Barb Kinsella likes to read. Always has.
Now, she coaches new readers at Notre Dame Academy’s St. Augustine of Canterbury campus in Belleville.
“What I remember from teaching first grade, it really is a light bulb experience,” said the reading specialist and teacher. “They develop the pieces they need to become a fluid reader. For some, it comes together overnight or in a short period of time. They realize they can do it.
“There’s a physical difference in children when they realize they are a reader. They sit taller, walk confidently. They own the world.”
Kindergartners Brooke Raetz and Noah Powers, both 5, know the feeling.
“It’s cool,” said Brooke, who demonstrated her skill, using her pointer finger as she read “Look At That,” a story about pictures you see in clouds.
“It’s amazing,” said Noah, whose eyes widened as he read “All About Earthworms.”
His favorite book? “There’s a Monster at the End of This Book,” by Jon Stone.
“The character is really the monster,” said Noah. “He’s building stuff to stop you from turning the pages. I can read it by myself. I’ve had it for like five years.”
Children pick up reading skills long before they know what reading is.
The most important thing a parent can do is talk to children all the time. ... From the time a child is tiny, you should be narrating their day.
Barb Kinsella on preparing kids to read
“The most important thing a parent can do is talk to children all the time,” said Barb. “From the time a child is tiny, you should be narrating their day. The most successful students are the children who (by school age) have heard 30 million more words than ones who have not been immersed in a language-rich environment.”
She referred to the book, “Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain,” by Dana Suskind, based on research by Betty Hart and Todd Risley. What they discovered is that children who heard more words were better prepared for school, she said. They have a larger vocabulary, become strong readers and score higher on standardized tests.
Reading furthers language skills in a different way.
“You build up vocabulary by reading,” she said. “By five or six months, they enjoy sitting on your lap and being read to. As we do that, they are hearing the language of books over and over again. The language of books is different from when we speak to each other. We stop and start. That’s not how books are put together.”
Books encourage interaction, too.
“With board books, we say, ‘Look at the animals. There’s a cow. What does it say?’ Or for body parts, we point to the nose. ‘Where is the baby’s nose?’”
Soon, they are pretending to read.
“The book might be upside down,” said Barb. “They may flip pages backward. That’s the beginning of a beginning reader.”
If a child has missed out, Barbara starts where they need help.
“You may go back to phonetic awareness, where they are learning to listen for sounds,” she said.
She may begin with short words such as “an” and “at” and make new words, adding a letter. Rat, pat, cat, sat.
“Could you make the word ‘lat’? That’s a silly word. You make it fun.”
Barb grew up in East St. Louis with four brothers and three sisters.
“You couldn’t get a library card until you were seven,” she said. “On my seventh birthday, it was a big deal. Mom got us down to the library.”
Her mom liked books. Her dad read newspapers.
“We had three newspapers delivered every day.”
Barb, who lives in Edwardsville with husband Tom and has two grown daughters, likes mystery books and cookbooks.
“I am a big Lee Child fan. I get his books as soon as they come out. I love cookbooks. ‘The Food Lab’ (by J. Kenji Lopez-Alti) mixes science and food — why we prepare foods a certain way and how to get the best result. I really love that one.”
Barb started her career teaching hearing-impaired kindergartners in Roxana. She spent 10 years teaching children with learning disabilities and communication disorders, and transitioned to a traditional first-grade classroom. She has watched the reading light bulb come on for hundreds of children, not always as soon as they and their parents hope.
Out of kindergarten, they are pretty proficient readers. ... or it takes till the end of first grade. They’re acquiring skills all along. By third grade for many, you can’t tell the difference. Again, don’t give up. Don’t stop. Have confidence it’s going to happen.
Barb Kinsella how fast kids learn to read
“My advice: Keep reading to them and with them,” she said. “Some children pick up the separate skills they need and read early. Out of kindergarten, they are pretty proficient readers. ... or it takes till the end of first grade. They’re acquiring skills all along. By third grade for many, you can’t tell the difference. Again, don’t give up. Don’t stop. Have confidence it’s going to happen.”
