Thursday, August 28, 2014

Are we blindly in love with our children?

The well-known Australian author John Marsden recently wrote a short piece in the Australian College of Educators publication 'Professional Educator' (Vol 13, Issue 3). As well as being a great author of children's and young adult books, he runs an alternative school in rural Victoria (Australia) for about 150 children called Candlebark. His key criteria for building the perfect school include having lots of space, interesting buildings, good resources, a challenging playground, great Internet and a variety of farm animals.

Like many teachers and principals he has some common concerns about education. For example, he's concerned about bullying. But not bullying by children of other children, he's concerned about bullying by parents of teachers and principals. How does he experience this bullying? In his words, at the hands of people who he describes as "in love" with their children. He describes it this way:
"We are seeing an epidemic of terrible parenting at the moment. Not just the familiar benign (and sometimes malign) neglect of decades past, but a new phenomenon: educated middle-class parents who don't just love their children, but are in love with them. This is another manifestation of narcissism. The fruit of their loins must be superior to every other child who has walked the earth... such parents agonise over every little disappointment their child suffers, lavish them with praise when they manage to eat a green bean ('We are so proud of you'), record every moment of their lives on camera, encourage them to parrot adult phrases at each other ('Scott you hurt my feelings when you took my pencil sharpener yesterday'), manipulate their friendships and encourage their feuds... In short, they minimise their children's transgressions, block the school's attempts to create a culture with consistent values, have no regard for those who are hurt by their children's narcissism, and blame the school for the child's aberrant behaviour. They are doing awful damage, irreparable damage, to their kids."
These are strong words, but John Marsden isn't the first teacher or principal to say such things. But before every parent becomes defensive at his words, it might be helpful to use his comments to shine a light on our parenting skills and our attitudes towards schools and teachers. I haven't taught for many years in a primary school, but when I did I can't say I had the experience that Marsden describes. As a teacher I had a position of authority that was respected. This meant that parents didn't question my every move, nor the sometimes critical comments I made about their children. Their first reaction was not immediately to defend their child. As a child if ever I complained about my teachers my Dad would typically say, "you probably deserved to be punished". We need to teach our children to show respect for their parents, for teachers and in fact for all people in society who fulfil roles with some authority. We also need to demonstrate some respect for them ourselves.

Above: My one-teacher school

When I took action as a teacher parents usually stood with me rather than in opposition to me. I can recall one memorable morning when I was teaching in a one-teacher school (I had 31 children across seven grades). I was standing in the driveway before school as parents and children were arriving. A child in year 3 was abusing his mother as he was getting out of the car. I grabbed him by the arm, pulled him out and said sternly, "I don't ever want to hear you speak to your mother like that again". His mother thanked me and she went home.  If I did this today I would probably be disciplined for grabbing the child, and the parent might well tell be to butt out of their parenting.

I saw a daytime breakfast host stand recently stand up on the set when a policeman walked in as a guest. The other panellists looked at her, laughed and asked, "Why are you standing"? She replied, "it was spontaneous, my father always taught me to stand whenever a policeman entered a room". It was a ritual that was a sign of respect. Another example comes from a school I visited this week, where there is a daily ritual of unknown origin that they say has been around for years. At the end of the day as students file out of the room their teacher is standing at the door to shake the hand of each student. The child thanks the teacher and in turn, the teacher thanks the child. The above examples are small things, but they show a respect for teachers and others in authority, which is sadly lacking in communities today. I suspect that this is more than just a minor lack of manners and etiquette; it shows something much deeper about parenting and how we raise our children. I think we need to take heed of John Marsden's wise (and confronting) words; there is great wisdom in what he has to say.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Australian Children's Book of the Year Winners Announced

The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year Awards were announced on the 15th August in Canberra. This event always marks the beginning of Children’s Book Week. As usual, the winners and honour books are a fabulous collection. But for every book that wins or is an honour book, there are many more worthy books. Thankfully, the CBCA publishes a list of approximately 100 notable books each year. You can find the lists HERE.


1. Older Readers (Young Adult Readers)


'Wildlife' by Fiona Wood (Pan)  

Life? It's simple: be true to yourself.
The tricky part is finding out exactly who you are...

"In the holidays before the dreaded term at Crowthorne Grammar's outdoor education camp two things out of the ordinary happened.
A picture of me was plastered all over a twenty-metre billboard.
And I kissed Ben Capaldi."

