Living Islam Today
A Magazine for Muslim Americans
Vol. 1 Issue 2        Winter 1421/ 2000



In the name of Allah, the Compassionate Source of All Mercy

Reading techniques that can help your child

     Iqra. The first word says it all. When Allah (swt) revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad (saw), the first word that was given was not an article. It was not a conjunction. It wasn't a pronoun. It was an action verb: read. Were that to have been the only word delivered, it would have said enough. Read is a word of action, a word of acquisition, a word of empowerment. The word would help propel the Muslims beyond their wildest imaginations.
     It is with this idea that we, as parents, teachers, relatives, must reach out to the younger generation and let them know about the strength that lies behind being able to link words together and understand them. However, we mustn't get too excited. There are a few suggestions that we should consider if we're going to have a literate Ummah.

by Qasim Najar

Reading opens the door to knowledge.

    When to start.
     Most people are apprehensive to read to a child because they feel that the child won't understand what is being read to them. Therefore, they don't read to the child at all. We have to remember, however, that reading is just the acquisition of language. The road to reading begins with speech.  The more that you speak and read to a child, the better chance they will have to adapt to the environment around them.
     As soon as a baby is born, the parent or caretaker should speak to him. Babies need to become familiar with speech patterns. The best way for that to happen is to let them hear you talk.  Unfortunately, most people speak to babies in one simple manner: "goo-goo" "gaa-gaa."  I know there is a tendency to speak like this because it's "cute"; however, no one speaks like that.  This is not to say that one can be "cuddly wit a little baby."  Remember, it's not how you say it; it's what you say.  So, sprinkle as much "Mashallah, you're a beautiful baby, aren't you?!" as you want.  Moreover, limiting the conversations to "play time" is not advised either.
     There should always be a dialogue with you child. As you change your child, you can say, "Well, here we are, ready to change your diaper. Let's see what you're going to wear when daddy's through changing you. Would you like the red shirt or the blue shirt?" Such inter-action will help familiarize a child with speech patterns. They become aware of verbal connections to objects. While holding up the socks, you can say, "These gray socks will match well with your blue pants."  This will lay the foundation for a good reading experience.
     What Methods to use.
     When teaching a child how to read there are at least four basic methods that can be used. They include: whole language, language experience, alliteration and phonics. Now, deciding on which type of methodology you chose to use is up to you. I am not here to argue one method over another. I'm simply putting out the information.

Be a role model:
One of the best ways to get your child is to let them see you reading.  Sounds simple, right?  Here are some suggestions that should get you started:
* First and fore most cut down on the television watching.  I know that sometimes it's the only salvation in an otherwise insane situation. However, if you get your child used to reading a book as an activity, it would be a great start.
* Read  to your child at least once a day.  Make it a ritual.  It could be before a nap or right before bed time.  It doesn't matter how young the child is.  Let the child grow accustomed to hearing your voice and seeing a book as part of their life.
* Take your child to the library.  When they're old enough to point out which books they like to "read," you can take them to a library and make "a day" of it.
* Let your child see you reading.  This may sound sophomoric, but it's important that your child see what role reading plays in your life as well.      

Whole language: This is a very "natural" way to teach a child how to read. It's based on the idea of acquiring language itself. In other words, since a child learns how to speak by listening, a child could learn how to read by watching. For example, as you read a book, you point to the words that correspond with the sounds that are coming out of your mouth. So, when you say, "See..." you point to the word "see." By doing this, the child will make a connection. Whenever the letters s-e-e are together, they make up the word "see."
     Using this method enables you to use the "whole" world as your library. While walking down the street, you can point to words and letters and have your child recognize them. The child begins to learn that the sounds which come out of our mouths have corresponding symbols in reality. It is these symbols that make up words.

