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Improve Literacy Newsletter

28 February 2009 - Issue 12

Hi there!

This month we are going to be looking at how you can create a home library for your child as a great way to boost his or her reading skills.

In this issue:

1. Creating a home library
2. Guest article
3. The Improve Literacy website

To foster and maintain a child's interest in reading, it's imperative that she has reading material near her at all times. Having a home library can be a great way to tempt your little one into trying a variety of new and diverse reading material. However, a home library doesn't need to be neatly stacked bookshelves along a wall. Kids are far more likely to be stimulated by books that are placed in more informal spots around the home - and even outside it.

Here is a list of things to consider when creating a home library. Remember, often unorthodox is better!

a) Keep books nearby at all times

When books are near at hand, it is more likely that we will read them. How often do we find that the books in our bookshelves are untouched, while the coffee table books are always being thumbed through? It's the same for children. Strategically-placed books are more likely to arouse curiosity and be looked at than those that are out of reach on bookshelves.

b) Book baskets

Book baskets are a fantastic way to store books in a tidy but accessible way in the house, and they provide mini-libraries in themselves. Having them in different rooms opens up regular opportunities to read in new locations, and this keeps things fresh. To make things fun and exciting, try keeping book baskets of different shapes and sizes, and mix up the types of books you keep in each one.

They make tidying up easy, but they also help make reading easier too.

c) Spontaneous reading

Rather than limiting your reading sessions with your child to a routine, indoor activity, why not be spontaneous, and try other locations and unorthodox times. Keep books in the car, in your handbag, on the washing machine, even in the garden in summer (weather permitting!) Often it is these reading sessions that a child remembers over the others. Spontaneous reading can also help introduce them to words and language that they might not otherwise be exposed to at home.

d) Keep a routine

Despite what we said above, maintaining a routine for reading is highly beneficial. Why? Because repeated exposure to books enables the nuances of language to be ingrained in children's brains, as well as providing invaluable bonding time between parent and child. It is crucial that a regular reading routine is the norm, as this provides the best environment for learning to read well.

e) Ending the day

Reading together with your child is a great way for both of you to unwind after a hectic day. Find a cosy corner of the sofa or your little one's bed, and let the cares of the day dissolve as you read his favourite story together.

f) Quality quiet time

Treat reading time as an excuse to turn of the TV, PC, iPhone, and laptop, and a chance to focus our attention on one discipline. It's a great way to show your child the importance of peace and quiet, and also gives you some much deserved (and needed) quiet time.

g) Familiarity of books (thriving on routine and repetition)

We all thrive on habit and routine, and our children are no exception. Kids love reading their favourite stories over and over again, and while it may often not be much fun for us adults to listen to, this repeated exposure to sounds and words is critical to their development of literacy and reading comprehension skills.

h) Book souvenirs

A great idea when you are on holiday is to buy 'book souvenirs' - that is, books about where you've been. The benefits are numerous: they remind your child of a fun time they've had, they evoke pleasant memories, and they usually introduce your child to topics and themes that they otherwise might not have come across.

You can read them together with your child at a later date and reminisce on happy times!

2. Guest article

This month's guest article is by the literacy expert and writer at, Rose Garrett.

Could Disorder at Home Impede Your Child's Reading Development?

Parents of young children have long been told that the number one predictor of reading success in their children is the act of reading aloud to them. However, a new study by National Center for Children and Families at Teacher's College, Columbia University suggests that other elements in a young child's home environment may play a larger role in reading development than previously thought. The most surprising factor? The level of “chaos,” specifically household disorder, in an early reader's home environment.

For parents that consider themselves lucky to catch a glimpse of the floor under their children's clutter, this news may come as a shock. But according to Anna Johnson, the lead author of the study, “chaos” is actually a specific construct that takes into account not only general untidiness, but “crowding” (either people per room or people per square foot), noise, transitions (moving house often), and routines (such as eating dinner every night or having the same bedtime ritual).

Reading aloud to your child has been thought of as the major component for reading success. But the study, controlled for socio-economic status, showed that other variables may well come into play. “What we found was that some of the home literacy environment components that mattered were more unusual, such as how often a child entertains himself alone with a book,” says Johnson.

Surprisingly, however, the study found different results between literacy development of children with mothers of average reading ability and those of above average reading ability. “Household order explained literacy growth only among children of mothers who were above average readers,” says Johnson. In contrast, child-initiated elements such as how often a child brings books home or spends time alone with books explained literacy growth among children of mothers who were average readers.

What do these new findings mean for parents of beginning readers? Although Johnson cautions against jumping to conclusions before the results of the study have been replicated, she says that different households may find that different reading strategies work best for them. “For mothers who are average readers, it looks like it could be very useful to make books available and give access to your child. It looks like for mothers who may be very busy – perhaps professionals who are high functioning with respect to reading - maybe their kids can benefit by having an organized house that has a series of regular routines,” suggests Johnson. “And don't resist the urge to pick up the broom.”

Want more unusual ideas for aiding reading development at home? Here are some out of the box ideas for fostering reading:

  • Take your child to the library to sign up for his very own library card. Having his own card will make your child feel a sense of excitement and motivation around books and reading. While you're there, challenge your child to a library treasure hunt using the call numbers and letters on the spines of shelved books
  • Sneak reading practice into regular playtime. There are lots of ways that you can work literacy learning into fun and easy activities
  • Go pretend fishing for words, play post-it bingo, or practice a cup toss game for a literacy lesson that's inspired by the classic carnival challenge

Books form the foundation of early reading, and having them around is just the beginning of the different ways that they can inspire your child. Not only can kids begin to appreciate books by looking at and reading them, they can also begin to create books of their own! For a some fun book creation ideas, try Story Starters: A Book Making Activity, making a nonsense book, or creating an ABC nature book.

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