Boarding for a term in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sibylla expects the gruesome outdoor education program - but friendship complications, and love that goes wrong? They're extra-curricula.

Enter Lou from Six Impossible Things - the reluctant new girl for this term in the great outdoors. Fragile behind an implacable mask, she is grieving a death that occurred almost a year ago. Despite herself, Lou becomes intrigued by the unfolding drama between her housemates Sibylla and Holly, and has to decide whether to end her self-imposed detachment and join the fray. And as Sibylla confronts a tangle of betrayal, she needs to renegotiate everything she thought she knew about surviving in the wild.

A story about first love, friendship and NOT fitting in.

Honour books

'Fairytales for Wilde Girls' by Allyse Near (Random House)

'The Sky So Heavy' by Claire Zorn (UQP)    

2. Younger Readers (Independent Younger Readers)


'A Very Unusual Pursuit' by Catherine Jinks (A&U) 

'A Very Unusual Pursuit' is the first instalment in what should be a wonderful new fantasy series (the 'City of Orphans' trilogy).  It is set in Victorian London, where squalour sat alongside splendour. Where the houses of the rich were not always that far from the houses of the poor, open sewers, a seedy underworld and of course, the gruesome and frightening 'bogles'.

Monsters have been infesting London's dark places for centuries, eating every child who gets too close. That's why ten-year-old Birdie McAdam works for Alfred Bunce, the bogler. With her beautiful voice and dainty looks, Birdie is the bait that draws bogles from their lairs so that Alfred can kill them. 

One life-changing day, Alfred and Birdie are approached by two very different women. Sarah Pickles runs a local gang of pickpockets, three of whom have disappeared. Edith Eames is an educated lady who's studying the mythical beasts of English folklore. Both of them threaten the only life Birdie's ever known. But Birdie soon realises she needs Miss Eames's help, to save her master, defeat Sarah Pickles, and vanquish an altogether nastier villain. Catherine Jinks, one of Australia's most inventive writers, has created a fast-paced and enthralling adventure story with edge-of-your-seat excitement and chills.

The book is also available in the USA with the title 'How to Catch a Bogle'. Readers aged 11-14 will enjoy this engaging fantasy.

Honour books

'My Life as an Alphabet' by Barry Jonsberg (A&U)
'Light Horse Boy' by Dianne Wolfer and illustrated by Brian Simmonds (Fremantle Press)

3. Early Childhood (Preschool and beginning readers)


'The Swap' by Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Andrew Joyner (Little Hare)

Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner have produced a wonderful picture book to win this category in 2014. Jan Ormerod will be well known to Australian readers.

When Caroline Crocodile's baby brother is born, he's smelly and dribbles. He's no fun at all, but he manages to capture Mum's attention. Caroline decides to swap him for another baby. The Baby Shop assistant provides her with varied babies, but none turn out to be suitable! This funny story, reflecting the real life experiences of many big brothers and sisters, will be enjoyed by all.

'Honour books'

'I’m a Dirty Dinosaur' by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Ann James (Viking)

'Banjo and Ruby Red' by Libby Gleeson and illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Little Hare) 

4. Picture Book of the Year (Varied ages, Birth to 18 years)


'Rules of Summer' by Shaun Tan (Lothian)

It seems that every Shaun Tan book is a masterpiece. He has won international acclaim and numerous awards including an Academy Award for the animated short film adaptation of his book 'The Lost Thing'.

Rules of Summer seems at first to be a simple story about two boys and the sort of rules that could shape just about any relationship between friends or siblings. But such rules can be strange and arbitrary which becomes obvious. Tan's masterful illustration of this almost completely wordless book, takes us on an emotional journey that many will identify with.

Shaun Tan draws upon every day experiences (fishing, socks on the clothes line, average buildings on the street...) and leads the reader into a story rich in imagery and metaphor that takes you to darker places, before redemption as true friendship is affirmed.

Honour books

'King Pig' by Nick Bland (Scholastic Press)
'Silver Buttons' by Bob Graham (Walker Books) 

5. Eve Pownall Award for Information Books (Varied ages, Birth to 18 years)


'Jeremy' by Christopher Faille, illustrated by Danny Snell (Working Title Press)

Jeremy is a Tiny kookaburra just a few days old when he falls out of his nest.  He is brought home by of all things a cat! Luckily, Jeremy fights for his life. Slowly he gets stronger and stronger, until one day it's time for him to return to the life of a kookaburra. He must say goodbye. This is a lovely story based on a real life account of the rescue and raising of a baby kookaburra.