As you read a book, point to the words in the story

Language experience: This method is more personal with a child. It's very simple. You write down the words that your child speaks to you. She then sees that her words, feelings, statements can be written down and saved to be read later. She'll learn that other people can read what she has said, too. After having gone to the zoo or park, you can ask your child: " What did you like doing the most?" The child may respond: "I liked playing on the swings." You can write the statement down and make a little story book which the child can draw pictures for. You can even take pictures of the event, ask the child about it, and save it in a scrap book. Such a technique can also be used after the child has drawn a picture- "Tell me about what you've drawn."

Write down an event from the child's day.

She sells sea shells by the sea shore.
(say it three times, fast!)
It's alliteration, people!

Alliteration: Alliteration is the constant repeating of a vowel or a constant. This speech pattern is very common in nursery rhymes: "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickles." The idea is basic. One must familiarize a child with the letters of the alphabet in a manner so as to help the child recognize the formation and sound of that letter in a variety of words. It is possible to find children's books that cater to this style.
Phonics: By far this is becoming one of the most popular methods in the country. The child starts to familiarize himself with each letter of the alphabet and how it sounds. Different companies may use different strategies. For example: There are flash cards that have the picture of an ice cream cone. The child is asked, "What sound do you make when you see an ice cream cone?" The child will most likely respond: "Mmmmmm." Then a connection is made between the letter "m" and the picture of an ice cream cone.

What sound does a snake make?
"Sssssssssss." Good. That's the "S" sound


     What should I do?
It's obvious to see that there are two sides of the spectrum. Proponents for whole language state that the phonics method is too unnatural. No one speaks in that manner: "Cuh...ah...tuh. Cuh-ah-tuh. Cat" The opposing side feels that the children need to be guided along so as to recognize words and their sounds a bit easier.  Simply pointing at a word won't help a child read.
     The best path to take is one of inclusion.  Utilize all of the methods.  Certain methods lend themselves to a particular teaching style.  For example, when reading to your child at night, employ the whole language method.  During arts and crafts, use the language experience method by including a child's words with her art work.  Walking down a street, and a child asks, "What does that say, Mommy?"  Hello, phonics!
     Whatever you do, never stop reading to (with) your child.  The love of words will facilitate your child's experience in school.  Iqra: a word of action.  Let's take it.
     What follows is something that needs to be addressed.  Regardless of what methodology is used, the words that a child sees need to mean something.  Also, the manner in which these words are read to the teacher will also be taken into account when it comes to an evaluation of the child's reading skills.  Comprehension and quality of one's reading skill are both major factors in a child's reading ability.
Comprehension vs. Quality:
     When it comes to reading there are two things that are important.  The quality (manner or speed) with which a child reads and whether the child understands what they have read.  If the child, or adult, is having a problem in either of these categories, there are some easy solutions.
     Quality is the the most noticeable of the two.  When a child struggles through a passage in front a a class and the teacher, it can be very embarrassing.  You can't hide the fact that you can't read well.  You will stop, stutter, slow down or repeat a phrase several times to correct yourself.  One way of improving yourself is by practicing your reading skills using a book that's easier to read.  For example, if you're in high school, you can read a fifth grade or lower grade book. The idea is to read aloud so that you can become accustom to stringing words together.  The faster you begin to read, the higher you can advance in the literature you are practicing with.

Since it's difficult to hide poor reading ability, it's good to practice your skills on easy passages.

     Comprehension is a bit more difficult to pin point because it deals with how well someone understands what they've read.  One way to improve this is by discussing what you've read with someone.  By doing this, you "make tangible" what was in the book. In other words, if you're reading something about a piece of literature, discuss what you "feel" about what you've read.  
     What opinion do you have?  Don't just say, "It's stupid."  Back up your statements.  Many people don't know how to think.  When asked what they feel about something, they say, "I don't know."  The brain is a muscle that must be worked upon.  
     Therefore, you must develop opinions, so when something is placed in front of you, you'll be able to understand what is being said.          

Reading the fastest isn't always the best way to go. You need to understand what you read.