How To Encourage Young Advanced Readers

(I wrote this a year ago and had forgotten to post it.)
El is a voracious reader. He loves to read, and he asks for books to read. He is also reading at a few grades higher than his age. However, his nursery is not really stretching him in reading. He comes back with books that do not have words. If there are words, they are just a short sentence per page. The vocabulary words are usually mono-syllabic.

We are supposed to read with him every day, so I would take the books out, and let him explain the wordless books to me, or I will create the story, complete with vivid descriptions and a wide range of vocabulary. If they are narratives, I will add in the emotions and the voices just to make him excited about the stories.

el reading

I noticed that some of the more exciting wordless stories are found in the Chinese section of the public library. I had once found award winning titles in the Chinese section. This book was actually created by a Japanese author and the pictures were extremely pretty and colourful. A man wanted to keep his yard spotlessly clean. He chased out all the animals. One day, when he woke up, he saw a log in his yard. He went out to remove it, but the log turned out to be a crocodile. He was afraid of it and did not chase it away. Soon, more and more animals turned up and lazed in the yard. The man decided to just join in and laze on the grass. We had fun identifying the various animals.

Thank goodness we have fantastic public libraries in Singapore. I borrow books regularly for El and his brother. Despite him reading at higher grade levels, he still loves to read basic readers. He would take his brother’s baby books, and read the simple sentences aloud. I had tried to get him to read to the brother, but Gar would usually snatch the book away or beat him up.

It is important for repetition, so I would usually renew the books, and hence we keep them for about six weeks. Throughout these weeks, they would take the books and read. Sometimes I would read to them too.

Since young, we have bought countless books. In fact, before El was born, a vendor helped me to build up my first collection for just under $400. There were lots of Eric Carle books, and also other fun books where we could pull out the animals to see what colours they had. I bought many Chinese books too, and read to him. For the English books, I would read in English, and also translate them into Mandarin.

El also had access to flash cards that taught him numbers and letters. We do not use flash cards by flashing them at a bullet-train speed, but simply let him look at the cards at his own pace. Gar has his own sets of bilingual cards, and sometimes he would search for the cards when we say the word. He has his own favourite yellow-coloured pictures.

I think his reading improved by leaps and bounds after he had learnt phonics. His first school taught him Zoophonics, and I bought a set for him when he was two years old. He loved the cards, and the readers that came in the set. The readers focused on various consonant-and-vowel combinations. Shortly after that, he surprised me by reading a book about all the different animals jumping. On another occasion, he read aloud the reader I had when I was in Primary 2. The story was about A-Choo, a cat that kept sneezing.

When I was in primary school, I remember this amazing librarian. She was fierce with a loud booming voice. However, she was very encouraging about reading. I was crazy about Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene, and also Enid Blyton. She actually recommended a book, Anne Frank’s Diary, to me, but unfortunately, I never got to reading it until today. I knew all about the background and the synopsis, but somehow I have not read it. I ought to get that done during the holidays.

It is sad to read that in some places, the gifted readers are not allowed to read books beyond their reading levels. One poignant point mentioned by a mother was that the librarian said the books with the yellow stickers were too difficult for the child but the child had already finished reading Oliver Twist.

I was never an advanced reader. I was an avid reader, but I did not read books beyond my grade. When I got to secondary school, I had lost interest in reading. I am not sure what happened along the way, but I guess I did not know what books to read. My mother asked her friend to buy some books suitable for secondary students, but they were easy and not that interesting. The only one I remembered was The Goalkeeper’s revenge, about a goalkeeper who was deemed not good enough to remain in the team. When he was rich enough, he did the same thing to the striker who had him sold, if my memory serves me correctly.

I see a big problem in primary school. Many children had been exposed to so much reading materials at a young age, and many of them go for enrichment classes. A big group do not read much at all and there will be a huge chasm between the two groups. The language teachers have to ensure the former group does not get bored, and the latter group is able to catch up. How will they stock their libraries? How will they promote their reading programmes?

When I was running school library programmes, I guess I had never catered to the advanced reader. I had to cater to the reluctant reader. I catered to the masses by finding books they will be interested in based on the themes.

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