Parents want to help, but barriers may exist: long work days, the ghosts of their own school failures, insecurities with English, or simply not knowing other parents or teachers at your school. The parents also may have grown up in a culture that saw school and home as separate, with teachers alone being expected to take care of school issues.
Even when parents do try to help, they may not recognize signs of progress: the growing command of directionality, the attempts at using phonics, the child's enjoyment while reading even when the words aren't rapidly decoded. The parents may instead focus only on the correctness of individual words, inadvertently discouraging their new reader.
Despite these barriers, parents do care. So, your invitations to parents are twofold: to see reading with new eyes, and to encourage their children as they discover how reading works.
Activities to Try
These ideas may help start the conversation about books and reading in children's homes.
Ã¢â Baggy Books Put a familiar book in a bag with ideas for talking points and prompts parents can use if a child runs into difficulty with a word or idea.
Ã¢â Reading newsletter Send home one-page newsletters celebrating children's accomplishments to show parents things to notice about children's reading. You could also recommend bedtime read-alouds available from the library. Translate newsletters into the home language(s), and suggest titles of books for emergent readers written in the home languages.
Ã¢â Teacher field trip Go with other teachers and instructional aides to apartment clubhouses or area churches to celebrate student work and meet parents in their comfort zone.
Clip and share these prompts for questioning and discussion with parents.
Ã¢â What's the message? Focus on the message of the book no matter how simple. Ask your child:
What was your favorite part?
Which character did you like? Why?
Did this story remind you of something that has happened to you?
Ã¢â Word trouble When your child struggles with a word in the book, first wait and give your child thinking time to figure the word out on his own. If the child still can't solve the word, ask one or two of these questions:
What would make sense there?
What could you try?
What do you think it could be?
Do you know a word that starts like that?
If these prompts don't help, give your child the word and praise him or her for trying, saying, "You worked hard on that!" or "You are doing good reading work!"
The Bottom Line
We both have favorite books that have helped us in our work with parents. The classic is Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook. Other great titles include Lucy Calkins's Raising Lifelong Learners: A Parent's Guide, Dorothy Butler and Marie Clay's Reading Begins at Home, and Debby Charna and Wendy Roush's The Partners' Handbook. We hope these titles will help you as you launch these children and their parents into a lifelong love of reading.
Deborah Corpus and Ann Giddings are the authors of Planning & Managing Effective Reading Instruction Across the Content Areas (Scholastic, 2010).