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Katie Mohar


Raise a Reader: Tips from Teachers

Apr 12

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Text copyright © Katie Mohar. All rights reserved.

Woman reading to children. Tips for parents on how to raise a reader.
Photo by Mikhail Nilov via Pexels

Raise a reader by starting early! After all, you can’t read your whole life if you don’t start as a baby! Today, I interview Jonalyn Lippka, a kindergarten teacher, and Claudia Booth, a retired teacher and reading specialist. They share tips on raising children who love to read – and I include resources to put their advice into action!

Since Jonalyn and Claudia both emphasize the importance of song and movement, I introduce their interviews with the history and benefits of nursery rhymes for child development …

Raise a Reader with Rhyme: Mother Goose to Modernity

Nursery rhymes are products of oral tradition, passing from parent to child over many generations. Some rhymes began as street games or folk songs. Others, like “Humpty Dumpty,” were royal satire. Thus, the authors of many nursery rhymes remain unknown – and children’s rhyme collections often credit someone named “Mother Goose.” 

Mystery surrounds Mother Goose. Some historians trace her as far back as the the 10th century. In 1697, French author Charles Perrault compiled and published the first Tales of Mother Goose – a collection of short children’s stories and rhymes.

Luckily, Mother Goose can’t take all the credit for children’s rhymes. For instance, we know that English writer Jane Taylor penned the lyrics for “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and American writer Sarah Hale wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Thomas Edison made the first audio version of a nursery rhyme in 1877, reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb” into his recording machine. In the 1950s, English folklorists Peter and Iona Opie began documenting and studying folklore, nursery rhymes and children’s games. Thanks to the Opie’s meticulous scholarship, we have a record of childhood lore that was once only oral tradition.

I recommend A Modern Parent’s Guide to Nursery Rhymes by Jennifer Griffin. This collection of rhymes is also a practical handbook, featuring helpful instructions for the finger play exercises accompanying classic rhymes like “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

Finger play helps a child develop fine and gross-motor coordination. Nursery rhymes like “Where is Thumbkin?” engage little fingers.

Research shows that whole body movement enhances child development. Songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” are great for healthy sensory stimulation!

The book also includes non-English rhymes like “Frère Jacques” and “Pío, Pío, Pío” – with translations – to help families discover world languages.

“It took 50 generations to make up Mother Goose. Nursery rhymes are the smallest great poems of the world’s literature.”

– Iona Opie, folklorist

Raise a Reader: Tips from a Kindergarten Teacher

Jonalyn Lippka is a Minnesota kindergarten teacher with 33 years of classroom experience. Here’s her wisdom for raising a reader:

Q: What can parents do at home to help kids read?

A: “I can always tell a difference between students who are read to at home and those who are not. When asked if they are read to in the evening, very few students’ hands tend to go up. I’d encourage parents to read to their children, thinking about their individual interests when choosing books. Think about books with rhyming words. For example, nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss books, Llama Llama and Elephant & Piggie books. I use a wide variety of books with my students. Ultimately, kids have to like the book. Reading should be fun.”

Q: What are some common reasons why kids struggle with reading?

A: “One of the biggest reasons kids struggle with reading is too much technology. It used to be that when kids were in the car or at a restaurant, we would talk to them, give them a book or a game or encourage them to look outdoors and talk about what they were seeing. We had conversations, developing their oral language. Now, we give them technology. Kids resist reading when it’s uncomfortable and unfamiliar.”

Q: How do you approach reading at the kindergarten level?

A: “In addition to the required curriculum, I’ve had incredible success over the years with employing the practices in a book called No More Letter of the Week by Pat Lusche. The book may be out of print, but its strategies work, including with my non-English speakers. Basically, when you teach children a sound, you also teach a corresponding action. It helps readers engage mentally and physically for better overall learning.”

Q: What kind of books excite and engage kindergarteners?

A: “Ultimately, you need to look at the interests of your kids because reading is very interest-driven. Also, different books will engage kids for “read-alouds” or “storytimes” versus when children choose to read on their own. Right now, my students love any version of The Three Little Pigs and books written by Mo Willems.”

Raise a Reader: Tips from a Reading Specialist

Claudia Booth is a retired teacher with 44 years of experience, including in Special Education/Learning Disabilities and as a reading specialist and interventionist. Here’s her advice:

Q: What’s your best tip for parents?

A: “Begin interacting with your child at a very early age. For example, sing to the child, read to the child or use the pictures in books to generate interest and conversation. I believe parents should encourage reading but not “teach” reading. Reading to a child from a very early age – and even as they get older – can create a love of books and a love of reading.” 

Q: Why should parents use music and “whole body” activities to inspire an appreciation for reading? 

A: “Whole body activities stimulate students.  When music is added, it adds rhythm and sets a pace to increase the chance that the child will stay focused.”

Q: What are the risks of over-exposure to technology for kids?

A: “Technology can be very repetitive. Relating to a device also removes the opportunity for live social interaction with other individuals and thoughtful adults who can adjust to the needs of the child and redirect the child when appropriate.” 

Q: What are some playful activities for struggling readers?

A: “Struggling readers need to gain confidence; they will be able to read better when they learn to ask themselves questions about what they are about to read. When a parent uses humor to set the tone before reading or gives silly explanations of what they think the book is about, the reading time becomes a fun time.” 

“Know the child’s strengths and weaknesses and teach to their strengths. Ask the child to tell a short story and write down what the child says. Then, read the story together.  If the child likes to draw, ask them to illustrate the story. Then, let the child share the story with many others.” 

Note: Interviews have been edited for length and clarity. 

Further Reading:

I hope you enjoyed reading these tips from teaching experts! Songs, rhymes and books in verse can get kids moving, singing and imagining – without even realizing they may also be reading! Here’s more resources to help you raise a reader …

I love Lion of the Sky: Haiku for All Seasons written by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Mercè López. Its unique spin on Haiku, mask poems and riddles – which Salas calls “riddle-ku” – inspires kids to employ creative detective skills and uncover the riddle on every page. Adults will love riddle-ku too!

Books: Playful Reading by Carolyn Munson-Benson; Reading with Babies, Toddlers & Twos by Susan Straub & KJ Dell’Antonia with Rachel Payne; and The Joy of Movement by Mary Lynn Hafner, PT, DPT.

Related Posts: How to Build a Children’s Home Library and Three Benefits of Music Education for Kids.

April is National Poetry Month! It’s the perfect time to rhyme!