By Almaret du Toit
The ability to read with understanding is one of the most fundamental skills that a child must develop during his school years. Not only does it give learners access to knowledge, but it enables them to make sense of the world around them. It also enables them to take purposeful action to create a better world.
While learners in the foundation phase must learn to read, learners in the intermediate phase use reading to learn. All future learning will depend on learners’ ability to read with comprehension. Furthermore, this skill of reading with understanding will enable learners to communicate meaningfully with the world in which they live. A learner’s reading skills therefore play a critical role in achieving success at school level. Not only does this enable learners to understand the full scope of the curriculum, but it also improves learners’ communication and language skills.
The development of reading skills begins by first cultivating a love of reading in the child. Reading should be fun. Reading stimulates the imagination and helps the child to escape to new worlds. By reading, the learner develops new vocabulary which in turn can be of value in his oral speaking skills as well as his writing skills.
We are currently living in the 21st century. This era in which we find ourselves requires that we need new reading practices. For example, we use read when we want to read entries on social media such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook. We read the weather on our mobile phones through graphs and maps. This therefore requires a new way of reading as texts are multi-modal. While sound, images, videos and words are purposefully connected to communicate with the reader in a digital world, we still need the same reading skills to be able to decode the text. It is therefore more than ever essential that we support our learners in all phases of their school career to enable them to read at appropriate levels of fluency, accuracy and understanding.
Parents can play an integral role in cultivating a love of reading in children and thus make a contribution to helping develop children’s reading skills. Parents should therefore read to their children from an early age. In this way, reading becomes “fun” and the child develops vocabulary. Research has found that if a child is exposed to a thousand books before the age of six, such a child will never struggle at school. It is therefore extremely important that we as parents expose our child to stories from a young age. Where books are not readily available in a household, library services can be used. By making access to books possible, a reading culture can be created in schools and homes. By further making sure that our teachers are well equipped to teach reading and help develop our learner’s reading development step by step, we can bring about a positive change in the reading levels of our children in South Africa. Our children deserve nothing less than that!
- Almaret is the chief education specialist of the Western Cape’s education department and a co-author of Solidarity School Support Center’s (SOS) ‘Reading guide for a structured reading strategy’ which was released in May this year. The Reading guide is available on order and is accompanied by a supplementary online ‘Reading Manual’.