Books, Books, Books, and How Children Learn to Read!

A child reads a small version of Dr. Seuss Book, Hop on Pop

(Hint- learning to read is all about relationships, but reading isn’t actually a natural process!)

A child reads a small version of Dr. Seuss Book, Hop on Pop
Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

A Simple View of Reading, and Complex Brain-Based Process

Learning to read is a complex process that human beings have adapted to learn to do. It requires building specific brain skills and neuro-connections that are not biologically wired (like speaking and walking for individuals with able-bodies). Reading involves both eyes (ideally) working together left-to-right and top-to-bottom across a page to decode specific symbols on a page (or screen). Each letter (that is, the visual, physical shape of the actual letter) has a name and a corresponding sound (this is equally the case in Spanish or any written language, though the English language has all sorts of exceptions!), and the brain must “translate” the letter shapes into sounds, and then combine them in patterns that also have meaning. 

This is called an “orthographic mapping process,” which involves the visual interpretation of written letters with sounds.  After the entire word is decoded as a whole, reading then involves our brains connecting the word (the precise letter configuration with corresponding sounds) to the meaning of the word and the surrounding context. This perspective is based on what is known as the “Simple View of Reading.” We also have an earlier blog post you can find here about how learning to read requires decoding skills plus meaning-making. 

A young child leans over a book, turning pages and looking at the pictures
Photo by Iana Dmytrenko on Unsplash

Reading and Reading-Readiness Requires our Whole Brains

Treehouse Learning children both prepare to learn, as well as learn to read through processes of learning the sounds and shapes of letters, as well as through the relationship-based experience of hearing words and making meaning of language (in both English and Spanish). 

As part of our whole-brain/person/planet approach to learning, we consider the skills of decoding (phonics) as well as relationship-based meaning-making (context) in terms of brain architecture. For example, we use Brain Gyms as part of intentional, playful learning opportunities to support the integration of our entire brain through connection-based learning both in a large community format at Big Circle and in classrooms all day long in smaller groups or individualized learning opportunities. Each classroom has a cozy corner and resources for self-regulation and building emotional intelligence, which supports the development and integration of our whole brains to support all learning, including reading! 

Music, Community, and Connection Support Reading Readiness

Songs and rhymes are particularly effective for teaching word sounds that support decoding letter blends, especially when they are delivered via song-based movements in a joyful, community-based setting. Our approach, including the songs of Big Circle and our incorporation of Brain Gym to integrate and activate all parts of our brain for learning, engages children in multi-modality and multi-sensory learning pathways that involve multiple senses. We all learn best when given the opportunity to engage our entire bodies and selves in the learning process! 

The time spent reading, as well as positive experiences with books are also central to the process of learning to read. Research indicates that particularly in the early years, it is the relationship between the child and the book-reader that shapes positive experiences with books. This includes the lap a child is sitting on, and the back-and-forth verbal exchange between a child and adult including pointing, describing pictures, asking questions, empathizing with characters, as well as building context-based vocabulary. 

Reading is Relational

This language-based exchange is relational, in that it occurs far more beneficially from a human relationship than via a screen! As parents of young children, one of the most effective ways to build literacy skills is in the relationship and connection-based rituals of sharing books together with your child. You do not have to read every single word or finish the entire story! 

Parents reading with children are also modeling how we care for books and keep them “read-able” for a long time, as well as sharing a love of books as a way of learning, empathizing, experiencing, and making meaning of the world. Books invite us into the language-and-meaning-rich world, where children can be nourished by a love of stories, a love of artwork, imagination, and possibility held within the pages of a book, through a relationship-based process shared with someone they love. 

Reading Builds Emotional Literacy too!

On a social-emotional level, books invite us to see the world through the eyes of another, which is at the root of empathy, compassion, and true care. Books invite us into curiosity, compassion, and connection. We live in a world full of conflict and division, where many people are turned into “others,” and treated as less valuable based on the perception of someone’s identity being “not like me.”  We believe that building belonging in the world begins with simply seeing one another as complete human beings, and this process emerges naturally by sharing and listening to each other’s stories. Stories and books reflect the world around us where we can see ourselves through mirrors, and also invite us to peer through windows into a new experience, via our imagination. As conduits for learning, exploration, and transformation, books are also doorways to new understandings. 

Reading Books is Analog and Old School!

A holistic approach to literacy at Treehouse Learning also includes each child in relationship to the larger systems around us. The education and experiences that your children will receive in the school system and world beyond Treehouse Learning will be heavily shaped by technology, in ways that our own adult brains can hardly grasp! 

We recognize that technology isn’t going away and the data is still lagging and incomplete. However, we recognize the system-wide need to support the Whole Person well-being and mental health of all children through the experiences that shape brain development.  We apply this principle through playful learning opportunities to support the wiring of children’s brains through relationship-based systems as much as possible. This includes the process of learning to read and building relationships with the physical, analog version of a book itself, as well as the human-to-human relationships involved in experiencing books and learning to read.

A stack of well-cared for books
Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Books… Quality over Quantity

Finally, a whole-planet literacy approach also considers that positive literacy skills aren’t simply dictated by the sheer quantity of books in a classroom either, but rather the relationship that children have with books. We teach children not only to love reading books, but to also love the books themselves, and care for them well!  Our learning objective, informed by the Montessori philosophy of care for the environment, classroom materials, one another, and ourselves, is that children build respect-based relationships with books that translate to a life-long relationship with learning through reading and consuming books. While books do get damaged if not cared for properly, our hope is that children learn to treat books in ways that support books lasting for a long time.

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