Honour books

'Welcome to My Country' by Laklak Burarrwanga and family (A&U)

This wonderful book is a collaboration between three academics and six Indigenous women from Bawaka and Yirrkala. It is a publication that literally welcomes you to the Country of Laklak Burarrwanga in Arhhem Land Northern Australia. This is a coastal land of crystal clear waters filled with fish, turtle, crab and stingray. The land that adjoins has varied bush fruits, pandanus for weaving, wood for spears, and all that is needed for daily life. But this isn't just a beautiful country, it is a land rich in meaning. This is the place where Laklak Burarrwanga heard great stories, told them to others and learned the great history of her people. These stories were learned from a special library, "a library in the land". This is a library that you cannot destroy.

This is a remarkable work that uses story, recount, poetry, exposition, lists, explanation and song to tell the story of the remarkable country of Laklak Burarrwanga. What a wonderful work! You can read my more detailed previous post on this book HERE.

'Ice, Wind, Rock' by Peter Gouldthorpe (Lothian)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Author & Illustrator Focus: Chris McKimmie

Chris McKimmie is a writer, illustrator and artist. His career has had several phases. In the 1970s he worked as a graphic designer and publications designer for the ABC, the National Parks and Wildlife Services and the University of WA Press. As well, he wrote, illustrated and designed a series of 8 children's books as well as designing many book covers. Later he moved to Queensland and established the illustration program at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University.

He has also applied his skills, knowledge and experience to film. In the 1980s he was production designer for the award-winning short film 'Stations' (1983) and the feature-length film 'Australian Dream' (1986). He also wrote the lyrics for the songs in both films, as well as 'Madness for Two' (1982), 'Top Enders' (1987) and 'Waiting' (1990). These films were written and directed by his wife, Jackie McKimmie.

Throughout his career he has also exhibited paintings and drawings at many Australian galleries. The last ten years have been a particularly fruitful time for him with children's literature and he has written and illustrated a number of wonderful children's picture books (see the full list at the end). The picture books he has written and illustrated can be recognised immediately by their deceptively simple style. This is a style that reflects careful attention to varied techniques honed over many years working as an illustrator in varied genres. He makes his images using acrylic on MDF, ink, watercolour, gouache, pastels and any other materials that seem like a good idea. I always feel as I read his books that here is an author and illustrator who seems to have a special way of getting inside the heads of his readers to set off sparks of imaginative energy.

Chris has received a number of awards for children's books including being shortlisted by the Children's Book Council of Australia for 'Two Peas in a Pod' (2011), 'Special Kev' (2009), and 'Brian Banana Sunshine Duck Yellow' (2007).

For more on Chris McKimmie's background read the interview I conducted with him at the end of this post.

Brief reviews of some of his recent picture books

'Crikey and Cat', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2014

Like all of Chris McKimmie's picture books 'Crikey and Cat' is aimed at inquisitive, creative and imaginative readers. It challenges them to think outside the square. Like all of his books he leaves 'space' for young readers to do their own thinking. If the stars suddenly disappeared, what would you do? With a ladder, a tape, and some late night cutting, the problem is solved! "Nice". But then, along comes the storm.... (you should read on). It is a wonderful blend of McKimmies delightful simple images, and just enough words to stimulate young and old brains. Wonderful!  Suitable for readers aged 3-6 years.

Scarlett and the Scratchy Moon', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2013

Scarlett can’t sleep again. The moon is scratching the sky, and she’s counting sheep. Scarlett is also sad because her pet dogs, Holly and Sparky, have died. But then a surprise comes to the door and the world seems new again.

'Alex and the Watermelon Boat', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2012

This book was inspired by his experience living through the Brisbane floods of 2011.  The flood provides the setting for a small boy's search in a 'watermelon' boat for his special stuffed rabbit. The river had burst its banks. The dam was overflowing. 'Don't go outside, Alex!' Mum shouted. But just then Rabbit hopped out the open window ...

Good Morning Mr Pancakes', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2011

It's holiday time for Bee. But first the chooks need their toenails painted, the dogs and cats need their bags packed and Gregor needs enough greens for a week. Then Bee is off to the island.

