Supporting your child as a reader – Some Basic Advice


The following ideas have been drawn from my book:


Trevor H. Cairney (1995). Pathways to Literacy, London: Cassell

Literature offers many children their first opportunity for sustained reading experiences.  Through the early story reading of parents or caregivers young children begin to develop concepts of print and related early print decoding skills.  Parents read and point to print (and pictures of course), children run their fingers over the text mouthing words, inventing new ones, and generally engaging with the adult and the text to construct a unique telling of the story.  From these beginnings children soon start to identify words, memorize texts and begin to explore story more fully.  And all the time they are learning about language and their world, as well as continuing to build relationships with those who share these textual experiences.

As the child grows the literature becomes more complex in plot and genre, in language and content.  They begin to be confronted and learn as they build an ever enlarging intertextual history.  Hopefully, our readers also begin to move in and out of reader roles like those described by Freebody and Luke (1992).  Our aim is for them to move from simply readers who decode the texts, to readers who use them for a variety of purposes, who can relate them to other text that they have read, and who eventually can reflect on their meanings and purposes.

There are many who, locked within their narrow and limited conceptualizations of what literature is, fail to identify all that it can offer.  Literature is not just about story, it is about life, and one’s world.   I want to suggest that literature can fulfil many complex functions.  It can act as:

• a mirror to enable readers to reflect on life problems and circumstances;

• a source of knowledge;

• a source of ideological challenge;

• a means to peer into the past, and the future;

• a vehicle to other places;

• a means to reflect on inner struggles;

• an introduction to the realities of life and death;

• a vehicle for the raising and discussion of social issues.

Most books offer the potential to address many of these functions at once.  For example, Charlotte’s Web (E.B.White) simultaneously offers new knowledge about spiders and the animal world, addresses the complex issue of dying, and deals with many elements of the human condition, including love and companionship.  Summer of My German Soldier (B.Greene) on the other hand provides an insight into life in the second war and the difficulties of those trapped in one culture while being linked to another.  At the same time it raises numerous ideological issues for the reader to consider and address.

Literature offers “endless possibilities” for readers to explore their world and learn from it, to enter “other worlds” and to engage in meaning making  (Cairney, 1990).

Supporting readers as they encounter texts

In my book Pathways to Literacy I provide a framework for teachers to create classroom environments in which literacy development is fostered and supported. This framework has equal relevance for parents trying to help their children with literacy.  The following is a modified description from my book.

If you want to support your children as readers and writers you need to be actively involved.  Your role is not that of a silent passive observer. Your active support should take a variety of forms.  Let me outline the form that this support took:

˚ Raising interest in reading – get your children excited about literacy.  This can be achieved by:

Reading to your young children (those under 8 years) each day to share your excitement about literature; talk about books and read occasionally to your older children (9-12 years) regularly; talk about books and read with your teenagers.

Encouraging conversations about books just as you encourage talk about videos, movies, computer games;

Encouraging your children to share their reading with the family – encourage response.

˚ Simplifying the task of reading – reading and writing are hard, help to make the task easier. This can be achieved by:

helping your children to select books at an appropriate level;

introducing them to a variety of authors and literary forms in order to provide options for self selection;

reading some literature to them so that more difficult texts and authors are made accessible – you can start reading chapter books from about age 3-6;

providing a range of workshop strategies designed to focus reader attention on plot, characterization, and language (this will be discussed in more detail later);

Helping them with words that are difficult (help with sounds, whole words and word meanings).

˚  Maintaining the pursuit of the goal – we need to support our children to persist with reading and writing.  This can be achieved by:

Regularly having a ‘stock take’ of their reading and writing – talking about their books and the things they have been writing;

Providing books for them – give books as presents; encourage them to borrow from the school library; join the local library and take them for weekly visits to get a new batch of books;

Providing space in daily routines when they can read with you and by themselves – give a priority in your home for reading time.

˚  Noting inconsistencies in the children’s reading – this is about monitoring their reading and being sure that they are reading regularly. This can be achieved by:

Reading with or listening to your children read regularly (I’d suggest 3-4 times per week) and taking note of common problem words;

Encouraging older children to keep a personal record of their reading.

˚  Controlling frustration and risk during problem solving – this is all about helping to make reading easier for them.  This can be achieved by:

Avoiding competition between your children or with children outside the family in relation to their reading;

Encouraging your children to try new books, authors and literary forms even when uncertain;

Answering questions about books when they are confused by the language and the meaning;

Helping them to sound out words or simply giving them an unknown word when they stumble.

˚  Demonstrating the act of reading – this is all about showing your children that you value reading and are a reader yourself.  This can be achieved by:

Reading to your children in order to demonstrate the excitement of literature and language;

Demonstrating that you read books regularly and that you enjoy them and sharing something of your own reading with them;

Encouraging your children to tell others (family and non-family members) about their reading as well.