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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

Helping Parents Help Their Children Arlyne LeSchack

All parents want to help their children, but they may not know exactly what to do when it comes to literacy development. Here are some ideas you can share with your student's parents:

Playing Games Together
Young children learn as they play and word games are a good way for children to practice what they are learning about sounds, letters and spelling. Parents can play a variation of "I Spy" with their children, using the names of family, characters in favorite books, or characters on TV. When playing “I Spy” with early literacy learners, provide the initial sound as the clue, instead of the first letter. For example, “I spy with my little eye someone whose name begins with sshh“ (for Sharon.) Assure parents that it is normal for their children to want to play the same games over and over. This accomplishes many positive things, including building the child’s confidence. Tell parents that repetition might be less than stimulating for them, but it is an essential part of a child’s learning.

Reading Together
Of course parents can have children read their books from school, but it's very important for them to keep reading to children. Advise parents to read favorite books to children and let the children chime in with bits they know. Try reading longer stories or chapter books that can be read a chapter each day. Also, read for information, not just stories for entertainment.

Parents should make sure their children see reading going on at home. Parents should read newspapers, magazines, books etc. They should encourage children to read directions when doing something at home, and read signs and posters outside. When children get stuck on particular words, give parents the following strategies to help their children:

  • Stretch out the words (or sound out).
  • Look at picture clues.
  • Read the other words around the one you don't know.
  • Look for small words within a larger word that they already know.
  • Use a second strategy when the first one doesn't work.

Parents should give their children lots of praise when they manage to work out a word for themselves.

Writing Together
Following are a few ideas for parents to encourage their children to write.

  • Get the children involved in the writing of shopping lists.
  • Encourage children to write letters to other people in the family.
  • Parents should provide their children with pens, pencils, erasers, and a notebook for them to write their own stories at home or for just jotting down ideas.
  • Advise parents not to worry too much about their child's spelling; children will gradually learn the spelling patterns and rules, but first they need the confidence to just have a go at writing.
  • Parents can heop develop their child’s writing and spelling skills by asking their children to listen for the sounds in the words as they try to write them. Students will probably be able to hear the first and last sounds more easily than those in the middle of words.
  • Parents can write a word for their child correctly and let the child look at it carefully, cover it up and then see if the child can write it on their own.
  • Parents should always encourage their children to read back what they have written and praise their attempts at writing.
  • Parents can get ideas for writing topics by talking to children about things they have know well. Have the child draw a picture and then write about it.

Making Things Together
Making things together might not seem like a literacy activity but talking and listening are a very important part of the learning process. When you make something together, you have to read the instructions and talk about them. Doing this together can help children gain confidence in their reading and writing skills.

The parent can integrate an artistic element by making a scrapbook with the child. They can draw a picture of some place they went, perhaps incorporating a ticket stub, postcard, and other souvenir. Then have the child write his or her own story about the trip.

Suggesting these four activities to parents will no doubt enhance their child's literacy development and it will make your job easier as a teacher. Any questions or comments, please contact me at aleschack@aol.com.


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