Two Peas in a Pod', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2010

From the inside front cover Chris McKimmie had me in. What might the four dwarves mean? I didn't think this was a book about dwarves?! No, it's about a boy and girl, like 'two peas in a pod', whatever that means. Violet calls her friend Marvin 'Marvellous' and they do everything together. Like watching the clouds to discover cotton wool castles and marshmallow kingdoms. Or catching the train in their lounge room to Toowoomba, Dimboola, Woop Woop and beyond. They live in Raven Street and you never know what they might encounter - ghosts, dwarves, woolly elephants? When Marvin leaves Violet for the plane trip home, it's always lonely. But luckily, Mum and T Rex are there waiting. I just love this book!

Special Kev Christopher', McKimmie (written & illustrated), East Melbourne: Allen and Unwin, 2008

If only my Mum had called me 'Special Kev' (funny thing is that strangers often call me 'Kevin', but that's my story). Trevor ('Special Kev') was always going to be different. He was born on April Fools Day and had different qualities to all of his "eleventy million cousins". With curly red hair and freckles he'd be noticed all right. Kevin seems to have a life with plenty of problems (like 'the thing with Nicky Bathgate) and it's never his fault. No, it was Fatty Boombah's, Nicky's, or Megan the Meanie's. Only Aunty Pav - who like Kevin is unique - seems to offer him a lifeline. This special book about a special child, has lots to say about difference, friendship and family. As with all McKimmie's books, it offers an opportunity for joyous fun with young children, but there is always a deeper point that awaits the reflective reader.

Maisie Moo and Invisible Lucy'. Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2007

The funny and tender story of Maisie who lives with her parents in the Gone Bonkers Discount Palace. She shares her troubles and joys with her invisible friend, Lucy, and misses her father who is often away driving his truck.

Brian Banana Duck Sunshine Yellow', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), East Melbourne: Allen and Unwin, 2006

A wonderful, innovative, quirky picture book about a child's search for identity and the need to belong - and a glorious celebration of the colour yellow.
An Interview with Chris McKimmie

1. Most of your published profiles don’t say a lot about you. Where did you grow up? What were your early influences? Are there people who helped to shape the Chris McKimmie who writes and illustrates such interesting picture books?

I was born in Perth, Western Australia and I am the youngest in a family of five. I grew up surrounded by aunties and cousins. Every Christmas we would gather around two trestle tables at my Italian grandmothers place two doors up. She had twelve kids, including my mother. The aunties, uncles and cousins would drink, play the piano accordion and sing and watch my grandmother have her one cigarette a year on her birthday which was also Christmas day.

At school we didn't have art. We had tech drawing which I would always get smudged and crooked. I didn't like school much and was glad to get out. My last year at school was spent listening to the top 40 hit parade and plotting the course of various songs and playing along on my homemade drum kit. When I left school after just scraping through I bought a sparkling red Premier drum kit and played in bands at weddings, twenty firsts, nightclubs and the one jazz club in Perth. Then I went to Sydney where I met Jackie.

We both returned to Perth and studied there and had our first son while we were students. I studied Graphic Design with electives in painting and drawing and I finished my studies a year before Jackie and worked at the West Australian University Press as a book designer. Every pay day I would buy a children’s book for our son. This was my introduction to picture books. I realised that as long as a book had a certain honesty to it that it served a purpose one way or another and at some time or other.

When Jackie finished her studies we moved to Sydney and had our second son. I worked various jobs cleaning and then as a designer at National Parks and Wildlife and the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Then I took a year off to help raise the boys and write and illustrate some children’s books while we both worked part-time. The 8 books I wrote, designed and illustrated were published by Hicks Smith and Methuen and sold internationally. In 1976 we moved to Queensland so I could take up a job offer from the Queensland College of Art. We planned on staying a few years but have been here a bit longer than that. Up until 2001 I was the convenor of the illustration programme at the college. Since I left I have been working on stories and books and paintings for exhibitions.

2. Do you love story as much as illustrating? Do you see the words in your books as just as important as the images?

Yes. I work on both together and change them as the story develops. Sometimes getting rid of some pretty good pictures. Sometimes getting rid of some pretty good writing. I also design all my books and I see that as a valuable part of the story as well.

3. Could you tell me a little about the inspiration for ‘Crikey and Cat’?

Crikey started out as the blue book. Pretty much the first half of the book. The publishers asked me to combine it with two other books I had sent them in rough form. These books were about a red cat. I found it impossible because the story lines wouldn’t connect. I asked Jackie, my wife, who is a writer of films, plays and poetry if she could come up with anything and she solved the story line in about five minutes.

