Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How To Create A Supportive Literacy Environment In Your Home

It’s really no secret that reading aloud to children and having access to books aids in the development of language and literacy skills.  Once a child learns to read, voluntary free reading is associated with the development of adequate skills in comprehension, writing, vocabulary, grammar, and spelling.  One of the simplest things a parent can do to encourage literacy skills and free reading is to create what I call a “supportive literacy environment”.  Let me explain……

1)   Make sure books (and other types of print materials) are accessible in your home.

This not only means that you need to HAVE books in your home, but they need to be easily accessible by children.  So, it’s not enough to have a ton of books sitting pretty on the last shelf of your bookcase since your toddler can’t actually get to them.  For young children, the help-yourself bookcases are wonderful for providing access to printed materials (ours below is from JCPenny).  Can’t afford a new bookcase?  A bin placed on the floor, or a magazine rack will do the trick just fine too. 

Why is access to books so important?  Here’s some interesting research findings
(as cited in The Power of Reading by Steven D. Krashen):

            *A print-rich environment in the home is related to how much children read
            *Reading has been associated with number of books in the home; children who
              read more, have more books
            *More access at to books in the home results in more reading

            Books don’t have to be expensive either. Check out local garage
            sales, book sales at your public library, second hand thrift shops, and the dollar

2)      Have a space in your home designated for reading.

Just like dad or mom needs their own office or “man space” or Jacuzzi tub to relax and enjoy some quiet time, your child needs a place where he or see can go to read.  It should be a quiet, inviting space much like you might see in a children’s library, although it doesn’t have to be that extravagant.  You might want to include your child’s favorite stuffed animal, a nice throw rug, a rocking chair and some soft furniture or pillows (there is research to support that these things actually encourage reading!).  A child’s reading space can even be his or her own bed with a nightstand stocked with favorite books and a lamp for comfortable reading.

3)      Be a model reader

Let’s face it, children model our behaviors.  It’s not enough to preach reading to your child - you actually have to do it a little yourself!  Research shows that children read more when they see others reading.  So turn off the TV and cell phone and pick up a newspaper, magazine, or your favorite novel. 

4)      Set aside a specific reading time

Research shows that children read more when they have time to read.  Remember sustained silent reading from your own school days?  Well, set up a time for SSR at home.  Whether it’s right before bed, or every Saturday morning, your child will definitely benefit from the time set aside specifically for reading.  Parents take time each week for their children to participate in activities such as soccer, or ballet lessons, why not a time for reading?

           Now, take this a step farther and combine suggestions #3 and #4 and have your
           own “family” SSR  time.  I’m sure there’s a book or magazine you’re interested in
           reading too!   

      5)  Read aloud 

There’s a ton of research suggesting that being read to is beneficial to the development of literacy (and this goes for newborns through college-aged students!).  First, it has been found that children who are read to more, read more themselves.  Second, being read to aloud has been linked to positive gains in vocabulary and comprehension (Denton and West, 2002).  For some tips on exactly how to read aloud check out the Read Aloud Tips tab at the top.

If you want to become truly educated on the subject of reading aloud, I suggest you check out Jim Trelease’s The Read Aloud Handbook, now in its sixth edition.

What if you don’t have all the time, money, space, or energy to do any of these suggestions in your home?  Take advantage of the professionals!  Your public library is a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon, or take your child after school.  There are two important things, however, to keep in mind if you want to help build literacy skills via your public library: 1) Actual reading has to be done (just making the trip there to “play” or socialize doesn’t count!), and 2) The quality of the library does make a difference.  Research has shown that better libraries result in better reading (Krashen, 1995; McQuillian, 1998).  So it’s worth visiting a library in the next town over if it has more books, more staffing, and better programming for children and teens.  

Good Luck!

Other How To's to come:

The Bad Rap of Flashcards: How to Use and Not Use Them Effectively

How to Use Dialogic Reading Strategies

How to Get Started with the Littlest Learner: Some Tips for Reading with Newborns


  1. Hi Marissa! I just discovered your wonderful blog! Looks like we have a lot in common. :)


    1. Marissa @ land of once upon a timeJanuary 18, 2012 at 5:06 AM

      Hi Vanessa. yes, we do! I actually just thought of you yesterday because I saw those baby lit books that you wrote about at Barnes& Noble. Really cute! Love your blog by the way. Let's keep in touch.


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