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Book Review: Raising Confident Readers by Dr. J. Richard Gentry

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Raising Confident Readers is an excellent handbook for caregivers of young children to prepare them for a lifetime of reading. It is obvious from the book's cover that the instructions and guidelines inside are meant for children from birth until approximately age seven.

The book divides the teaching of reading into distinct stages:

Phase Zero: age 0 to 3;
Phase One: age 3 to 5 – depending on what happens at home;
Phase Two: age 3 to 6 – depending on what happens at home;
Phase Three: age 4 to 6 – depending on what happens at home;
Phase Four: age 4 to 7 – depending on what happens at home.

It appears that from birth, author Gentry insists that good reading habits can be started by caregivers reading aloud to their newborn with the infant held in a position to clearly see the moving lips of the reader. At this early stage, comprehension is not important. It is the modeling of the behavior of reading that will slowly transfer to a baby as s/he begins to develop.

Raising Confident Readers places tremendous emphasis on labeling familiar items in a child’s room: bed, chair, window, light, and referring to these items often during the day each time the baby/toddler is in that room. It is critical that a caregiver point to the word sliding a finger from left to right while pronouncing the word.

As the child learns to manipulate writing tools (crayons, thick pencils, finger paint, etc.) it is important that a caregiver and the child attribute meaning to what at first appears to be mere scribbles. “Let’s draw a boy,” says the caregiver. From the vertical up and down random marks, a caregiver can point to the top and say, “Okay, here is where the boy’s head would be.” Pointing to the middle, “and here is the boy’s tummy and bellybutton.”

Raising Confident Readers says it is critically important that a child learns to be comfortable, slowly gaining confidence in the ability to draw and make scribble lines that will eventually lead to making letters. Caregivers can slowly integrate drawings, regardless of how meaningless they may appear, by writing the word for the drawing beside it. In the above example, it is important to write the word “boy” beside the scribbles, so the artwork can be hung in the child’s room or on the refrigerator.

During the latter part of this age 0 to 3 phase, a caregiver can help a child learn to write the letters that spell her/his name. When the child can perform that task independently, s/he is ready to advance to Phase One. Notice above that Phases One through Four all depend on what happens at home.

If a caregiver is aware of the critical learning that can take place during these first 6-7 years of very rapid brain development, during that time when the child is in the home, very significant growth toward reading surely can take place. Raising Confident Readers can make caregivers aware of these important stages and how to mount each one.

In addition to a thorough explanation of what to teach and how to teach, this book lists a variety of fun materials that can be adapted for in-home use. It also lists age appropriate books one can purchase at any good bookstore with a child’s book section.

As an educator for over 30 years who spent much time each day attempting to teach slow learners how to read, I must recommend Raising Confident Readers to anyone with a small baby or toddler at home. Why? Because of the emphasis the book places on what can be done from birth until the child enters school that will foster good reading skills. During this time, critical cortical processes are linking within the brain, links that can determine a confident reader from one that stumbles along, hating printed symbols for words.

Incidentally, my granddaughter Haven is 18 months old. I have just copied out pages 65 to 99 — the entire section of teaching reading at Phase Zero — for my daughter and her husband and for grandma and grandpa (my wife and I). Now when Haven comes to visit us. We can begin, more meaningfully, to follow the guidelines things in Raising Confident Readers to get Haven ready for reading.

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