4. A number of reviewers speak of your work as ‘quirky’, and this word came to my mind as well. But it seems to me that it’s much more than this. Do you see a book like ‘Crikey and Cat’ as quirky or would you describe the book another way?

No I don’t see it as quirky. Nor do I see my other books as quirky. I just work around my limitations.

5. What is the best response you've ever had to your illustrative & creative work?

I once got an e mail from a woman who told me she was taking my book Brian Banana Duck Sunshine Yellow on holidays with her and she reads it four or five times a day and that the line ‘It’s just beautiful, Wayne’ was the best line ever written in the English language. I was pretty glad I lived in a different state.

6. Do you have other book projects on the drawing board?

I have just signed a contract for a book called Lara of Newtown about a cat that is abandoned at Christmas time then is given as a Christmas present and abandoned again.

7. Who or what has been the most significant influence on your creative work?

Pretty much everything. I read a lot of poetry. Novels, short stories and picture books. If you have read some of my books e.g. Good Morning Mr Pancakes all the grandkids have been a help as well.

Full List of Chris McKimmie's Children's Books 

'Crikey and Cat', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2014
'Scarlett and the Scratchy Moon', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2013
'Alex and the Watermelon Boat', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2012
'Good Morning Mr Pancakes', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2011
'Two Peas in a Pod', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2010
'Special Kev Christopher', McKimmie (written & illustrated), East Melbourne: Allen and Unwin, 2008
'Maisie Moo and Invisible Lucy'. Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, 2007
'Brian Banana Duck Sunshine Yellow', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), East Melbourne: Allen and Unwin, 2006

Earlier Works

'The Caught Bird', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Sydney: Methuen Australia, 1977
'The Shape I'm In', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Sydney: Methuen Australia, 1977
'One Rainy Day', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Sydney: Methuen Australia, 1977
 'The Magic Day', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Sydney: Methuen Australia, 1977
'Apple to Zoo', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Sydney: Hicks Smith, 1975
'The Painted Bird', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Sydney: Hicks Smith 1975 'Two Friends', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Sydney: Hicks Smith, 1975
'One Day', Christopher McKimmie (written & illustrated), Sydney: Hicks Smith, 1975

Monday, August 4, 2014

Helping toddlers to develop reading comprehension


I've written a number of times about comprehension on this blog and have also written books and articles on the topic (see some references at the end). This post is a revised version of one I wrote in 2013. My claim in many of these publications is that comprehension begins early; in fact, in the first years of life. By comprehension I mean the ability "to understand, interpret, appreciate and critique what we read, view, hear and experience." This might not sound like something preschoolers do, but it is! Young children begin to make sense of their world and all that is in it from birth.

As distinguished literacy researchers Ken and Yetta Goodman said many years ago (in 'Learning to read is natural', 1979):
"The beginnings of reading often go unnoticed in the young child".
For the young child meaning making occurs from birth, and reading comprehension as we recognise it emerges over the first 5 years of life. In fact, for most children, it begins before they can decode print.

The emergence of comprehension

Caitlin McMunn Dooley wrote an excellent article in The Reading Teacher (Oct 2010) in which she described her observations of a group of children aged 2-5+ years in an early childhood classroom over a three year period.  Her observations suggested four broad phases in their emerging comprehension. These are not neat stages (hence the use of the word phase):

Book as prop (<2 to 3) - When choosing books children pay minimal attention to the topic and content of the book and instead use books as a prop, treating them like other play things. The book can symbolize story time or can be used to simulate reading.

Book as invitation (2+ to 3+) - Eventually, children begin to consider the book holistically as a complete unit of meaning. They begin to recognise the topic of the book mainly through images, colour, shape etc. They start to bring books to adults and expect them to read them. They might also volunteer to 'read' the book to others.

Book as script (3+) - Eventually, children begin to show an understanding that text carries meaning, as do the many features of the book.  Dooley found that many 3 year olds begin to treat the books more like "..scripts, memorising and calling out the texts in books..".  They point to the print and attend to text content, images and sound including voice intonation and inflection.

Book as text (4+) - Most four year olds begin to attend more to the print, pointing to the words and recalling (generally from memory) word by word what is on the page. They are still just as interested in content, images and sound, but there is an emerging sense of integrated comprehension where the reader can see consistencies and inconsistencies between print and other elements such as image and sound.

Comprehension emerges with other people

What needs to be understood about emergent comprehension is that the ability to make meaning as children encounter books, films, objects and experiences, develops as children try to make sense of their world. It also happens as an extension of their relationships within families and in other learning situations both informal (play with others) and structured (a preschool classroom or playgroup).

