December 6, 2004
Allowing a child to slouch in front of the television after dinner might not seem like an effective way to teach reading.
But Jim Trelease, author of "The Read Aloud Handbook" and a frequent speaker at Parent University in the Mesa Unified School District, tells parents that television can be a powerful tool to teach reading.
Especially if parents remember that the federal government has required all televisions since 1993 to have closed captioning.
Trelease said this means children can literally read their favorite programs with the volume turned off — when they think they’re just zoning out in front of their favorite show.
The strategy is one of many that East Valley reading specialists offer to parents anxious to take an active role in their children’s education.
MOVING AT THE RIGHT SPEED
Trelease said the television technique could never replace the most important tool available to parents: Reading to their children and setting an example by reading themselves.
Although hearing a parent read aloud can benefit children of all ages, Trelease said he cautions parents to work with their children at an appropriate speed.
He dismissed the idea that all children should be force-fed the written language as soon as they are out of diapers.
"While we have instant pudding and instant photography, there are no instant adults," he said. "We have a tendency to think we can just force kids to read sooner. But in order to read you must take something concrete like a stick and be able to reduce it to an abstraction, to just a word."
Nevertheless, Trelease said if a child is not reading by third grade, parents should investigate possible causes. These might include a learning disability, vision or hearing problems, immaturity or social issues at school.
Educators stress reading by third grade because in fourth grade schools begin to require independent reading at home to obtain new information.
A WORD AGAINST PICTURES
Jessie Wise, author of "The Ordinary Parents’ Guide to Teaching Reading," advises parents not to get too carried away with illustrations and games — which she said can be detrimental if they make a child believe the games and pictures are the only reason reading is fun.
"I don’t use pictures at all," she said, adding that a child should be taught to think of a letter’s sound rather than a word — such as "cat" for C.
"My advice is to use games to supplement what you’re teaching in print, and not substitute real teaching with games," Wise said.
Teaching a child to read is not as difficult as it might seem, she said, if a parent is consistent and follows a proven method.
Patti Bradley, a reading specialist at Chandler’s Bologna Elementary School, works with children who have problems with phonics and reading comprehension.
She said the best way for educators to reach each child is to try every tool in their arsenal. Tools she recommends include:
• Partner reading: The parent and child take turns reading a page. When the parent reads, the child points at the words, and when the child reads, the parent points at the words.
• Echo reading: The parent reads one or two sentences, and then the child reads the same passage as the parent points to the words.
• Comprehension checks: The child reads a paragraph or two and then tells the parent what they read in their own words. This helps ensure the child is not just calling out words without understanding what they mean.
• Foreshadowing: It can help a child remember words and concepts if they have an idea in advance what a story is about. The parent can read the page first or tell the child a little about it in advance.
Bradley said parents should introduce words to their children first that follow basic phonics rules, rather than words with unexpected spellings.
Bradley agreed with Trelease that parents should not panic if they notice that neighbor children are progressing faster with reading than their own children.
"If they don’t get it right away, don’t worry about it," Bradley said. "Some kids learn to read earlier than others."
Fun with words
Ten ways to make reading fun with your children:
• Read the daily newspaper with your children and start a family ritual where each member is assigned a certain section of the paper.
• When your children come home from school, have them draw some of the activities they did. Have them write a few sentences about each picture, and then read the sentences.
• Have your children review the television schedule to see if they can find their favorite shows.
• Have your children make their own cartoons, or cut pictures from magazines, and write captions.
• Have your children make bookmarks with pictures from a favorite book, then have them write a few sentences about why the book is their favorite.
• Ask your children to check for accuracy in newspaper weather forecasts. Have them give weekly forecasts to the family based on their research.
• Let your children choose a toy or game from a mail-order catalog and have them write a note explaining why they would like the gift.
• Ask your children to write down words they recognize around them, and place all the words in a Word Box. Later, they can use the words to write stories.
• Start a daily journal with your children. The parent can write first and then leave the journal for the children to read and respond.
• Have your children help with food shopping by cutting coupons and creating a grocery list.
Source: The Arizona Parent and Educational Resource Center
To borrow books on reading techniques for your child, visit your local school or the Arizona Parent and Educational Resource Center at