Tips for families: Improving children’s long-term literacy



About 1 in 7 Wisconsin adults has low literacyand the Wisconsin author of a new book says the roots of this crisis begin in infancy and early childhood.

Between birth and age 6, brains are malleable and interaction is key to literary success later in life, said Milwaukee-based literacy advocate Maya Payne Smart.

“It’s not just about the words we say, whether we speak out loud or recount what we do during the day,” she said. “It’s about that turn, back and forth, serve and return duo of conversation with the child.”

Smart recently joined Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Central Time” to talk about his new book, “Reading for Our Lives: A Literacy Action Plan from Birth to Six“, and gave advice to families to help children have a good level of literacy.

The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Rob Ferrett: In your book, you talk about modeling the conversation as a back and forth between a parent and a child before they can even speak. Could you clarify how it works?

Smart Maya Payne: It is important for parents to acknowledge all attempts at communication their baby makes. Although your 3-month-old won’t respond with words or phrases, he’ll give you cues and babbles that indicate his engagement and indicate his learning. If we treat that babble as a conversation, or respond to that babble, ask questions, and proceed as if it were a typical conversation with words, we create wonderful learning opportunities.

RF: You say that interaction is the key to literacy. How can we help children interact while reading?

MRS: Children learn when they are interested and engaged. When they are young and they hear the story, they will acquire great vocabulary, knowledge and background information. When they are older, around 3 or 4 years old, they begin to pay attention to print. When you slide your finger from left to right, you show that the text moves from left to right or from top to bottom of the page.

There are many lessons in the objects of the book, but the parent brings the lesson to life by paying attention to the child, noticing what interests him, and responding with words and gestures.

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RF: You say the interaction can be things like “Point the dog” or “Help me turn the page” or whatever is age appropriate?

MRS: Absolutely. The age-appropriate play is important because learning looks different at different ages.

The 12- to 14-month-old can point to familiar characters or things he wants you to name. They may begin to hold a pencil and make marks, which is the beginning of writing. So when parents have a little more knowledge about what is going on developmentally with children, they are better able to help the child move to the next level.

RF: What are the daily opportunities to teach reading without even opening a book?

MRS: The more fun and engaging the time, the more money they will spend building that letter knowledge. Songs, games, all wonderful.

I met someone over the weekend whose son was considered the king of kindergarten at his school due to his high reading. The mother explained that the son learned it because they had a karaoke business and he spent a lot of time watching people sing while seeing the text light up with the song. And so it wasn’t with a book in hand, but it still made that connection between feeling and sound.

RF: What about the idea of ​​modeling reading for children?

MRS: I know my daughter learned a lot about the importance we place on reading by watching her grandmothers and parents read. But watching us read doesn’t necessarily teach him anything.

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