There is nothing more important than reading when it comes to the education of young children.
Yesterday one of my co-workers told me that she'd read my planning and noticed that I'd been focussing on literacy experiences. She said she'd been trying to think of ways to incorporate literacy into the program. I said something like, "you know what? Just read to them". Maybe this sounds overly simplistic, but I believe it 100%. I know it's not always easy to fit into the program. When I read to children I like to be able to give them my full attention. Children become frustrated when you have to stop halfway through a story. Sometimes I have to tell them that I can't read to them because I have to watch the other children or because I have to talk to a parent. I wish that I had more time to spend on uninterrupted reading with the children.
The plots and characters that children encounter through stories pop up all over the place in their play, even if we don't intentionally plan literacy experiences for them. They represent them in their artwork. They create dramatic games around them. Through their play they are working through the themes, issues and questions that concern or interest them. As well as gaining large quantities of content and theoretical knowledge, they are receiving the benefits of understanding and coming to terms with their own complex emotions and the potentially confusing social worlds in which they are existing. The fact that very young children can't read to themselves means that as well as working through these ideas in their play, we are always there to respond to their comments and questions and support their understandings.
Reading helps children to become writers. Children learn language through hearing spoken language. When children hear their siblings or other children speak they learn simple language. When they hear adults speak they hear more complex language. When they listen to books being read to them they absorb even more formal language. They are hearing complex sentence structures, unusual vocabulary and descriptive phrases. Our ability to write and the quality of our writing throughout life reflects the language that we absorb as children. The more we read and the better quality writing that we are exposed to the more chance we will have of becoming competent and effective writers and verbal communicators.
Children have been known to learn to read on their own simply by being read to. By the time they start school they will have come to understand many concepts that we haven't intentionally taught them. Yesterday I was reading 'The cat in the hat' to a group of 3-5 year olds. We had to keep stopping the story as they kept reeling off strings of rhyming words. They don't need to be taught rhyming because they have heard it over and over again through their stories. They enjoy the sound of rhyming words and the challenge of finding them. They have learned shapes, colours and counting. They have learned all about animals, countries, the weather, people's occupations and so many other things. Children will love reading because they love to learn.
We just have to remember to keep this enthusiasm going as they enter school. Let children take ownership of their reading by choosing stories. Let them use the internet. Take them to the bookshop or the library. Don't let reading become about success or failure. Don't let it become a competition. Try not to let reading become a source of stress. Let children reach their own educational milestones in their own time. If you think a child has a learning difficulty definitely seek professional support for them. If not, maybe you're just not reading enough. Just read.