a boat.
My kindergartener is wanting longer books now. It's okay to read that five-page book you can get done in two minutes but she'd rather sit for half an hour and listen to an entire story. Then she'll say "well, I'm going to read this book." She'll just sit there, looking at the pictures more than reading the book but she'll study it page after page. I've seen her a couple of times in the morning asleep with a book lying across her chest.
Youth Detention Center leader
Father of four, 4 years, 9 years, 10 years, 15 years old
On the days Juicy doesn't go to day care I try to spend the day with him. When the rest of the kids get home at 3 o'clock from school, I make sure they do their homework or I make sure they read. We have a quiet time from 4 to 5. It's just strictly reading. No TV. We have plenty of books, so I'm like, "pick a book out." I want my children to know that reading is positive. The way to learn is to read.
After they read I'm almost like a teacher--I want them to write out what they read to make sure they're getting it. Instead of just reading it and saying, "okay, this is what just happened," I want them to put it on paper too. I want to make sure they really understand what they just read. I didn't have it that way. I wish I would have.
They are learning faster than I did. Especially if they're interested in something, it has their full attention. My parents took time with us, but not like they should, because they didn't know.
I teach them they have the potential to do anything. I take it like a cuss word when they say, "I can't do something." I always explain to them, "Don't be afraid to make mistakes. It's fine. That's how you learn." Especially with Juicy--we just went over the ABCs. He wasn't sure. I said, "Be sure—even if you're wrong. I'm going to tell you if you're wrong or right."
Construction worker; business owner
Father of three, 2 years, 3 years, and 7 years old
My older son likes me to read about soccer and my younger son likes books with dogs and other animals. I sometimes read a couple books at one time, one about soccer and one about animals--I read from one for a little while and explain about the animals and then I read from the other and explain the soccer. I set aside special time every day to be with my daughter to either help her with homework or read with her.
Their mother is very focused when she reads to them. She looks at pictures with the kids and explains all the details. I may explain a few details, but not like she does. My daughter reads like she has learned in school. She reads the whole book first, by herself. Then if she needs help understanding something or would like to talk about something we go back through page by page. She will read to me too.
When the boys don't understand a word, I will show them the object or a picture, and I will continue to ask them about it until they know what it is. I teach my kids words more in Spanish because it is easier for me. We have some books from Mexico that I use to help them learn the letters and Spanish words.
I have taught my children the names of the tools I use. I play music and have a band that practices in my house. The boys like to play the instruments and I try and teach them the lyrics to the songs.
I really enjoy the moment of being with my kids and helping them learn. We don't have that much time with our kids when they are young, so I just enjoy this time with them as much as I can.
Father of one, 9 months old
I work every day so I'm only able to play with my daughter from four to seven or eight. I like to spend those hours with her. We usually keep the TV off. I read to her every day. I think she likes that we're on the floor when I read, though sometimes I walk around and dance while I read, with her in my arms. I think she's having fun. I think she's going to want us to read to her all the time. When I read, I act it out, I use different voices. I'm shy, but not with my kid. I don't mind looking like an idiot as long as she's laughing.
We were given a lot of books at the baby shower. The person who threw the shower for us asked people to start a library for Hailey. We get books by mail, I don't know where they're from. And we're right next door to the library and they have a lot of sales. You can fill a box for a dollar.
I ask Hailey all the time, "who's your dada?" and point to myself. I echo her sounds. And she copies me. She sort of screeches. If she does one, I might do two or three back, and she copies me. Sometimes when we say "no" she stops, but then does whatever it was again. We say "no" and she stops, then does it again. It's almost like she's doing it to get us to talk to her.
Press operator, molding factory
Father of one, 11 months old
I know reading to her now will help her learn down the road. But right now it's fun to entertain her, to see the way she looks when she's happy. It's all about her. She just lights up, she's giggling, she's enjoying it. It makes me feel good. It's hard to entertain babies sometimes--sometimes nothing will work--but books usually work pretty easy with her.
I perform when I read. I do whatever I have to do. I change my voice with the character. Whichever way the character is, I try to role-play it. She loves this one book that has a girl and sea animals in it. So I play the crab, the lobster. I'm not that good at doing a girl's voice, but I do my best.
We get books from anywhere. At WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) they give us books. I have some books from when I was a kid. We go to the bookstore in the mall, and let her pick out a book. She's drawn to bright colors, and books you can touch or books that make sounds. She likes to push things, so I see if she can comprehend the buttons on the remote.
I hope reading is as important to her as it was to me. The more she reads as a kid--starting off small, going into longer books, and more complex words--the easier it's going to be in the higher grades. It's great to see her begin to learn. There's nothing better than to be able to pass it on to my child. I'm not going to force her, or punish her, like "you have to read this," but we'll have a certain time of day, and we'll make reading a regular part of her schedule.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Institute for Literacy.
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