How labels can help your kids become readers
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by Sarah Mueller
No, not the kind of labels that say your kid is smart or has ADHD or is below average. I’m talking about actual little signs with the names of things that you post around the house.
If you go to a preschool classroom, you may see labels on the shelves and other areas – “Block Corner”, “Train”, “Dress-up”, etc. Perhaps there’s also a picture or stick figure drawing illustrating the label.
These labels do help to keep the space organized (aren’t preschool classrooms wonderfully organized?), but they also help to encourage beginning reading. Kids see the sign, they see what toys are there, and if they know a few letter sounds, they can associate the word with whatever is in that area.
If you’re encouraging a beginning reader in German, or in English, you can use labels around the house as part of your strategy to teach your kids.
What should I label?
You can label anything around the house – toy areas, dresser drawers, categories on the book shelf, the contents of kitchen cabinets. Of course if you’re encouraging bilingualism, you’ll write them in German. You probably don’t want to label the entire house for fear of driving your spouse crazy. Instead, keep it a bit lighter, perhaps putting up a few labels in the kitchen, playroom or your children’s rooms. You can do it very simply with some scratch paper and tape or you can get fancy and print up colorful labels on cardstock. Your kids may even want to help you make the labels, thereby offering more practice with reading and writing!
Why do labels help beginning readers?
1. Labels offer reading opportunities in bite-size chunks.
Reading one or two words is very non-threatening and not overwhelming. It’s approachable. A colorful label calls out to a child “Read me!” If you make the print large enough, it will be easier for young eyes to make out the letters.
2. With labels, kids are learning from context.
They’ll know if they got it right. It’s easy to tell what the word should say. A child can correct himself if he reads it incorrectly. Learning from context is so much more effective than someone else telling him he’s wrong – if he discovers an error himself, he’ll be likely to try and figure out where he went wrong and fix it. “Oh, that’s a B, not a D so this is the Doll Corner.”
3. Labels are low pressure.
A child doesn’t have to worry about getting something wrong. It’s not like a story where they will be frustrated if they can’t read a word. Plus, if they’re not interested, they can simply ignore the labels and life goes on.
4. Labels offer the factor of repetition.
When your child sees and reads a word several times a day for a few weeks, that word will gradually become a “sight” word for him and he’ll be able to read it instantly when he encounters it in other places.
Don’t make the mistake of over-emphasizing the labels…
If your kids don’t want to read them with you, don’t push it. If the baby rips them down, try again in another spot. Labels are just another tool in your toolkit to bring your kids to a knowledge of written German. Some kids may never even glance at them twice while others may go through the house working to read every one of them.
Once your kids are reading individual words, you can progress to notes and signs.
You can post “Bitte wasche Deine Hände!” (please wash your hands) in the bathroom, “Rucksack nicht vergessen” (Don’t forget your backpack) on the house door or put little notes in your kids’ lunches. When kids are learning to read, it’s almost like it’s a secret code for them and they’re thrilled to join the club. They will love to play this game with you. This practice is an excellent way to connect with your kids and offer them a little extra reading practice.
Actually labels aren’t just for beginning readers...
When you label a drawer or a cabinet, it’s likely it will be properly used by all family members (notice, I didn’t say it’s guaranteed!) You can train your children to put things away in the correct place and labels are an easy way to keep drawers and cabinets organized. You may decide labels aren’t just a temporary phase for your home and their usefulness will carry on long after your children are skilled readers.
- Use labels to help beginning readers.
- Labels offer bite-size learning opportunitites.
- Labels are low pressure and offer repetition.
- Don’t overemphasize labels.
- Progress to longer notes and signs.
So borrow a technique from the preschool classroom and put up some labels around the house. Your new readers will benefit from it and you all may have a little fun in the process.
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