Literacy has become a real buzz word lately. If my son can read a menu at a restaurant, or my daughter has read all eight Harry Potters, are they literate? If my spouse can create and understand spreadsheets, or my child falls within or above the average range on standardized tests, are they all set in the “literacy department”?
Literacy is the process of expanding your knowledge of reading and writing in order to develop thinking. The encyclopedia ends off by stating that literacy is “fundamental to achieving competence in every educational subject.” Wow, that’s intense. After hearing this definition, the importance of addressing the difficulties that our struggling children face becomes crystal clear.
When a student is a poor reader, or has below-average literacy skills, they don’t just struggle with reading. They often struggle with writing and much of math as well. However, the most important area of concern is their self-esteem.
A child who knows they struggle, and is weaker in any given area than their friends, becomes more emotionally fragile. They might be easily embarrassed or too shy to speak up in school—thereby creating a divide between themselves and peers or teachers. They may act out, or possibly even develop anxiety related to school or any kind of formal learning. What’s more, they could become withdrawn or start to avoid anything “word-related” that they think will lead to reading, writing or other forms of learning.
What can we do? There are several stages of prevention and intervention. First, begin by reading-reading-reading to your children! Read books with expression, and read them often. This will help immeasurably. Have fun with letters and sounds. Play fun rhyming games and help them explore our language. As your child grows older and gains confidence in reading, take them to the library. Show them that reading is important. Have fun playing BananaGrams and reading the back of the cereal box each morning. You can even make a game out of reading street signs as you walk to shul or drive around doing errands. Just have fun with words.
What if, as your child grows, they do not become a confident reader? What if they never want to pick up a book or look forward to your weekly library visits? What if reading is a real struggle? As a parent, the best advice is to speak with your child’s school and/or a reading specialist to find out exactly what your child’s needs are. The answer may be simple or may be involved. This will vary on an individual basis. What will not vary is the following: Once you’ve enlisted the help of a professional, your job is to spend all of your energy building up your amazing, talented, funny and special child so they know how wonderful they are, even if they do finish last in class sometimes. Teach them that it’s okay to learn at their own pace, in their own way. There are many different ways to learn and once you help your child find the right way for themselves, their confidence will soar.
By Tamar Hardy