Cover the Pictures!
by Julie Williams
In their early delight with books,
kids love to boast, "I can read that page! Look at me!"
It often turns out that something
quite different is happening: they're sneaking looks at the pictures to fill in
words, jumping back and forth between text and illustration. To worried
parents, this looks like cheating.
But primary reading teachers have
some reassuring advice: relax! This is a normal, important, and useful stage in
learning to read – and for emerging readers, parents should encourage it.
True, as they advance, young readers
will need to learn to get meaning from text alone. But a wealth of research
shows that this is a multilayered process for children. It's a big jump.
They're moving from concrete, realistic images – like those brightly colored
pictures – to abstract letter codes. When new readers peek at a picture in the
midst of stumbling with a word, they're not cheating. They're using important
"context clues" to check the meanings they aren't sure about.
Think of the pictures as visual
training wheels. As they move forward, children will need them less and less,
and will be able to rely on "sounding out" and other ways of cracking the code
of letters. Even so, "context" remains a very important tool for all fluent
readers. When you come across a long word you don't recognize, chances are you
make sense of it by looking at where it falls in the sentence, and what the
rest of the paragraph is saying. You're doing, as an adult, what your child is
doing with pictures – and it's a solid, valuable skill.
So what can parents do when a child
"reads" with pictures? Well, jump right in! Enjoy the splashy art on the pages,
and encourage your child to comment and explain. If he does read a printed word
flawlessly, that's great! But when there's a harder word, go ahead and point to
relevant pictures, and then move your finger to the corresponding text. Help
connect letters and sounds as you go. Then, because practice makes perfect,
return to the book a few times – reinforcing connections as your child becomes
more comfortable with new letter combinations and words.
Above all, remember to treasure this
time with your child. Keep your tone light and supportive. Reading is a gift to
savor for a lifetime – and beautiful pictures are, too.
Julie Williams, MA Education, taught
English and History for seventeen years at Aragon High School in San Mateo,
California. For the last five years, she has worked in classrooms with
primary-level students learning to read. She is the mother of two young sons.