WORKING WITH PARENTS
The best reading advice for parents Timothy V. Rasinski, Kent State University _
Anthony D. Fredericks, York College
At any level of education, communica tion between teachers and the parents of their students is critical. The nature
of home/school communication fre
quently takes the form of classroom news or notes concerning a particular child's academic or social progress. Less frequent, yet of considerable im
portance, are the occasional tips and advice for parents on helping their
children in school. Usually presented in an informal manner, such advice
needs to be nonthreatening, easy to of
fer initially and to continue offering, and something that both parents and
children find rewarding. We have given some thought to the
best reading advice that could be given to parents regardless of grade or ability level of the child?advice that could be
presented effectively in an informal
way. Our candidate for the very best
generic advice that any teacher could
give any parent is this: Parents should read to their children. We feel quite strongly about this advice. Here's why.
Reasons why reading aloud is our best advice
First, reading to children is a rela
tively easy activity for both parents and children. The only elements
needed are a book (or some other read
ing material), a child, and some time.
Most importantly it's inexpensive, mu
tually rewarding, and requires very lit
tle training or explanation. Second, reading aloud is one of the
most effective techniques for promot
ing growth in reading. Several studies
have documented the important role
that reading aloud can play in literacy development throughout a child's life.
Children who are read to by their par ents are exposed to a wide range of vo
cabulary; they develop an internal sense of story and understand that
reading is a process of getting meaning from written symbols. Perhaps most
importantly, children who are read to are provided with the best role model for reading?their parents. Children understand that reading is something their parents value and that has func tional utility.
Third, and best of all, reading to children is an extremely enjoyable ac
tivity for both parent and child; the
simple act of spending a few quiet min utes together at the end of a bustling day can be an extraordinary pleasure. Reading aloud gives parents and chil dren a wonderful opportunity to be to
gether in a close, interactive, and
personal sort of way?a type of close ness not possible from watching televi sion together, playing games, or
traveling in the car.
Thus, regardless of the criteria used,
reading aloud is a superb activity to recommmend to parents. Even for older children reading aloud can be
very appropriate. One of the biggest mistakes made by parents who have read aloud to their children is to put an
end to this activity when a child enters the middle grades. Perhaps even more at the upper grades parents and chil dren need the kind of closeness that
reading aloud offers. We know of
many parents who continue to read to even teenage children. The secret, it
seems, is to read material that matches
the interest and maturity levels of the children.
We recommend that teachers fre
quently advise parents to read to their kids. This advice should be continu ous and ongoing?in notes home, on
school stationery, in the school news
letter, on signs in the school, and
throughout the community. Articles in the local newspaper and letters to the editor should extol the importance of
parents reading to their children. At school assemblies and during parent teacher conferences principals and teachers should issue this sound ad vice-not as a matter of policy, but as a
matter of practice.
Some tips for successful read-alouds
There's more we as teachers can do, however, than simply suggest to par ents that they read to their children.
We can give tips on how to ensure the success of at-home read-alouds. Small bits of timely advice can help guaran tee that parents and children find read
ing aloud a fun, worthwhile activity. Listed below are some important con
siderations on read-aloud that teachers
might want to pass on to the parents of their students. Make read-aloud part of a routine.
Read-aloud works best when it occurs
daily, usually at the same time and
place. Making reading aloud a part of a regular routine keeps it from being that "one extra task" that needs to be
accomplished. A daily time for read
ing also helps maintain the continuity for stories that require several days to
Reading to children immediately be fore or after dinner can often be the
perfect time of day for some families. Others may prefer to begin the bed
time ritual 15 minutes earlier than nor
mal so that children can be read to in
their beds. It's also a good idea to find one or two special places at home to
read to children. That special place could be in the child's bedroom, at the
344 The Reading Tfeacher January 1990
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family couch, near the fireplace, on
the porch, or even around the kitchen table. Family members should associ ate that special spot with reading. As children read more and more on their own they too will find a particular lo
cation that they prefer for their own
reading. Use good reading materials. If the
main purpose of reading aloud is to en
joy a good story, then parents should make sure they choose the very best literature to share with their children.
Teachers (especially those who share literature in their own classrooms) can
be a very good resource for parents in this regard. Teachers can recommend books based upon their own experi ences of reading to children that "can't
miss" with a particular age group. Teachers can also make it a point to share with parents books such as the
Newbery and Caldecott Award win ners (and honor books), Children's Choices selections, and the latest win ners of the state children's book award. Public libraries often make it a point to have multiple copies of these books on
hand, as well as their own lists of rec
ommendations, to maximize their cir culation.
Although books are the usual fare of
read-alouds, magazine and newspaper articles are also very timely and reflect current interests. We know of one par ent whose children love to hear the "Drama in Real Life" articles in issues of the Reader's Digest. Poetry is also fun to share with children and is read
ily available for children of all ages. Connect read alouds to family expe
riences. If there's one thing that we've learned from reading research it is that the best conditions for reading occur
when the reader knows, in advance,
something about or has an interest in the topic to be read. Sound advice to
pass on to parents, then, would be to
try to read about things that the family may be experiencing soon or has just recently experienced.
