Q&A: How to Promote Literacy at Home

Families and educators share an important partnership in children’s education, particularly when it comes to literacy. The path to success begins at home. How can parents and families help a child learn to read? What should they do if their child is struggling? We talked to Tanya Elliott, a Title I Reading Specialist at Byrd Elementary School in Goochland County, to find out.
In your opinion, what are the most important things families can do to support their child’s literacy in the early years, and grades K-3?

One of the most important things families can do to improve literacy is to read together. By reading together, a child can hear what good reading sounds like, increase vocabulary and spend time with a family member engaging in a book. Another important thing to do is to have conversations. This allows the child to develop communication skills for both speaking and listening.

What advice would you give to families that want to help but feel short on time (e.g. single parents, parents working multiple jobs)?

In today’s busy world, it is difficult to carve out time. However, the rewards for doing this can be invaluable. Try to find the time within your current schedule. For example, if you are in the car going from one activity to the next, unplug from technology and have a conversation. Have your child read to you or play a word game.  This same concept can be taken home. While fixing dinner, have the child in the kitchen helping, reading to you or just having a conversation about the day.

What are some of the most important milestones on the path to literacy? How do educators and families know when a student is not on track?

Prior to beginning school, a child should be exposed to books. Reading helps a child to learn to hold a book, turn the pages and learn to read from left to right. Also, the child will move from scribbling on paper to beginning to form letters when able to practice.

Once in school, a child will learn the letters (upper and lower case) and sounds. He/she will finally be able to identify beginning, middle and ending sounds in words. A child needs to be able to first identify, then produce rhymes. Moving forward, a child should be able to first listen to a story and then retell the events of the story. Once a child can read independently they will move from learning to read to reading to learn.

What are some tools parents and schools can use to help students who are falling behind?

One of the most important things parents can do is to expose a child to books by reading and discussing books with them beginning at birth. Exposing a child to books is critical in the developmental years and should not wait until a child is in school. In the first five years of life, children are learning about sounds, words, letters, sentences, vocabulary and more from the first and most important teacher – a parent!  Read to a child even when a child can read independently.

If a child is falling behind in school, the parent needs to communicate with the teacher to see exactly where the child may need extra help. It may be as easy as playing word games to learn more sight words (the, where, any, etc.) or reading poetry to help with fluency. Also, expose your child to as much enriching vocabulary as possible. Hands-on experiences and conversations will help a child’s vocabulary grow.

When you look across the region, are there any new trends – positive or negative – you’re seeing when it comes to early and elementary literacy?

Advancements in technology are probably the biggest trend. When it comes to early literacy, exposure to books and spending time reading and discussing books are critical. There are many sites that allow a child to listen to a story and interact with it. There are also many great games that can be used on devices. But parents need to make sure that they find balance with technology, books and conversation.

Tanya Elliott has taught in public education for over twenty years as a classroom teacher, an instructional coach, a reading specialist and an administrator – all in Title I schools. Her favorite part about being in education is building relationships with her students and helping them to be successful in life. Follow Tanya: @tanyaselliott.