The more you read, the more you know… and the smarter you’ll grow1. And if you read in two languages, the more bilingual you will be, and doubly smart too! Family literacy is defined as home literacy activities that provide literacy skill-building opportunities for young children while enhancing literacy skill development in all members of the family. Our particular form of family literacy is bilingual English-Spanish and focused on our 6-year-old daughter Carla. She started reading in English before K. We taught her at home before she was taught how to read in Spanish at school to avoid confusion. And now at 6 she’s reading in Spanish at a solid first grade and one year above grade level in English. There is no secret but here’s our secret:
- Deliberate and regular practice both in reading aloud and in being read to. Both activities are necessary since the child’s reading proficiency is below her comprehension level so when Carla reads, she strengthens her skills and gains confidence and when she’s read to she has the right kind of input and a model of rhythm and intonation in longer stretches. Right now she’s reading Francesca Simon’s Horid Henry’s Double Dare (Orion, 2010), which is good practice because it is printed in as varied a typesetting as can be: capitals and lower-case, bold type and italics, fragments in larger size for emphasis, fonts that imitate handwritten text. And the jokes and dares are brief and funny. She read last week La bruja Belinda by Beatriz Doumerc (Bruño, 2015), which is part of a series developed to make children acquainted with storytelling and phonemes, and includes comprehension games and activities. Now that Christmas is getting near, we found a second-hand Spanish edition of Piet Worm’s La Biblia de los Niños (Plaza y Janés, 1962), which is easy enough for Carla to read. She’s being read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, illustrated by Quentin Blake, of course, (Puffin, 2013) before watching the film, which certainly makes a difference. Next comes Elizabeth Howard’s The Amazing Adventures of Freddie Whitemouse, who simply hates being a mouse (Mantle, 2016).
- Read on a broad range of topics. Stories are good, but so is poetry and non-fiction. Poetry is excellent to develop a sense of rhythm, enjoy rhyme and think and talk about the point of the poem. Every now and then we open The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry (ed. By Brian Patten, 1999) My sister Laura’s bigger than me/ And lifts me up quite easily./ I can’t lift her, I’ve tried and tried;/ She must have something heavy inside. Our lattest discovery is the dictionary, but a dictionary you can read as a regular book, Merriam Webster’s First Dictionary (2012), with easy definitions, examples, illustrations, a bit of history, stories and poems, look-it-up notes to almost 3000 words! For now we go one at a time.
- Read in different mediums. This means more that paper or tablet. We have found that subtitles and captions can be added to the reading menu, moderately at first.
- Play with books. When Carla was smaller she loved pop-ups, and we treasure her Maisy books, Las tres mellizas, or La casa del señor coc, but she outgrew those books and now we enjoy the experiments in Make and Do –Science (Priddy Books, 2010) and surprise friends with the vinegar volcano, the non-pop balloon or the disappearing egg-shell. Amazing.
1A. Cunningham and K. Stanovich. 2001. What reading does for the mind. Journal of Direct Instruction 1(2):137-49 [http://mccleskeyms.typepad.com/files/what-reading-does-for-the-mind.pdf]