A reading lesson for parents

The parents sitting in Robert Moton Elementary School's media center had come to learn how to read to their children.

"Take a picture walk," Lori Callahan, a preschool special-education teacher at Robert Moton, told the dozen or so mothers and fathers.


Such "walks" through books could give them a chance to see what their children know and what images they recognize, said Jen Strahler, another special-education teacher. They also enable children to create their own story using the pictures.

"Feel free to ad-lib it as you go along at this age," Callahan added. She advised simplifying the language or even adding descriptions: Instead of the basic dog, let it be a brown dog. "The point is not to feel like you are so tied to the text all the time."


The meeting was one of the monthly sessions the Judy Center holds that focuses on children up to age 5, said Susan Mitchell, the center's coordinator. The events usually draw from one of the so-called seven domains, she said: math, science, social studies, social, emotional, literacy and language skills.

The goal, Mitchell said, is to help parents "understand those basic skills to get their kids ready for school."

When it comes to fostering literacy, Mitchell said, it is often a question of doing "common-sense kind of things," such as regularly reading to children or showing them how to hold a book and turn the pages.

Even while driving down the street, there are opportunities to talk to children and develop language skills, she added.

On Wednesday evening, parents and children trickled into the Westminster school for a quick pizza dinner and activity, before separating for their respective lessons on reading.

At one table, Taylor Young, 5, had zeroed in on the sheet of paper before her, which used words that rhymed with animal names as clues.

"Color the animal that rhymes with ..." said her mother, Susan Young. She stopped at the last word in the sentence.

"You know that word. That's a 'W,'" she said to Taylor, referring to the first letter.


Taylor looked at the paper for a moment.

"Wig," she said.

"That's it," her mother replied. Her daughter then scanned the page and found the drawing of a pig to color.

Soon after, the children were ushered into a classroom down the hall, where the Story Lady - former Calvert County librarian Glenda Fields - awaited them. Across the way, the parents were discovering, or reminded of, ways to become story ladies (and gentlemen) themselves.

There, Callahan, Strahler and speech language pathologist Julie Yoshioka encouraged parents to do what Young did: Take time to challenge their children as they read, seeing whether they can fill in the blanks, especially for books that tend to repeat the same lines.

"It can just be simple questions about the pictures," Callahan said. The older the child, the more open-ended the inquiries.


But what about chapter books without drawings? asked Eldersburg mother Corinne Uram, whose 4 and 5-year-old daughters enjoy the more involved stories.

She could ask questions about the character's feelings instead, the teachers said.

Uram also questioned whether improvising would be possible with a child who closely follows the text.

"She is already pointing at words, so it will be hard to expand," Uram said of her daughter.

Then parents could urge their children to point out the added words, Callahan said.

"The game can be 'catch me,'" she said.


Beyond the chances to teach, parents should make the experience entertaining, Strahler said. Be silly. When there is a duck on the page, quack like one.

After all, Strahler added, "you are competing with TV."

If children see that reading is important to their parents, Callahan said, "it will be important to them."

"It is cold now. Grab a book and grab a blanket," she said.