LITERACY is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child. Research shows that although most children learn to read by age seven, a child's ability to read and write begins to develop long before kindergarten. Infancy through to age eight is thus the most important stage in a child's early literacy development when they learn and develop the skills needed to be successful in school and later in life. But the bond created while reading with a child, at any age, is priceless.
"Literacy is more than being able to read and write. It is the ability to use available symbol systems that are fundamental to learning and teaching, for the purposes of comprehending and composing, making and communicating meaning and knowledge. Thus being literate is necessary for learning, with strong reading skills forming the basis for learning in all subjects. Even as an infant, hearing the parent reading helps the child's literacy skills, not to mention a closeness and comfort between the parent and child," explained Beverly Harris, literacy specialist and project development officer for the Jamaica Reading Association (JRA).
The parent-child bond is an essential foundation for the developing child who finds security and confidence in his/her parents' love. As parents take time out from their hectic schedules to give children quality, undivided attention, this resonates with children showing them they are important. Reading for and with children therefore gives parents the opportunity to establish a strong and nurturing bond. The time spent together also fosters one-on-one communication between parent and child.
This intimate experience of reading can also yield important lessons about behaviour, feelings, and the enduring bonds of relationships. It is also a way of creating special moments with children, a precious keepsake at any age.
So whether it is snuggling together before lights-out, or a scheduled reading hour, parents can rekindle as well as develop emotional closeness, impart important lessons, ease difficult transitions, heal personal pain, or simply celebrate family life when they read with their children.
The selection of books is important. Children, especially those not keen on reading, need books that are interesting and have meaning for them. Stories they can relate to can be fascinating. To do this, it is recommended that parents select age-appropriate books which reflect children's interests or even involve children in the selection of the novel. For younger children, parents can select books they cannot yet read on their own. Parents should also pay attention to values being taught in the story.
"Take for example the novel No Boy Like Amanda. It is a well-written, Jamaican novel and one of the most interesting I've seen in recent times. The novel tells the story of a little girl from a rural district in a family of four boys who refuse to allow her to play with them. She tries anyway, but her inclusion usually ends in some kind of mishap. So there is much humour. Importantly, her father is there to guide her and there is a strong father-daughter bond as he helps her to develop her own strengths. So the values are good. Everywhere I have used this novel, the children loved it," Harris said.
"They can see themselves in the story; they have had similar adventures or can find their cousin, aunt, sister, brother in the story."
A favourite among children of all ages, No Boy Like Amanda was the official book for the 2013 JRA Reading Week and was awarded the Book Industry of Jamaica 2013 Publisher's Award for Best Children's Chapter Book. Written by local author Hope Barnett, the novel is endorsed by the Ministry of Education as suitable for use as a supplementary reading text for students at the primary level starting at Grade 3.
Reading lays the foundation for a love of learning, can build a child's self-esteem, and push the mind to question beyond the printed page, expanding a child's knowledge of the world around him/her. The benefits of reading with your child go far beyond the mechanics of word decoding and vocabulary lists to creating a bond for effective parent-child relationship.
Other benefits of reading to/with children:
*Reading with children moulds them into becoming readers themselves, increasing their potential for academic and lifelong success.
*It helps children to master language development
*It builds listening skills, increases attention span and develops the ability to concentrate
*It develops children's ability to express themselves more confidently, easily, and clearly in spoken and written terms.
*It develops and fosters a child's natural curiosity.
*It develops creativity and a child's ability to use his or her own imagination.