Top Tips for improving Reading Skills at Home

         “Children must learn to read so that later they can read to learn”

Reading with young children is very important for development of language skills and early literacy skills. To read fluently children need basic reading skills and comprehension skills.

Reading is not an innate skill, we are not born with the ability to read we must learn it.  Reading is a complex skill involving the word recognition, understanding the conventions of print, comprehension of text, fluency and motivation. A fluent reader will decode the text, and make inferences and predictions about the text to enhance comprehension, all at the same time. Your child’s teacher will focus on teaching them the skills of word recognition, decoding, phonics and ultimately foundational reading skills. You can support this at home by creating a literacy friendly environment in your home. Even before they learn to begin to learn to read, children should enjoy listening to stories and talking about the meaning and interpretation of words and illustrations with others. Local libraries are a great source of books and lending rules are very generous, so why not work in a monthly trip to your local library into your schedule?

There is some interesting research about the benefits of e-books, with extra features such as built in animations, suggesting that for children over the age of 3 they may be marginally better at vocabulary gains (BPS Research Digest 06/17) although crucially theses studies focused on basic e-books, with very simple animation. Whether you choose an e-book and a read-to-me app or a regular book there is no question that integrating reading into your family life will have positive benefits on language and literacy development.

What can I do as a parent to support reading?

  • A print rich environment: Make sure that there are lots of opportunities to read text in your home. Catalogues such as Aldi/Lidl/Smyths are really useful. For younger children ask them to find a letter or a letter sound in the text. For older children ask them to find a describing word or a doing word in the description. Read cereal boxes, juice boxes , connect the image with the words e.g. What is the juice flavor? How do you know? Where is the word orange? Can you find the letter O?
  • Model Reading- Try to ensure that children see you reading. Talk about the book before during and after reading using open questions e.g. why did that character do what he did?, If you were in that story what would you have done? Help break the sentences into word and words into sounds. Encourage them to use the letter sounds i.e. B A T rather than looking at pictures for clues.
  • Audio books-These are a great resource for children who are struggling as they can follow the text without the stress of having to decode the words.
  • Comic strips and Picture books- Learning to follow a story through picture is a valuable skill and encourages children to practice inference and prediction.
  • Reading and Thinking Activities- Let your child to listen to you reading a page of the story and encourage them to predict what will happen next in the story. Support the development of narrative skills by talking about the beginning, middle and end of the story, what is going to happen next? Play games and pretend to finish the story a page early and ask how do they know the story isn’t finished.
  • Family board games such as Boggle and Scrabble are a great way to develop language awareness in fun way.
  • Library- your local library is a treasure trove of books and community activities, www.libariesireland.ie
  • For middle primary students, the tasks of word recognition and decoding may be less of struggle but comprehension of text is a challenge. There is strong evidence to support the explicit teaching of comprehension strategies. This means that the student must learn how to break down the text in order to find the meaning. One useful way to do this is to activate prior knowledge. If there is picture of a Volcano, what do they already know about Volcanos? Another useful tip is Retelling, ask a child to re-tell the story to you.
  • For older post primary students who struggle with the second level text-books there is good evidence that a key word approach can be helpful. This means an explicit focus on subject specific words such as minus/divide/calculate etc. You can support your teen by creating literacy mats of key words for certain subjects. There are some great examples of literacy mats at www.nbss.ie
  • For post primary students it is also important to focus on functional literacy skills. This means do they have the skills necessary to live in the world independently. Adult literacy agencies have excellent literacy support resources that are targeted to the older student. Age appropriate learning materials are very important for this age group, these are often sold on education sites as High Interest books. Digital literacy is also important for this group. Can they read and send a text message? Can they read and send an email? Do they have sufficient literacy to manage their finances, pass the driver theory test, complete the Safe pass test.

References: whatworksclearinghouse.com, www.ncse.ie, www.nbss.ie, BPS research digest

Sleep and children: Supporting sufficient, good quality Sleep

July 16, 2020

“Sleep is the best meditation.” — Dalai Lama

Why is sleep so important?

Sufficient sleep is vital for health and emotional well-being.  Poor sleep over a sustained period of time has been linked to high blood pressure, obesity and depression. Children and young people who have regular access to good quality sleep have improved attention, behaviour and learning. Sleep deprived children have difficulty with mood disturbances and emotional regulation. In teenagers persistent sleep deprivation has been linked to depression and anxiety. The impact of poor bedtime routines on the family as a whole is also significant. Frequent arguments about bedtime, behavioural challenges such as repeatedly getting out of bed and difficulties getting up in the morning can result in conflict across the household.

What happens when you sleep?

