Category Archives: reading readiness.

How do you know if your preschooler will do well in school?

A new study correlates traits of high achieving fifth graders with those of 54-month-old children.  The study found important traits in preschoolers which can help predict fifth grade achievement levels.

The most important trait was social competence.  Children with high social competence at four-and-a-half years old tended to be high achievers in fifth grade.  Social competence is an umbrella term meaning that a child possesses the social, emotional, and intellectual skills and behaviors needed to succeed.

Working memory is another essential trait.  Working memory means the ability of children to pay attention, remember important information and keep track their progress as they work on a given task.

Complete results of the research are available in the July/August issue of Child Development, an academic journal.

Does early childhood reading cause myopia?

Video games are leading to more myopia in children, according to the President of China, who has called for restricted access to video games among children.

girl reading Junie B. Jones

Whether China’s President Jinping Xi is right or wrong, he reminds me of another possible cause of myopia:  reading as a young child.  But is there any proof that reading leads to nearsightedness?

Some eye doctors think so, but the evidence is not conclusive.  Many causes might lead to nearsightedness.

Heredity plays a role, but how much of a role is not understood.  In my case, my mother wore glasses, and when I was in fourth grade, I too needed glasses.  Some of my brothers and sisters also needed glasses as children, but others didn’t.  My husband didn’t wear glasses until he was 50, and both of our sons  don’t need glasses.  Yet our daughter, like me, needed glasses as a child.

If a child reads a lot, the strain of deciphering small type and of focusing on tiny symbols for long stretches of time might lead to nearsightedness.  But for other children, it might not.  All of my brothers and sisters read a lot, but only some of us needed glasses in childhood or early adulthood.  It could be that a child who prefers to read does not get enough exercise or enough time in natural sunlight.  Research is needed to show whether reading is a cause of myopia.

Researchers have learned that children who are prescribed eye glasses for myopia tend to have their eyesight worsen in childhood.  But this finding has led to research on how to stop the reversal or even to backtrack it.

Atropine eye drops can help slow down myopia progression for about a year or so, but after that the effect of the drops diminishes.  These drops dilate the eye and relax the eye’s focusing process.

Gas permeable contact lenses worn at night can temporarily relieve myopia the following day.  Over time, researchers think wearing these lenses might slow myopia progression.

Doctors using multifocal contact lenses on children find these lenses help with myopia.  These lenses have different powers in different zones of the lenses.

Multifocal eyeglasses worn by children have also helped slow the progression of myopia, but they are less effective than multifocal contact lenses.

Can you prevent myopia in your child?  We don’t know, but eye specialists recommend these actions:

Make sure your child’s eyes are tested annually by an eye doctor even if the child is not complaining of eye sight problems.

When the child reads or does other highly focused eye activities, make sure the child takes breaks and uses the eyes for longer distance activities before he or she returns to focused activities, like reading.

Choose high index (thinner and lighter) eyeglass lenses.  Have them made with an anti-reflective coating.  Photochromic lenses will protect eyes from UV and blue light.

I would add, seek out larger type children’s books which are easier on the eyes.  Limit the time your child reads from backlit electronic equipment (monitors, tablets and smart phones, Kindles and Nooks).  Have the child read in good lighting.  Have your child wear sunglasses outdoors, and weather permitting, insist that your child spend time outdoors playing.

And make sure your bookworm doesn’t take a flashlight to bed and sneak extra reading time under the covers.

 

 

How does an almost two-year-old read?

How does an almost two- year-old “read”?  What does such a tiny child “read”?  How can we encourage the reading habit in such a tike?

I spent a week in early September with a 21-month-old who wanted me to “read” to him many times daily.  He taught me:

Toddlers love to hold books, turn their pages, point to objects they recognize and name those words.

They do not like to be read paragraph-long passages.

They do like to be read text if it is short. “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?” is an example of text that works.  Single syllable words, words the child knows, words which are repeated, tiny sentences—these hold a child’s interest just long enough before he wants to turn the page.

