On the Journey
news reel: stories of People, places, and learning AT Aspen Country Day School
"Teaching reading is like magic, but it's also like rocket science – there are so many different elements that have to come into place for a child to become a successful reader," says Aspen Country Day School Kindergarten teacher Shelley Gill-Meisler. We asked: what are some of those elements? What are some ways you'll know when your child is ready to start reading?
1. He understands lots of words
"By the time children enter first grade, they'll have approximately 6,000 words in their listening and speaking vocabulary – that's such a remarkable statistic, because it shows how much language children are absorbing from the world around them."
2. She can write her own name
"Staring with the letters in a word that a child hears every day, children begin to connect the letters to the sounds those letters make."
3. He recognizes words and letters around him
"Maybe you'll be driving, and a child will point out a stop sign. Recognizing 'environmental print' is a step towards understanding that words have messages that are waiting to be de-coded.
4. She pretends to read
"You'll see a child sitting and just looking at a book, just deeply looking at the pages or even holding it up the way a teacher does and pretending to show the pictures."
5. He reads individual words
"In Kindergarten and First Grade, we do all these things to explicitly teach letters, sounds, and blending skills. But often there comes a day when it suddenly comes together, and a child will even say, 'this is the day I learned to read.' But really, the learning has been happening all along."
A few questions about learning to read
What is really happening when a child learns to read?
Reading is a developmental skill – just as when a child is learning to walk, or talk – reading is similar. There are markers, such as learning to recognize letters, then attaching phonemes, or sounds, to those letters. When you start to read, you're actually de-coding, turning those letters into sounds, and putting them together to make words.
What is a fluent reader?
One who reads with seemingly little cognitive effort – you can just read. You have an understanding of the sentence structure and the syntax, and when you encounter an unfamiliar word, you can glean from context clues what the sentence or paragraph means. In the early stages, you are working so hard to de-code that it is difficult to gain any meaning, because all your effort is taken up with trying to sound out the word. You get to the end of the sentence, and you didn't really understand. You then have go back re-read it until it makes sense. Learning to read is hard work, and also so exciting.
How important is reading for enjoyment?
It's the most important thing. After all, what is the goal of reading? Is it to decode words and see how many you can read per minute? No, of course not. It's for learning. In Kindergarten and First Grade, you are learning to read. By Third Grade, you are reading to learn. Children know that the point of reading is to gain information, to satisfy their tremendous curiosity.
What's the best way to raise a reader?
The most important thing a parent can do for a child is to read to them. Read anything and everything. It could be a book or a newspaper, anything. Read a chapter book, a chapter a night before bed. An actual book, not a tablet. Those 10 to 15 minutes where they have your interest, while you are reading aloud, will yield compound daily interest. It expands their vocabulary. It deepens their positive associations with reading. We read aloud every day in Kindergarten.
What are you reading aloud in Kindergarten now?
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. They love it. They also love poetry, especially anything that rhymes. Kindergarteners are also proud of the fact that they are old enough to understand the distinction between fiction and non-fiction books. They are proud to be reading for information – a "real" book. They like actual facts, whether it's about rabbits, or cats or dogs, or the weather.