The following description of a preschool class gives some sense of what I mean:

Even when the teacher was not initiating reading or writing, the classroom was filled with literate behaviour. In the dress-up corner several children were including story reading in creative play. Children took turns as mother reading to her baby. Genevieve was asking her pretend mum to explain why the dog in I'll Always Love You (Wilhelm, 1985) had such a sad face (this is a book about death). Mum was doing a wonderful job explaining the relationships within the story. Another group playing shops was using a receipt book to record purchases. Receipt books were often referred to in the home corner. 'Mum' and 'Dad' were reading the newspaper and later flicking through the pages of the telephone book (Cairney & Langbien, 1989).
It is in varied social settings that children make meaning and begin to acquire a more sophisticated understanding of how written language works. Over time, the foundations of comprehension are laid.

What parents can do to help comprehension emerge? 

Here are 10 simple tips

  • Read regularly (at least daily) to your children and talk about the things that you read.
  • Try to read the book with emotion, with invented sound effects, with different voices for characters and the narrator, changes in voice volume and tone - much meaning is communicated this way.
  • Support their emerging understanding of what they read or hear by encouraging them to look at pictures and images and relate these to the words that you read. Emphasise key words or repetitive patterns in the book “But don’t forget the bacon”, “But where is the Green Sheep?”
  • Encourage them to relate ideas, language and knowledge that a book introduces to other areas of learning or life – “You’ve got a teddy too”, “His puppy is like Darren’s puppy”, “We saw an elephant like this one at the zoo”.
  • Encourage them to draw, sing, talk about, act out, make things, dress up and so on, in response to the things that you read to them or they read themselves (creating meaning in response to books).
  • Encourage them to use other tools to make meaning (playdough, toy animals, dress-ups, Thomas trains, drawing, craft etc) and relate these as appropriate to books (creating meaning leads to books).
  • Encourage them to memorise and learn things from the books they read or listen to. You can’t read “Wombat Stew” without reciting over and over again “Wombat stew, Wombat stew, Gooey, brewy, Yummy, chewy, Wombat stew!”
  • Encourage them to make connections between the things they read, view and experience – “This story is like in the television show Shaun the Sheep when he…..”.
  • Read varied books – different story types, factual books as well as fiction, poetry and prose, different forms of illustrations and so on.
  • Watch TV shows, videos and movies with your children and talk about them, explain things, try to make connections with stories they have read, encourage response with art, drawing, play dough, puppets, dressing up, acting out and so on.
    Summing Up

    Comprehension is ultimately the highest goal of reading, we read to understand things, to work things out, to make meaning.  Its foundations are laid in the first 5 years of life, not through structured activities, but through the use and experience of language and in particular, story.

    Comprehension emerges over time as children are encouraged to encounter and use written language and to integrate this with other avenues they have for making meaning.

    Other blog posts related to this topic

    'Teaching and Supporting Children's Reading Comprehension' (HERE)
    'Reading to Learn Using Text Sets' (HERE)
    'Improving Comprehension: Sketch to Stretch' (HERE)
    'Improving Comprehension: Map Making' (HERE)
    'Improving Comprehension: Advance Organisers' (HERE)
    'Why Kids Re-read Books' (HERE)
    'Making Books Come Alive' (HERE)
    'The Power of Literature' series (HERE)
    All posts on 'Children's Literature' (HERE)
    All posts on 'Comprehension' (HERE)

    References cited in this Post

    Cairney, T.H. (2010). 'Developing Comprehension: Learning to make meaning'. Sydney: e:lit (formerly Primary English Teaching Association).

    Cairney, T.H. (1995). 'Pathways to Literacy', Cassell: London.

    Cairney, T.H. (1990). 'Teaching Reading Comprehension: Meaning Makers at Work', Open University Press: London.

    Cairney, T.H. & Langbien, S. (1989). Building Communities of Readers and Writers, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 42, No. 8, pp 560-567.

    McMunn Dooley, C. (2010). Young children's approaches to books: The emergence of comprehension, The Reading Teacher, 64, 2, pp 120-130

    Goodman, K.S and Goodman Y.M. (1979) Learning to read is natural. In L.B. Resnick and P.A. Weaver (Eds), Theory and Practice of Early Reading (Vol 1),  Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, p 137-154.

    * This is a revised version of a post I wrote in November 2013