A lot of debate exists on the teaching of reading. Researchers spend decades studying how children and adults learn to read. Educators implement the latest trends in the classroom to ensure that students learn reading skills as early and as thoroughly as possible. And the nation’s lawmakers rush to back proficiency-based testing that supports whatever research and trends are in vogue at the moment.
But, the truth is that, for most children, reading happens, or should happen, naturally. Like many other skills that children master, reading is no exception. Natural reading is less the result of a specific and goal-oriented drive to ensure that kids read by a magical milestone date than the result of natural reading development.
In many ways, language acquisition and reading go hand in hand. As parents and educators, we rarely dedicate much time to teaching language unless a child needs to learn a non-native language. Most people just assume that language develops as a natural part of normal development. And they’re right. For most children, reading is as natural as speaking and happens in much the same way.
Children learn by watching and doing. They learn to walk, talk, smile, and play all as a result of modeling the behavior of the people around them. Most children, given the opportunity, will learn reading just as naturally. This means that adults and older siblings who model reading behavior are actually teaching reading.
Parents who enjoy reading and read the daily newspaper, magazines, books, and other reading material, model reading for their children. Preschool and early grade teachers who read to the children in their classrooms and create enjoyable story time scenarios model reading for their students. And, siblings and other children that early readers spend time with that enjoy reading and read to younger children, model reading behavior. Young children want to do the same!
Natural reading opportunities abound for young children. And savvy parents can watch as the miracle of words not only spurs a child’s verbal development, but that child’s joy of reading as well. It’s amazing to watch as a child naturally challenges him/herself to learn to read. Anyone not convinced of this need only watch a child engrossed in an educational television show or exploring an older sibling’s book or magazine.
Children are natural learners. They need little incentive to acquire new skills. All a parent or other adult needs to do is to make sure that each child has the tools they need to explore the world around them. We know that children naturally develop language skills. What most people fail to consider is that language develops as a result of being exposed to language. Just as a child would never be expected to develop normal language skills without ever hearing spoken words, it is nearly impossible for a child to naturally develop reading skills without books, educational television, or some other form of exposure to the written word.
So, in addition to sharing the written word with children through story time, shared reading, modeling behavior, and schooling, parents and other adults can encourage natural reading by intentionally planting opportunities for reading such as tuning in an educational television show that explores reading, leaving the cereal box on the table for children to explore, and stocking the home and learning environment with books, educational toys, and a genuine love for reading.
But, I don’t have all the answers either.
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