Pint-sized cardboard books are easy for a toddler to hold. The pages are easy to turn.  And the cardboard is able to withstand the rough handling that a tiny child gives.

“Reading” often means “studying” a picture to discover what it holds. “Balloon!” he might shout, or “Piggy eat.”

Order of pages is arbitrary to a tiny child. Sometimes he will prefer to skip some pages to head right for the picture he prefers.  Sometimes he will flip back and forth, making a connection between one page and another.  For example, he might find the moon on one page and then go back to a previous page to find the moon there.

Simple drawings are best. Bright colors with plain backgrounds help the child to focus.

Animals—especially baby animals with their mothers—fascinate many children. But one time an adult horse might be a “mommy” and another time that same image is a “daddy.”  There’s no need to correct.

Touchable books captivate toddlers. A child eagerly strokes books with inserted fabric for a sandpapery pig’s nose or a furry dog’s ear.  Books with flaps are fun to open even if the child has opened the same flap many times.  Books with cutouts—like the holes that the Hungry Caterpillar eats—are just the right size for a little one to stick his finger into.

Many times, you, the adult, needn’t read a word.  Rather you might wait for the child to take the lead.  He might point to a picture and say a word.  You might repeat his word to show you are listening or to offer correct pronunciation.

Many times all he wants is for you to listen, to share his reading time without distraction. By being willing to focus only on him, to listen wholeheartedly, you teach the child that you value what he is doing.  Your unhurried presence tells the child that this activity—reading—is important.

Bob Books author dies

The author of one of the easiest-to-read and most popular reading series has died.

Picture of 9 Bob Book sets.

Click the photo for a link to the Scholastic selection of Bob Books.

Bobby (Bob) Lynn Maslen, 87, author of the Bob Books, died August 16 in Portland, OR, of Alzheimer’s disease.

Mrs. Madden created the first Bob Book in the 1970’s when she was teaching reading to preschoolers.  One day she took typing paper, folded it in quarters, and asked her students to help her write a story.

The result was the first Bob Book.  It comprised about 12 pages and used just a handful of letters which spelled CVC words.  “Mat sat.  Sam sat.  Mat sat on Sam.  Sam sat on Mat.”  Mrs. Maslen stapled the pages together and sent the books home with her students to reread and to color.

The illustrations were almost as simple as the stories.  Eventually, Mrs. Maslen standardized her books into three sets of 12 books each.  She printed hundreds of copies and packaged them into little sandwich bags for her students.

Demand for her books grew.  Mrs. Maslen’s husband, an artist, provided new drawings.  The books were published by Portland State University, then by the Maslens themselves, and later by Scholastic.  Today more than 16 million books are in print, according to Scholastic.

Teaching reading to children with autism

In some ways, teaching reading to children with autism is like teaching anything else to them.  It is those similarities that this blog focuses on.  Many children with autism are sensitive to light, sounds, smells, busy walls, chairs that are too big, and the feel of their clothes. Before you begin a reading lesson, make sure the environment works for the child or he will be unable to focus.

Make sure the student is paying attention before you begin and during the lesson. If he is looking away, or if his eyes have that blank look, assume he is not paying attention.  Say his name.  Say, “Look at me.”  Only when you have his attention, begin or continue on.

When you give directions, say them in short sentences. If the directions have more than one step, say the steps one at a time.  Let the student complete the first step, thank him, and then say your second direction.  For four-year-olds and five-year-olds, pictures of what behavior you expect can help.  Sometimes asking the student to repeat the direction helps.

Make your directions and comments specific. “Put the book in the desk.”  “Stand up.”  Skip adjectives, prepositional phrases and any extra words that might muddle the message.  And don’t word your directions as questions.  “Would you like to put your book away now?” to you might mean “Put your book away,” but to a student with autism, it might mean something different.

No idioms. No inferences.  No sarcasm.  No humor.  Keep your comments factual and expect factual responses.