The brain is not actually resting when you are asleep. Your brain cycles through REM and non REM sleep and this circadian rhythm supports healthy brain function. The brain consolidates learning that occurred during the day, supports metabolic function and recent research suggests that sleep plays a role in removing toxins. A simple way to explain the importance of sleep to children is to use the analogy of charging a battery. Children are familiar with the need to charge phones, tablets etc. so sleeping to recharge the brain is a useful visual analogy.

How much sleep do young people need?

Children: From ages 3 to 5 children need between 10-13 hours of sleep and from 6-12 children need between 9 to 12 hours sleep. So for primary school children aim to plan for 9-10 hours sleep every night. So when planning your bedtime routine think about what time the children need to be up and dressed and ready to go; in the morning and work backwards.

Teenagers: Generally teens need about 9 hours sleep per night, so practically speaking if their day needs to start at 7am, to allow for dressing, breakfast and school run, they should be in bed by 10pm. Does that reflect reality in your house? Probably not, as many children turn into night owls as they enter the teen years. Why? Recent research suggests that the circadian rhythm in teens is different to adults and they are less sleepy in the evenings but need more sleep in the morning. This research has prompted some scientists to call for school start times to be later for teens. This is certainly something that you should keep in mind if Autumn 2020 brings blended or online learning to schools and students don’t have to race out the door at 8am.

Bedtime Boundaries

Mum I’m thirsty”, “Mum I heard a noise”…

It is important to set clear boundaries around bedtime especially when experiencing bed-time resistance. Bedtime resistance is common and often there is less resistance about going to bed and instead it is resistance to staying in bed. It is very common and usually developmentally appropriate. In the very early years it is around issues of separation worries, then worrying about monsters or robbers and then worrying about school and peers and with the older teen often overstimulation due to blue light from electronics. Before implementing any change to a routine I always advise taking a few minutes to reflect and plan.

         Is your wind down routine giving sufficient time and space to each child to process the day? A bed time routine should take about 25-45 minutes. It should start at the same time each night and follow the same sequence each night.

         What is going on for your child? Often children wait until the business of the day is done before giving voice to their worries or fears, perhaps a new person in school, worry about Covid 19, frustration with sibling. It is very important that you give your child the space and time to be heard so they can settle down to sleep

         What are they trying to achieve? It may be time to review your bed-time routines, are they age appropriate? For siblings sharing a room, is there enough time between bedtimes for each child.

         Are you consistent? Consistency and clarity are essential elements of any approach to managing an unwanted behaviour. Are all adults in the house delivering the same message about bedtime?

Some tips and tricks may help with older children (3 +)

  • Monsters can be zapped with a bottle of magic spray at bedtime
  • Keeping a worry diary or journaling are good strategies for coping with anxious thoughts
  • Regular check ins at 5-10 intervals serve to reassure and can be helped with visual symbol like an egg timer
  • Reward charts and stickers are effective with some children
  • Losing ‘up time’ is another effective consequence, every minute out equals a minute lost ‘up’ the following night
  • A bed-time pass is another strategy for older children. A child gets a number of tickets for pre approved activities such as drink of water, looking for a teddy etc.

The decision to take a particular approach is one that must suit you and your family circumstances. Take some time to reflect on what will realistically work for you and your family.

Support Sleep by creating a sleep positive environment:

  • Electronic curfew- it is really important that exposure the blue light from electronic devices is minimized in the hour prior to sleep. The screen light has been linked to disruptions of melatonin production, which is the sleep hormone. Consider creating a charging station in a central area of the house and set a time for each family member to put down their device and place them charging.
  • Exercise and Fresh Air- Physical activity, playing outdoors in afternoon can really help with good quality sleep
  • Decide a bedtime- set a time to begin a calm and predictable wind down depending on what is age appropriate.
  • Bedtime Routine- Do the same relaxing wind down each evening in a logical order that moves from kitchen to bathroom to bedroom. So for example, a glass of milk in the kitchen, brush teeth in the bathroom, story time in bedroom.
  • Bedroom Environment- Take a look at your bedrooms. Are they conducive to peaceful sleep? Long summer nights and early summer mornings can make sleep difficult but blackout blinds or heavy lined curtains can really help. Even hanging two pairs of eyelet curtains together can mimic a black out lining just make sure that the curtain pole will take the weight. A comfortable bed and duvet that is appropriate for the season is helpful.

Want to find out more?

Check out my webinar on the importance of sleep, routine and tips to manage bedtime challenges with Jessica Kennedy @ www.MyOTandme.com

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References:

www.sleepfoundation.org

www.ninds.nih.gov

Monitor on Psychology, July/August 2020, American Psychological Association