Here are Barb’s tips on helping your child succeed at reading.
Having conversations is a very big deal. From the time he is a tiny baby, talk to your little one. “‘It’s bedtime.’ ‘Let’s go get your jammies on.’ You are narrating the events of their lives. Start early and never stop.”
Make a goal to read to your child daily. “Let them hear the language of books. ‘He asked.’ ‘He yelled.’ We don’t use those words, but they are part of the language of books. Keep reading to them even after they learn to read themselves. ... The biggest mistake is to stop. Read to them through third and fourth grades. Pick books you both enjoy, and read together. Research shows that children love it when parents go back and read to them. You can read to them at a level a little above their own. That provides background knowledge and builds familiarity with more complex sentence structure they will encounter later on.”
Choose a good mix of fiction and nonfiction. That helps build a vocabulary for social studies and science lessons, Barb said.
Talk about what you are reading. “Ask questions. Make predictions. Why do you think they did that? What is going to happen next? Explain vocabulary words that might be difficult. Encourage your child to ask questions.”
Partner read. “You read a page; they read a page,” said Barb. “Or read together. When you see child is comfortable with what they are reading, let your voice drop. When you come to a difficult part, join in again. It’s a good model of reading fluency.”
Make reading material available. “You (should) have a house full of books or reading material such as magazines or newspapers. Many magazines, such as Sports Illustrated, have a junior edition. What a treat to get a new magazine every month.”
Model reading yourself. “Let your child see you read. If not a full book, read a newspaper or magazine. Let them see that reading is enjoyable.”
Visit a library. “A library is a great resource, and it’s free. More libraries provide access to books online. There are reading programs, incentives, books on a theme. There is lots to do at the library. ... We do live in a technological age. There’s a lot more reading they do online or with an e-reader, but the majority of children said when they read for pleasure they like holding a book, maybe moreso for younger children. Books are so colorful and enticing.”
Take field trips with your children during the summer. “Go to places you haven’t visited. It’s an opportunity to build up language vocabulary and experience things you haven’t experienced before — the zoo, Botanical Garden. Talk, talk, talk about everything you see and experience. Building vocabulary will help you be a successful reader.”
A caution. “Children put pressure on themselves to read chapter books. If the child is not ready, he or she struggles to figure out more than three words on a page. That’s teaching them to become word callers. They work so hard that they don’t understand what they are reading. They get into the habit of reading words and not understanding. If you choose a book a little above their reading level, read that book to them. It gives experience with more complex language.”
When choosing books, flip to the middle. “We call it the five-finger test. Hold up your fingers. For every time they struggle with a word, put down a finger. It’s a good indication it’s a book to read to them. Tell them, ‘You will be reading this book in no time.’ That struggle comes at the end of first grade into second. They are not quite ready to read full chapter books yet. I always worry when I hear parent of a second- or third-grader say, ‘He’s reading Harry Potter.’ You worry about comprehension. Wouldn’t Harry Potter be a wonderful adventure for you and your child to read together?”
Books series for young readers
Are your young readers ready for chapter books? Here’s what reading specialist Barbara Kinsella suggests.
- Mr. Putter and Tabby series and Henry and Mudge series, by Cynthia Rylant — The prolific author has several series for children.
- The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne — “They’re a little higher level than the Cynthia Rylant series,” said Barbara. The books follow siblings Jack and Annie, whose adventures begin in a magic treehouse.
- The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner — Four orphaned children, Henry, Jessie Violet, and Benny create a home for themselves in an abandoned boxcar in the forest. “It’s imaginative and adventuresome,” said Barbara, of the books first published in 1924. “My second-grade students loved being read ‘The Boxcar Children.’ Many of them went home to their parents and said, ‘We want the next one.’”
- Pete the Cat books by Erik Litwin, illustrated by James Dean — “It’s a new series that children love,” said Barb.
- National Geographic’s nonfiction series for kids — “Great pictures and a limited number of words. They gradually get more difficult until they are chapter books for kids. They are great for moving children along. I find both boys and girls like nonfiction.”