reading and writing

Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: Beginning Readers too boring? Write your own!

Book cover of I'm Bored by Black & OhiQ: My youngest child is just learning to read, but she finds all the beginning reader books boring. Do you have any more exciting ones? 

A: Maybe! First let’s take a look at that section, to make sure you’ve seen the ones that young readers enjoy the most. Children’s Librarian Miriam Medow posted a great list online about a year ago, and we can get the beginning-readers that have won awards for being the most creative, imaginative, and engaging. Watermelon Seed by Pizzoli

However, from my observation, in families where someone reads aloud often, the kids get used to complex story lines and sophisticated vocabulary, making the beginning-reader books feel a little flat.

At school, your child will use beginning readers, and her teacher will go over phonics, spelling, grammar, and vocabulary. If the teacher’s instructions to read independently at home create unproductive, foot-dragging complaint-sessions, even though your child has always enjoyed listening to you read aloud, then I want to propose something radical:

Write your own books.Story Dictation cover by Gadzikowski

I’m not just saying this because it’s National Novel Writing Month right now; this idea has a solid educational basis.

Children learn to read by connecting the lines of text on paper to sounds, words, and meanings that already exist in their minds. The text is interesting when the meanings are interesting - and your child is probably interested in lots of things!

Your job is simple; you will take dictation and then read it aloud to her. Her job is fun; she will tell you what to write and then read it aloud to you.

How to do it:

You can do this on paper or on a computer, whichever feels best to you both.  Get set up so that both of you can see the page or the screen. Ready? You could invite your daughter to...

  • ...make up a story about anything she can imagine,  
  • ...describe what she sees in a photo, drawing, painting, or out the window,A page from a story written & illustrated by a Kindergartener.
  • ...re-tell a story she knows. It could be a movie, a book, a story, or a song,
  • ...draw a picture and then describe it, or...
  • ...tell you how to do something. Ask her to tell all the steps, starting from the beginning.

Click here to see samples.

Some suggestions:

  • As she is talking, write down everything she says. You can choose to include or to leave out “Umm…” and other little sounds people make as they wait for the next word to come to them.
  • Don’t correct her choice of words, her grammar, or her logic. Write it down just as she says it. With any luck, you & she will write several of these stories, and you will be amazed to see how her style and her sophistication develop over time.
  • If she hesitates or seems stuck, offer to read back to her what she said so far. Ask her if you have it right. Make any changes or corrections she suggests.
  • You can make it into a little book, with her drawings for illustrations, by printing out just a sentence on each page, or you can print it out as a one-page story. Collect them in a folder, so she can re-read them anytime.A page from a parent's book for a Kindergartener
  • If your child is not inspired by this idea, you could write a story for her. Illustrate it with photos from her own life, magazine collage pictures, or pictures she drew herself. When she reads it to you, you will notice how it builds her sight-words and her fluency.

Bring your story to the library; I would love to read it, too!

Writing and Reading

The skills needed to learn how to read and write are connected in children's brains.  In order to ready your child for reading, try some of these easy and fun writing activities:

FOR BABIES:  Of course your baby is not ready to read or write just yet, but learning to recognize shapes is the first step towards acquiring those skills. So point out different shapes you see and describe them to your child.  Find things that are round, such as balls, and let your child explore them.  Boxes are all around you; let your child play with a cardboard box and talk about squares and rectangles.  Playing with simple shape and color puzzles will also help develop these skills.

FOR TODDLERS:  Keep playing with shapes but also have fun introducing alphabet letters.  Toddlers love hearing their names,  Expand the sound of your toddler's name by writing it on all sorts of surfaces, on paper, with blocks or magnetic letters, on chalkboards or even with water.  Identify each of the letters in their name.

Child Drawing

Print is everywhere.  Help your child notice alphabet letters by pointing out the names on food containers, words on road signs and names of stores. Point out letters to your toddler as you go through your day.  

Let your toddler try writing!  Scribbles are a great way of strengthening their fine motor skills.  Fat crayons are great at helping them grip crayons without their breaking. 

FOR PRESCHOOLERS:  Play "I Spy" to find letters in the room.  Silently choose something that your child can see.  Say, "I spy with my little eye something that starts with the letter (name a letter)  What is it?"

Play games like "We are going to a place to eat whose name begins with the letter "B."  Where do you think we are going?"

Sing the alphabet song while pointing to the letters of the alphabet.

Writing can be done anywhere: in the sand or dirt, on a chalkboard, in a pan filled with rice or flour, with a piece of yarn, with blocks, and even in the tub. Make writing letters a game you play every day.