It’s a fact. Summer break is over and school has begun in all Muskogee County’s public school systems. It is also a fact, according to researchers, that over one-third of children in the U.S. enter school unprepared to learn. It’s safe to assume that some of those unprepared children are attending Muskogee County schools. These children lack the vocabulary, sentence structure, and other basic skill necessary to succeed in school. Unless interventions are utilized, students who start behind generally stay behind and their lives are at risk. Many times, these are the students that become our county’s dropout statistics.

One may wonder why there are so many children without the necessary skills that are critical to school achievement. Any early childhood teacher will tell you that one contributing factor is the child’s experience with books. Many children enter school with literally thousands of hours of experience with books. They have access to picture books through their personal library or through visits to the public library. Many of these children carry their own library card. Reading is a priority in the home as modeled by parents and older siblings who read for pleasure. Family members take time to read to the younger non-readers through shared book experiences. Other children enter school with far fewer shared book experiences. Their parents and siblings are not readers. Reading for pleasure is not modeled nor given any priority in the home.

Early childhood researchers indicate and teachers confirm that shared book experiences provide children with skills essential to school readiness.

These skills include vocabulary development, sound structure, meaning of print, story and language structure, sustained attention, the love of reading, and more.

Just as young children need food, shelter and love, they also need the nourishment of books. Preschoolers need to be read to daily. On average, children who are read to three or more times per week perform better in school than those who are read to fewer than three times per week.

Equally important, is how to read to preschoolers. When most adults share a book with a preschooler, the adult reads and the child listens.

Research points to a better way to share books. The adult should help the child become the teller of story and the adult should become the listener, the questioner and the audience for the child. Children learn best from active involvement with the book. No one can learn to play a sport just by watching someone else play. Similarly, no one can learn to read just by listening to someone else read. Active participation is the key.

Adults reading to preschoolers should carry on a dialogue with the child by asking “what” questions, asking questions that can not be answered with a yes or no, and expanding upon what the child says. These techniques will teach vocabulary and encourage the child to tell more complete descriptions of what they see in the pictures. This will lead the parents to increase the number of times they ask their child to name objects in the pictures, to use more general questions as a way of getting the child to say more than just one word answers and will encourage pleasurable interactions with books and reading for the parent and the child.

Simply stated, this type of shared book experience is the parent and child having a conversation or dialogue about the picture book. Children will enjoy dialogic reading more than traditional reading as long as parents vary what they do from reading to reading, learn to mix-up questions with traditional reading, and follow the interests of their child.

Source: Muskogee Daily Phoenix, OK