Trips to new places can be great op portunities to read about those places to children. For example, a visit to
Springfield, Illinois, can be an impetus for reading Lincoln: A Photobiogra
phy. Or a vacation to New England might be good inspiration for reading Johnny Tremain or My Brother Sam Is
Everyday experiences can also lead to read alouds. Picking berries can lead to Blueberries for Sal, and a nat
ure walk in which parents and children look for interesting rocks can be con
nected to Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Making these connections
heightens the anticipation of the expe rience and makes the experience and book more memorable.
Talk about what is read. We cer
tainly don't want to encourage turning read-aloud sessions into formal read
ing lessons. The major purpose of the
activity is enjoyment for both parents and children. Learning will occur nat
urally in informal interaction between
parents and children. We would encourage parents to
make the most of this interaction by talking with their children about the stories that are read. Parents shouldn't
quiz their children on the reading; but
they should answer the questions chil dren may have, share experiences or
stories that relate to the reading, and ask the children whether or not they liked the book and why. Allowing chil
dren to help choose the direction of the discussion fulfills their own needs for
learning and sharing information. Be a good model of reading. More
and more we hear about the impor tance of being a good model of reading for children. For poor readers this is
especially true. Less able readers are often placed in reading groups where the primary models for reading are the other poor readers in the group. This is
hardly an ideal situation.
Parents, grandparents, or older sib
lings, through their reading aloud, can be models of fluent reading. By read
ing expressively and with attention to
punctuation and phrasing, parents can demonstrate to their children what
good reading is like. By calling their children's attention to aspects of their
reading and by asking children to read aloud with them occasionally, parents can, in a relatively easy way, help
move their children toward more fluent
reading. Beyond this, the simple fact that par
ents take the time to read to their chil dren conveys to the children that
reading is an important activity.
Reading aloud to children is easy to
do, it's enjoyable, and it has definite educational value. Moreover, thou sands of parents (and teachers) engage in it on a regular basis and will attest to its merit. Few things in life enjoy such
superb reputations. Because reading aloud is so easy and
has proven value in children's learning to read, we strongly suggest that more schools and teachers make deter
mined, yearlong efforts to encourage, support, and help extend parents' read
ing aloud to their children. We would be delighted to hear about schools in which the teachers and administration have made read-aloud at home a prior ity of the school and a goal of every school family. In short, a school full of children whose parents read to them is a goal that is not only worthwhile, it can be accomplished.
Resources on reading aloud for parents Gross, J. (1986). Make your child a life-long
reader. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.
Grinnell, P.C. (1984). How can I prepare my young child for reading. Newark, DE: In
ternational Reading Association.
Roser, N.L. (1984). Helping your child be come a reader. Newark, DE: Interna tional Reading Association.
Trelease, J. (1989). The new read-aloud handbook. New York: Penguin.
Children's books cited Collier, J.L., & Collier, C. (1974). My brother
Sam is dead. New York: Four Winds Press.
Forbes, T. (1943). Johnny Tremain. Boston: Houghton Miff lin.
Freedman, R. (1987). Lincoln: A photobiog raphy. New York: Clarion Books.
McCloskey, R. (1963). Blueberries for Sal. New York: Viking.
Steig, W. (1969). Sylvester and the magic pebble. New York: Windemill.
Working with Parents is a column dealing with ways in which teachers might involve parents more in the learning of literacy abilities in school and at home. Send questions, comments, or suggestions about the column to Timothy Rasinski, Department of Teacher Development & Curriculum Studies, Kent State
University, Kent, OH 44242, USA.
WORKING WITH PARENTS 345
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Article Contentsp. 344p. 345
Issue Table of ContentsThe Reading Teacher, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Jan., 1990), pp. 277-352Front MatterFrom the Editors: The Editorial Process [pp. 278-280]Reading Recovery: Learning How to Make a Difference [pp. 282-295]Rose Mary's Reflections on Being a Reading Recovery Teacher [p. 287-287]The Story of Dante [pp. 288-292]Children's Literature and Global Education: Understanding the Developing World [pp. 296-300]Children's Books Cited [p. 300-300]The Past, Present, and Future of Literacy Education: Comments from a Panel of Distinguished Educators, Part I [pp. 302-311]Commentary: Let's Move toward Literature-Based Reading Instruction [pp. 312-315]Jerry Harste Speaks on Reading and Writing [pp. 316-318]Children's Books: Our Natural World [pp. 322-326]Instructional Resources: Reinforcement in Phonics Materials [pp. 328-329]Professional ResourcesEmergent Literacy: Children, Parents, and Teachers Together [p. 330-330]Review: untitled [p. 330-330]Review: untitled [pp. 330-331]Review: untitled [p. 331-331]
ERIC/RCS: Involving Parents in Reading Development [p. 332-332]Reading Technology: Reading Technology and the Brain [pp. 334-336]Assessment: A Portfolio Approach to Classroom Reading Assessment: The Whys, Whats, and Hows [pp. 338-340]Emerging Readers & Writers: Sharing Big Books [pp. 342-343]Concepts about Books and Print [p. 343-343]Working with Parents: The Best Reading Advice for Parents [pp. 344-345]Questions & Answers [pp. 346-347]In the ClassroomWhole Language [p. 348-348]Try It, You'll like It: Whole Language [pp. 348-349]From Crabgrass to Classroom [pp. 349-350]Mother Goose Is on the Loose [pp. 350-351]Boxes, Bottles, Bags, and Brochures [pp. 351-352]