'Read' the World: the beginning of reading comprehension
© Beverley Paine, 2004
When a child looks at a picture and can tell you something about what's happening in the picture, they are reading. If we learn to see 'stories' in everything we do we encourage our children to be readers. Decoding squiggles on a page isn't the act of reading; reading is the act of deriving meaning from those squiggles. The alphabet is a complex code that allows us to build potent images in our minds that have meaning, in a personal and shared sense. In ancient times we drew pictures, now we write. It's faster and more efficient and makes books easier to carry around!
I've always told my children that they are readers, even when they were toddlers. I've encouraged them to tell me 'stories' about what they see, respecting their versions and refusing to judge their words as right, wrong, correct or incorrect... We'd talk about the subject and I'd tell them they had 'read' the picture or the scene unfolding before them.
You may have been lucky to have been taught by a teacher who understood that reading is about working out how one stands in relation to a text, what it means personally, how the words and ideas enlarges your world and point of view... There is no reason why you can't do this with your own children from the very beginning. As they grow older they will 'read' everything in their lives in this way, growing strong, assertive and confident, with a level of self and community awareness that astounds their peers.
In primary schools they call the above process the development of reading comprehension skills... It's much easier to develop comprehension skills reading for information. "How many cups of flour does it say?" I might ask. Or "Am I putting the model together correctly?" and we'd both read the instructions to check. We're convinced that Roger learned to read by studying Lego catalogues for hours on end... Thomas did the same thing with computer ad magazines. Eventually the squiggles on the page began to make sense. It wasn't overnight, as I've seen happen with some children. It was a long, no-fuss, gradual process, taken in their own time, and on their own terms.
Reading comprehension skills come easy to children whose parents naturally engage them in conversation about what is being read. You can read to a child for pleasure or information, but if you enrich that experience by talking about what you've read, you are encouraging your child to make meaning, his own personal meaning, from the text. That's what I call learning!
You don't have to pepper your child with questions. Begin a conversation with a reflective comment or a question directed at no-one in particular, or perhaps even yourself: "I don't understand what that paragraph says. I wonder what the author means." You may get some interesting interpretations. No one has to be 'right' or 'wrong'; it's simply a stepping stone to an interesting and informing conversation. You and your child will be sitting alongside the author, making meaning from his or her words, extending the text into your world. As an author of fiction and non-fiction myself, nothing is more gratifying than this process!
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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