As a children’s book publisher and app developer, I’m often asked, by parents and teachers alike, to recommend materials for young children that will support their reading development. I certainly have a list of favorite titles, but it’s been researched and well documented that any type of reading with a child is an invaluable way to foster literacy.
So, reading anything that is of interest to your little ones is definitely encouraged. That said, I do believe it is also critically important to understand how various styles of reading differ and how these differences impact a child’s learning.
For simplicity’s sake, there are two groups of reading experiences that I want to highlight here: shared reading and independent reading. As you can tell by their names, shared reading is intended as a joint reading experience between an adult and a child, like story time before bed, while independent reading focuses on a young reader working on their own with materials written to their level that allows them to systematically grow into a fluent reader.
It’s important to know the differences between each category so that as a parent or caretaker, whether you’re shopping in a bookstore or in the App Store, you’re selecting the proper materials to enhance the skills on which you want your child focusing. Whether your child is reading a book or using a book app on the iPhone or iPad, choosing the right shared or independent reading resource will affect what your child will get out of the experience.
The books that often come to mind when we think about story time, the ones with creative stories, imaginative illustrations and interesting text, are often most appropriate for shared reading. Because of their more complex language and storylines, these books are intended to be read to a child by an adult rather than for a child to tackle on their own. When I think of story time, whimsical books from the Dr. Seuss catalog are what I picture.
Books like The Cat in The Hat are terrific storybooks because, first and foremost, they’re fun and captivating and just as importantly, they introduce children to rich text that helps to expand their vocabulary and their imaginations.
The key aspect to shared reading experiences like The Cat in The Hat is that an adult is reading aloud to a child so that they can hear the text, follow the illustrations, and comprehend the story even though they probably can’t read many of the words by themselves. Another part of shared reading is repeatedly reading the same story over-and-over, which is something children seem to instinctively want without prompting.
Repeated readings foster a child’s comprehension of the story as well as permitting them repeat exposure to complex language and vocabulary that might otherwise not be introduced to them in any other context. Shared reading books are perfect for introducing more challenging language, modeling how sentences are read, and exposing children to concepts that could only be illuminated in a shared experience.
Independent reading is often ignored and overlooked because the resources used can seem overly simple and unsophisticated, but independent reading is an integral part to any child’s learning to read on their own. Books like those from the Dick and Jane series are a perfect example of independent reading resources; they are very simple stories with repetitive text and while admittedly the story-lines and text may not be as imaginative as Dr. Seuss, they are exactly what a budding reader should have in front of them to build the confidence to read independently.
What should you be looking for in the text to know that it is intended for independent reading? Simple text that is appropriate for beginning readers is characterized by short sentences comprised of basic, recognizable words, and sentence structures and vocabulary that is repeated over and over. For example, view this sample text from a Dick and Jane book:
Come and see.
Come and see.
Come and see Spot.
Compared to most storybooks, it’s easy to see why most parents would naturally select a book with a more exciting story. The text in independent reading books is generally, in a word, “boring”, but this is on purpose so children can practice their reading skills independently! It’s important to remember that in the world of a child, the ability to master vocabulary and to gain confidence in their ability to read is an exciting development, and as such, they will not view these books as boring as an adult may.
Even for very young children, having them “read to you” regardless if the words are read correctly, is a good way of encouraging independent reading skills. One last thing to note, books for independent reading are often leveled, meaning the complexity of the text increases gradually, in a controlled manner, so that skills and language are built upon in a systematic way that matches the ability of the child.
So, when you’re hunting around for books or apps for your children, I would encourage you to look for both independent and shared reading experiences. Exposure to both types of readers is important in building your child’s reading skills. Along with the independent reading apps Yun and I have developed, Letter Buddies AlphaBooks and Zoozoo Readables, here are some of my favorite shared reading and independent reading apps for the iPhone and/or iPad:
The Cat in the Hat; Moo, Baa, La, La, La; The Monster at the End of this Book; The Going to Bed Book, Travel with Bella
I See Animals at the Zoo, Bob Books, Sentence Reading Magic