Its a blast to help kids learn to read, and we were able to connect with Susan Day who is a kids book author and illustrator. She also has tons of great ideas to help kids learn to read. We were able to ask her a few questions and she shared some excellent advice.
What are some of your top ways to help kids learn writing and comprehension?
Children will learn in all sorts of ways. Some visual, some auditory and others kinetically. Most learn in a mixed way. I suppose the best way to help children connect with reading and writing is to use the real estate adage: exposure, exposure, exposure!
Here are some ideas:
- Leave books lying about for young toddlers to pick up and handle.
- Read to your baby – even if he or she is nodding off or happily feeding, read out loud and show off your ‘story voice’.
- Speaking of ‘story voices’ – don’t read a book like you would a train timetable. Add in inflections, different voices for different characters and do the actions, too!
- One of my favorite books is a very short book called, Move Over Grover! It’s about a silly, big blue dog who squishes his way into every aspect of the family’s life. When we were up to the page where someone yelled, “Move Over, Grover!” My whole family would join in. My children are in their late twenties now and they still remember the book and even use the phrase when there’s not enough room on the couch!
- When I’m editing my own books alone in my office I still do the voices of the characters. It’s lots of fun and it helps me maintain each unique individual’s voice. It annoys the cat, though. Also, be a role model and read!
- When your child starts picking up books and investigating them encourage them to look at those funny squiggly lines on the page (words). Try sounding them out and tracing their shape with your finger.
- If your toddler copies you, that’s great. If not, don’t panic – maintain a positive attitude to reading and learning and your baby will want to follow your lead.
- Read yourself and fill your home with books.
- Illustrated books are essential to engage and stimulate a love of learning.
- When your child is learning to read don’t worry if they get a lot of words or sounds wrong. You can ask them, “Does that sound right to you?” or “Did that make sense?” Sometimes the answer is ‘yes’ and there’s not much you can do about that. If you’re unsure ask a teacher for advice.
Can you us tell about the ‘reading to dogs’ and the ‘lets get writing’ programs? Any recommended books that kids (and dogs :)) prefer?
The Reading to Dogs program was created to help children build up their confidence by reading to something that wasn’t going to correct them. It can be damaging to early readers when someone is stopping them and reminding them they are wrong. Dogs don’t do that.
If a child can read to a dog then they will establish a stronger love for reading. Most dogs are happy to lie down next to a child which offers a perfect opportunity for a child to practice reading.
Parents are very busy people and a child who reads to the family dog can also get in much needed practice and exposure. They can also become more confident before reading to mom and dad or their teacher. Reading to the family dog can be like a praise session before heading off to read to an adult.
I started the “Let’s Get Writing” program on my blog with Chat About Cards. I had a meeting with a local education specialist who told me that many children were entering school with a vocabulary of 500 words. Experts say it should be 3,000 to 4,000 words! That’s a big difference. A poor vocabulary seriously impacts on a child’s ability to read and write.
Chat About Cards were designed to prompt conversation. They can be used at home, traveling, waiting in the doctor’s queue or anywhere you have a few moments to engage with your child. They are aimed at wide age group to and with a bit of practice you can adjust the questions to your child’s ability. For example, the card might say, “Find three grey things”. If you have an older child you could up it to five or more. They could then write the words down and use them in a sentence or even a story.
There are over 100 activities on my blog now. Some are based on images or games. They are all designed to download quickly and to be used to inspire reading and writing.
Any recommendations for toddlers versus older kids?
Toddlers love big, colorful images while older children love to laugh, go on an adventure and be entertained while reading. There are so many different books available in print or electronically I would encourage every parent to build their child’s library. Another way of making sure that your child is reading what they like is to encourage them to review each book. That will give the parents an idea of whether they are really engaging in it. A review can be a few words jotted down in a journal or recorded on a smart phone.
Can you tell us about Astro and your latest book?
Many people are surprised to learn that I don’t own Astro. He belongs to my very good friend. I own four other dogs in the series and the very naughty cats too. In the first book, The Great Escape, Astro thinks he has been imprisoned and he contacts a secret organization to save him. This actually happened in real life – well, sort of because Astro and my dog, Rocky, can’t type or send emails but I used several emails I exchanged with Astro’s owner on this true life event as the basis for the book.
The books just took off from there. The second book was written to introduce a new character after I adopted a blind puppy. The third book was created to showcase some of the great places in Australia… and so on!
I am currently working on books nine and ten. That’s not uncommon for me. I usually have two or three books happening at once. The latest book available is book eight, Dogs in Space.
I am in the final editing stages of book nine, The Haunted Circus, and I’m still writing book ten, Waking the Dragon.
Dogs in Space is a great read. It’s full of zany adventures, a very wicked cat, funny jokes and you might even learn something about the Solar System, too!
I also wrote a book to help children deal with feelings of depression and anxiety. It is called Astro is Down in the Dumps. It is a fun book written in rhyme with stunning illustrations that offers skills to children that they can do themselves to help left their mood. It is my goal to give a copy to each school and library in the country. Sales from this book will go towards this goal. I have also created a teacher’s resource booklet to go with Astro is Down in the Dumps so it can be utilized in the classroom or at home.
Any hints on future books?
Waking the Dragon, which I mentioned above, was inspired by a local Chinese dragon called Sun Loong. It’s the longest dragon in the world and only comes out for special occasions, like the Lunar New Year. I was lucky enough to see it recently and believe me, it is very impressive! During this adventure the dogs get to baby sit a very naughty baby dragon; fly to China and … well, I haven’t written the rest yet but it’s sure to be loads of fun.
I love cricket and I would love to send my characters to India to help save a cricket dog mascot. I’ll have to make one up but I’m up for the challenge. If you are not familiar with the game, look it up. It sounds boring but you’ll be surprised how interesting it really is.
Giveaway: Get a free e-copy of Dogs in Space. Go to this link and use this coupon at checkout: JZ44R