Dr. Steven Witt is passionate about literacy. He is of the opinion that, to share the joys of reading with a child is to give them the building blocks for understanding the world.
5 Steps to promote child literacy
With a number of credentials in literacy education under his belt, plus five children and six grandchildren of his own, Witt feels strongly about encouraging young ones to love literature. And Witt puts his passion to good use at Concordia as the director of CUW’s Graduate Education program. He’s also a published author and an ardent researcher.
Experiences throughout his life and his ongoing research have served to make him even more convinced of the importance of literacy advocacy. Foremost, Witt emphasizes that understanding language is imperative in that it is how God gives us his saving Word. Furthermore, he says that research unequivocally shows that children who read become more successful in relationships, school, and many other facets of life. Parents, siblings, educators, and mentors of all kinds unilaterally agree on the importance of instilling a love of reading.
Help your child avoid the literacy “summer slide”
With the summer season, however, comes the dreaded “summer slide” (i.e. the term used to describe the academic regression statistically demonstrated to occur in students over the summer). In order to combat a stall in your child’s academic progress this upcoming season, Witt offers five tips to keep a child interested in reading and continuing to grow in the world of the written word.
If you’re an educator looking for more tips on how to promote literacy within your classroom, look into attending this summer’s 2021 Literacy Institute, or check out the new edition of Dr. Witt’s preferred textbook, Opportunities: Transforming Educational Research and Teaching Practices.
Step 1: Visit the public library every week
Witt notes that research shows that giving access to books is one of the most important factors in successfully teaching children to read. To the benefit of all, you never have to look too far to find reading materials. Public libraries offer an abundance of books for all ages, helpful librarians, and a very nurturing environment for the child. Schedule a summer outing to your local library and you’ll find limitless choices for children to find something interesting for them to digest.
What if your library hasn’t reopened yet?
If your local library is closed due to the pandemic, there are other free options.
“Little Libraries” are continually popping up in neighborhoods and public areas nationwide, and school book fairs, garage sales, or online shopping offer great (and inexpensive) options for stocking up on books. There’s no reason to spend too much or try too hard to find a great book for a child.
Step 2: Help your kids discover their “just right books”
The best books for children to read are the ones they’re interested in. Witt says that finding the right genre, author, or topic can deeply spark a lasting interest in reading in general. It could be comic books, magazines, or even books that have more pictures than not.
Like finding a pair of shoes for your kid, the right book has to fit. When a child is entertained by their reading pursuits, it builds a confidence in their abilities, and they’ll surely want to share what they’ve learned with everyone. Around the third grade, Witt says much of a child’s reading is consumed by textbooks for school, which can be an intimidating change. With a solid foundation in reading prior to this, it can be much more approachable for the young pupil.
Step 3: Model the pleasure of reading with your own “just right” books
“Just like smiles are contagious, so is reading,” says Witt. Children learn the most by watching others, especially the people they look up to. When brothers, sisters, and those surrounding a child read, they will often follow suit. It rubs off on them.
To kindle a passion for literacy, parents should share what they’re reading and what they enjoy about it. Summarize what the material is about and their curiosity will take over in a positive way. They may find the same interests as you, and even if the topic is a little beyond their understanding, it will give them something to aspire to.
Step 4: Ask questions, make inferences, and predict endings
Engage in a dialogue when helping kids understand what they’re reading. It is a great opportunity to practice more nuanced communication and look deeper into the books they have. Witt suggests several topics to practice discussing with a child. He says to identify themes and summarize plots. Making personal connections is especially valuable. Why does a character act in a certain way? What would I do in their situation? Dr. Witt explained that reading is a mirror to the self. Looking at characters helps to understand people and how they interact with the world.
We do this same thing through movies says Witt, and it is important that children learn about the world as well through the lens of written works. At a certain point children may like to be part of a book club, which can be an especially helpful social experience to relate what sticks out to them to kids their own age.
Step 5: Journal your summer reading
Needless to say, reading and writing go hand-in-hand. Help your child log what they’re reading, the genre, and the author to help keep track of a child’s progress over the summer. This can help them identify their “just right” books from the bunch. They can write what they notice in their books and other important observations as mentioned. The chance to practice writing through journaling books will help a child read independently, which is an important goal in teaching lasting literacy.
With each of these steps, take advantage of those moments of free time in your days and use it to practice one of the most valuable skills they will ever obtain. By encouraging children to find pleasure in literacy, other things seem to fall in place.
This post was originally published on May 22, 2019. It has been updated to reflect current information.
— Kai Goldenstein is a student writer and senior year Social Work major, minoring in German
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