Have you heard about the new phenomenon, Zumba? It's the latest workout/dance craze and you're probably wondering what it has to do with teaching your child to read! Well, it has to do with modeling. I recently started attending Zumba workout classes to get in shape and have some fun. As with anything, if it's not fun, the likelihood of one sticking with it is greatly diminished. You can probably attest to this by the dust-collecting workout machines in your basement or the long-forgotten DVDs sitting on a shelf somewhere. The fact that Zumba is fun is one of the things that makes it work, and we can relate this to learning to read. If your child experiences pleasant and positive experiences with books and reading, he is more likely to want to read and come to the learning-to-read experience with a positive attitude.
But, let's take the Zumba analogy a bit further. When I started Zumba, I realized it would be a challenge. I have never had dance lessons and don't consider myself to have "natural" rhythm. I started out in the back of the room so as not to embarrass myself, but soon realized I needed to move up closer to the instructor so I could see her feet and replicate what she was doing. Since Zumba is so fast-paced, it is impossible for the instructor to cue us on her every move, so the best way to learn is to watch and do. This is why it is so important for you to read aloud to your child and to let him see you read often. Your child is watching and imitating. In fact, this is not just good practice, but scientific fact. Here's what Brenda Power, Editor of Choice Literacy has to say about the power of modeling. (www.choiceliteracy.com)
"Scientists have recently been decoding how "mirror neurons" in our brains work. They've realized humans are wired to connect with others, to live vicariously through others' experiences, in much stronger ways than we once thought. The brain doesn't differentiate much between watching someone do something, and doing it yourself - which is why there are so many obsessed sports fans in the world. Most important for teachers, these mirror neurons are also a key to how we learn. Just watching someone read a book teaches us more than we ever realized about the reading process. And we use our emotions to readily connect those experiences to other related tasks (either physically or emotionally)."
Sure, the Zumba instructor could spend the majority of our class time breaking down all the moves step-by-step for us, or she could put big diagrams on the walls depicting all the moves in each routine, and then ask us all to "try" it; but that, in and of itself, will not teach me how to Zumba. It's watching and doing and practicing and practicing and practicing that will make the difference. And when I watch my Zumba instructor and I am following her fancy footwork or the elegant wave of her arms, I believe I can be like her, in fact, I think I look just like her until I look in the mirror and realize I still have a ways to go! But, she never tells me I can't fully particpate in the class until I master the basics of the salsa or demostrate proper posture. No, she encourages all of us at whatever stage we are and she continues to model the ideal while giving instruction as we dance.
How critical all this is in the teaching of reading. Children should not have to wait until they have mastered each individual skill of reading before they can participate in the joy of reading real books! Use the reading time to model, encourage, give instruction at teachable moments, and allow your child many, many oportunities to practice reading. When your beginning reader is reading, he does know he is a "beginner", he thinks he is doing exactly what your are doing. With encouragement and practice, practice, practice, he will become a successful, mature reader. I know if my Zumba instructor told me everyday all the mistakes I made I would not return to her class and would be afraid to try. Be very careful about praise versus correction when reading. Developing readers need to take chances, and if a child is fearful of making mistakes, he will not take chances and not take ownership of his own learning to read. A dependent reader is not a successful reader.
So, make sure you are modeling and having fun with reading. Maybe there is even a way to burn calories while reading? That would be a dream come true!