Sunday, 18 August 2013

Why should they read?

We all know that we should be reading to our babies from as young as possible. We discuss which is better: zoo phonics, jolly phonics or letterland phonics. We ask perspective kindergartens at what age will my child be able to read. But have we thought about why we want our kids to read?

Is it to enter Primary 1 well-equipped to handle the worksheets? Is it the better their command of English, the higher they will score at PSLE? Or the better their results, the better their future career prospects? It is only when you know why you want your child to read, can you decide on how you want your child to learn to read. 
Our home library
Here's my story on their ABCs...

#1 started kindergarten at the age of 3. I knew we had to send our children to kindergarten but was totally unaware of this whole enrichment business out there as I had no interactions whatsoever with other mummies. As we were the first amongst our siblings and friends to have children, I didn't have anyone to turn to for advice.

Before long, I made friends with my daughter's best friend's mummy. She asked me what enrichment I was going to sign my daughter up for, as the school offered a different enrichment after school every day. I was surprised. "Enrichment? What for? Is it good?" She said it doesn't matter whether it is good or not as they will still learn something. Her rationale was that as she was busy working the whole day, it was at least better than letting her daughter watch TV at home. Her daughter had the whole array of enrichment classes, including phonics. She could read well enough by the end of N2.

My daughter on the other hand, could hardly read a single word even at the end of K1. She was having a miserable time in school as the teacher would ask the children to name 5 things beginning with the letter 'S' and she was the only one who couldn't. She would be punished by being made to stand at the corner of the class. I was shocked. I couldn't understand why the teacher punished my daughter for not knowing when she was the one who had been teaching her the whole of that year. In fact, shouldn't she be angry at herself for not being able to have taught her well? 

I started to find out why all the other kids were better than her and was surprised to discover that almost all of them had phonics enrichment outside of school. I also learnt that many of the parents were involved in their kid's education, meaning they either read to their kids frequently or made them do assessment books at home (yes, at the age of 4 or 5). I thought to myself, ok, things must have changed tremendously from my day when anything to do with school was confined to school. I have to admit I felt rather disconcerted that we seemed to have to 'top up' more work just to get by, on top of what was taught in kindergarten.


Anyway, I pulled her out of that kindergarten and transferred her to a Catholic kindergarten. Things were very different there. The whole atmosphere was different. The pace was slower, the children were calmer, the teachers were more loving. And nobody was punished for not knowing their work. I was happy and so was she. Then came shock number 2. She enrolled for Primary 1 and we went for Orientation day. As all the excited K2 students streamed into the hall, I could hear them reading quotes off the walls. They could read words like "wisdom", "praise" and "diligence". I was dumfounded. #1 couldn't even read "Cat".

I called up my one and only 'mummy' friend. I related the incident to her and she gave me a whole spiel about how #1 will lag behind if she can't read. It will snowball and she will find it hard to catch up and her self-esteem will be affected. She will also have difficulties with Math as she would not be able to read instructions like "Underline the bigger objects". She recommended a phonics centre and I signed #1 up the very next week. In 2 months, she was able to read fluently enough for P1 standard.

I started getting concerned about #2 who was then in K1, and monitored her reading. Luckily she had an enthusiastic young teacher who followed their class up from K1 to K2. She was very diligent and was able to get the whole class prepared for P1. Not only could #2 read well, but she was able to write simple sentences on her own! I was relieved.

When #2 went to P1, I attended a dinner at her school. At our table was an English tutor of 20 years who previously taught at a prestigious primary school. She was sharing with us parents that there is no point in drilling our children with assessment books. It is much better to get them to read vocariously as they will then have a very strong foundation on which to build on. She kept telling us to get our kids to read, read, read.

So that was just what I did. I told #2 that she had to start reading. I did not have time to read to her as by then I had 5 kids under the age of 8. You can imagine how crazy things were around the house. I bought her a lot of books and she read everyday. Her aunt knew she loved reading and bought her a French classic children's book called 'Nicholas' which was translated into English. When she visited again about 2 weeks later she enquired if she had finished reading the book so that she could purchase the sequel. #2 replied, "Yes, I have finished reading it... 3 times." She went on to read classics like Anne of Green Gables, Heidi and Little Women.

Sadly, #1, #3 and #4 did not pick up a love of reading as they were not introduced to books from young. As for #5, things started getting less chaotic when he was around 2 years old. By then I knew how important it is to read to your child. I also had more time to spend with him in the mornings as the other 4 were in school. So I read to him every morning. We would go to the library and borrow heaps of books. He loved being read to. He would gather a pile of about 10 - 15 books each day and plonk them on the sofa. We read for about 30 - 45 mins each time.

I read the stories straight through without talking about the pictures or discussing the characters. His teachers commented that he had a nice rhythm to his reading. Most of the other children could also read well, but they sounded flat. That must have been a result of listening to me read to him all the time. He also did well in journal writing as he was brimming with ideas. Reading gave him a wide vocabulary and a whole pool of ideas to draw from. 

So now, why do I want Kate to be able to read?

I have decided that besides the undeniable need for her to be prepared for primary school and to fare well in her future exams, I want her to grow up to love and embrace reading. To be excited to open a book, to discover a different world within. To broaden her mind, to read a wide variety of subjects. To question what she is reading and to draw her own conclusions. To discuss with like-minded individuals what she has read. To be immersed in the richness of poetry. To enjoy reading Bronte, Dickens and Hemingway. For time to stand still when she reads.

What strategy am I going to employ with Kate?

I'm not going to be caught up about whichever type of reading method they use at the pre-school I will enrol her in. I will be wary however if her teacher makes reading a bore or a chore. But ultimately, as with most things, reading begins at home.

I will: 
  • Read aloud to her daily (But not just straight through. I will share how to read to her in another post)
  • Expose her to all genres of books
  • Make a trip to the library a monthly family routine
  • Have regular reading sessions with her (we can find a lovely picnic spot, she reads her book and I read mine)
  • Never make reading a punishment or a bribe
  • Ensure she reads good books, both in language and content
Sane tip: When your child loves reading, she can spend hours by herself immersed in her book. You can either read with her (ah, how relaxing) or you are free to do your own thing.

Save tip: Our local libraries are quite impressive these days. Check out the children's section at the Central Public Library at Bras Basah. Form book circles with other mummy friends. Each family can purchase a series of books and then swap them around.

Other related posts:

Tips for reading with your child
Help! My toddler refuses to read
The Groovy Giraffe - Great books at great prices

~ www.mummyweeblog.com - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

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