Warn several times that an activity will end. “Ten more minutes.”  “Five more minutes.”  “One more minute.”

Many students with autism find handwriting difficult. If the student must “write,” try using a laptop, tablet or even a phone.  Or allow him to respond orally.

Praise wen the student responds appropriately.  You don’t need to gush, but say “Thank you” when the student behaves as you ask.

Increasing interword spacing may help students to read better

Both versions of the above paragraph are shown in the same size type and with the same spacing between lines. What is different is that the first version is the normal (default) way words are shown while the second version is the expanded version with additional space between letters.

The research, conducted by Elizabeth Sacchi at Binghamton University, State University of New York, is part of the National Science Foundation-funded Reading Brain Project.  The project studies how children’s brains behave as they read.  Sacchi’s research is the first of its kind in the US to look at what happens inside the brain as children read letters which are spaced variously.

Researchers think the improved reading of children who read words with letters spaced farther apart is not due to visual processing.  Children at the very beginning stages of reading don’t show much change in reading ability when letters are spaced farther apart.  But as the reading gets more advanced, reading improvement can be seen.

This US study backs up a European study of six years ago which showed that more space between letters can help children identified as dyslexic read 20% faster.  In that study, not only was the space between letters expanded, but the space between lines was expanded.

The Italian researchers think increased spacing helps dyslexic children overcome an effect called “crowding.”  Crowding makes letters hard to identify when the letters are placed close to other letters.

Children without reading problems showed no benefit when reading the more widely spaced letters and lines in the European study.

For more information on the American study, go to Elizabeth Sacchi et al, An Event-Related Potential Study of Letter Spacing during Visual Word Recognition, Brain Research (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.brainres.2018.01.028.  For more information on the European study, go to the Proceedings of the American Academy of Science, 2012.

The X factor in type faces

[Another way to increase the readability of words is to increase the size of the half-space letters, as in the first example above.  For more information, see an earlier blog.]

When the student becomes the reading teacher

Sometimes my best teaching strategies come from children themselves.

I was working with a PreK student the other day.  She has mastered reading CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant words like “cat” and “six”).  Now we are focusing on blends at the beginning of CCVC words like “swim” and “spill.”

One at a time I was showing her illustrations of CCVC words.  At the same time I was sliding a handful of letters near the illustration.  The letters included the letters needed to spell the word plus some distracting letters.  My student’s job was to pull out the letters needed in the correct order and “write” the word under the illustration.

Except that she didn’t want to do that.  She wanted to write her name using the letter tiles.  We were getting nowhere, so I let her write her name.  Then, after her name she wrote the word “is,” and after “is” she wrote “not.”  Then she wrote the word we were trying to spell in the picture, “twin.”

“Chaulian is not twin,” she said aloud, laughing because she knows she is not a twin.  I pulled out the letter “a” and inserted it into her sentence.   “Chaulian is not a twin,” she read.

“You wrote a sentence,  Chaulian.”

She was engaged again.  I pulled another illustration, this time of a plum.  I took away “twin” and put six letters in front of my student.  From them she picked “plum” and changed her sentence to “Chaulian is not a plum,” laughing once more at the ridiculousness of that thought.

We continued, with Chaulian writing little sentences about herself using CCVC words.

A few days later I tried this same approach with an even younger child.  She is learning CVC words, but of course she already knows how to spell her name.  I asked her to spell her name with letter tiles and then I added “is not a” and pulled illustrations.  Nneka is not a cat.  Nneka is not a map.  Nneka is not a ten.  Like Chaulian, Nneka’s interest in our reading game increased when her name was used.  And when she read aloud her nonsense sentences, she laughed and laughed.  Our work together had turned into a silly game.

Little children are self-centered, so of course it made sense to use their names.  And wacky little sentences made our work fun.  I was thrilled to keep their attention longer than usual.  Win-win.

Chaulian is a teacher.