Child Literacy Development Takes Teamwork
The ability of a young child to develop reading and writing skills
is often dependent on how well parents and teachers work together as
partners in ensuring a child's educational success, says an Alma
College faculty authority on literacy.
"In a perfect world, parents and teachers work together to ensure children are developing reading and writing skills," says Peggy Thelen, an assistant professor of education at Alma. "However, in today's fast-paced society, parents often overlook their important role in children's literacy development.
"We see more parents who are so busy that they don't even take the time to attend school-related family nights or parent-teacher conferences," she says. "Issues related to divorce, unemployment and poverty also can interfere with a parent's ability to take an active role in the education of his or her child."
Children develop literacy skills by participating in activities involving reading, writing, speaking, listening and viewing. Children who engage in these kinds of activities are better prepared for today's school curriculum, says Thelen.
"My research looks at the responsibility of teaching emerging literary skills that lead to fluency," she says. "Who is it that helps these students in the early years? Many important emerging literacy skills must be taught, so unless someone provides opportunities to learn these skills, children may begin school with inadequate literacy-related skills."
The learning gap can begin as early as kindergarten for those children who don't have the requisite emerging literacy skills. They are behind before they get started, says Thelen.
"Unfortunately, some homes don't provide opportunities for children to interact with materials that support early literacy," says Thelen. "Intervention services like the federally funded early Head Start program give students opportunities to participate in settings that stimulate them. Most communities have intervention programs in place, but it's not enough. Teachers do their best in the schools but also count on support at home. In some cases, parents are unaware of the tremendous impact they have on their child's literacy development."
The home environment is considered a significant factor in a child's development of literacy skills, says Thelen. Parents have the potential to make a crucial contribution.
"Read to your children every day," advises Thelen. "Talk to your child. Ask open-ended questions. Point out objects and label them. Give them experiences -- a bike ride, a visit to the zoo, a walk in the woods. Then talk to them about it. Outside-the-home experiences enrich a child's vocabulary. Language development is an important factor in future reading success."
The challenge for teachers is that their expectations and attitudes for literacy development often are different than those of parents. The key to resolving different expectations is communication.
"Parents are a child's first and best teacher," she says. "So when the child goes to school, the parent and teacher should be partners. The teacher should ask the parent about the child, and the parent should be honest with the teacher about the child's literacy development. There should be an on-going dialog. Parents should know what their child is doing in school. Parents and teachers should have the same goals for their children."
Preparing pre-service teachers on how to communicate with parents is an important aspect of Alma's education program. Thelen teaches a "Family and Communities in Education" course that emphasizes the critical role of family-school partnerships.
"Our college students participate in a service learning project with our Head Start program on campus, and we prepare downloadable parent information on a Web site," says Thelen. "For example, parents can download instructions for indoor tent building using furniture and blankets, or they can view a video on how to do it. We also have created a companion Web site in Spanish. We are giving pre-service teachers experiences in working with real parents and children."
Thelen also has created a "Family Literacy Checklist" that teachers may send home with families to create an understanding of each child's literacy background. The survey asks questions related to the child's home experiences with reading, writing, conversing and use of imagination.
"It's a quick and easy survey for families that may serves as a foundation for understanding children's literacy experiences," she says.
Posted: Thu, November 2nd, 2006 at 10:15AM