When Sylva went to a parent’s evening at her daughters’ school, she realized that actually the unique story format of our Bedtime Stories app would be a great way to help your kids to improve their literacy skills.
This is a fantastic insight and Sylva elaborates on literacy skills, powerful “Wow” words and the importance of stories.
I’ve always been an advocate of getting children reading from a young age. My earliest memories are of bedtime stories; first as an only child snuggled up with mum, then later as big sister hanging over the top bunk to see the pictures. It was a magical time; those last special moments before I dozed off to sleep would feed my dreams with faraway lands and mystical beings, with fantastic adventures and a sense that anything was possible. I remember that feeling as I saw those black squiggles on paper. They were the magic, the secret door to enchanted worlds and I wanted nothing more than to learn how to read them.
Needless to say I have given my children a similar childhood filled with stories. I have watched their progress with the pride of a mother and the interest of a teacher. Every parent sees their own child as a genius, and I am no different, but my girls always surpassed their milestones with speech and their vocabulary, they were excited to learn their letters from a young age and have learnt to read and write quite effortlessly. All three have amazing imaginations, and like I did, they bring their story characters to life through their play. I know most of the credit lies with our fabulous primary teachers but I also know that giving them access to books and promoting a love of reading has played a huge part in their development.
Last week I went to parents evening at my daughters’ school. I came away a proud mum, but most of all because all three of the teachers spoke about how my girls excelled at literacy. They commented on the breadth of their vocabulary and understanding of the texts. One of the new teachers smiled and said, “We can always tell the children who’ve read at home from a young age.”
We chatted about the best ways to support reading at home to help my little ones progress from decoding readers, who read the individual words but don’t necessarily understand the whole text, to fluent readers who gain meaning from whole sentences. Every child develops at slightly different rates but as a rough guide, these are the milestones:
Emerging pre-reader 6 months to 6 years old
Novice reader between 6 to 7 years old
Decoding reader between 7–9 years old
Fluent, comprehending reader between 9–15 years old
It was with great excitement that I realised the Bedtime Stories app that I was writing for, not only gives parents a fun and easy way to do bedtime stories, but can also help children to develop their literacy skills. The two main techniques that stood out were helping children to show their understanding by recounting the story in their own words, and the use of Wow words.
Recounting the story
Our Bedtime Stories app lends itself easily to developing the skills of recounting a story. As well as the whole story, the app gives the reader a brief synopsis of each story. This gives the child an overview of the whole story and can give them the context. As the story is read to them they are able to anticipate what will happen from knowing the synopsis in advance.
Secondly, the app gives the reader story points — a brief reminder of what happens at each stage of the story. The original purpose of the story points was to allow parents to tell the stories from memory, adapting them to fit their own child. These story points are also great tools to help the child recount the story in their own words.
My girls’ teachers stressed the importance of discussing the stories with children when they read at home. While reading from the Bedtime Stories app, parents can prompt their children, question them about what they think will happen next, why they think the character behaves in that way, or what would they do in that situation.
The app also provides parents with educational points — these can serve as additional discussion topics to stretch more fluent readers.
In addition to supporting the literacy lessons in our schools, all these activities help children to develop their listening and concentration skills. Most importantly, any time spent reading with your child is a precious bonding moment, where you can show you are interested in their ideas and opinions.
I hadn’t heard this term before so I queried it with the teacher: Wow words are advanced adjectives, verbs and nouns which are used to improve a piece of writing by making it vivid and interesting.
Once upon a time there was a little dragon that lived in a little cave. He was a nice dragon. One day he went for a nice walk in the woods…
But with Wow words:
Once upon a time there was a tiny dragon that lived in a dark and dingy cave. He was a kind-hearted and cheerful dragon. One glorious day, he went for a stroll in the shady woods…
Children are taught to pick out the Wow words from the text, think about their meaning from the context, and use a dictionary to check the meaning of any unfamiliar words. They are also encouraged to use Wow words in their own writing, but this is only possible if they have the vocabulary to do so. This is where the app can help. In all of the Bedtime Stories I’ve read so far, the author has used interesting language to make the story fun and engaging to the reader — Wow words!
Ask your child to pick out the Wow words. Prompt them, how did the character move / talk / look?
Instead of walk, did they amble, stumble, stagger, sprint, shuffle, march, plod, wander, stroll…?
Instead of talk, did they shout, whisper, exclaim, cry, remark, demand, ask, state…?
Ask your children if they can think of other Wow words they know to describe the characters or the settings in the stories. Discuss the meanings of any unfamiliar words with your children. Gradually, your children will develop a diverse and interesting vocabulary that they can use to enhance their writing in school.
Quick Guide to Reading at Home
Read to your children — share a love of reading and enjoy the experience together.
Get them to tell you a story — with little ones, let them use their imagination and just make it up. With older ones, ask them to recount the story or continue it in their own words.
Listen to your child read — show them you are interested and give them your full attention.
Ask questions — who was it about? What happened? What were their favourite bits?
Make reading a regular activity — encourage reading as something fun your child looks forward to. Set aside some quality time and build it into the family routine.
In my experience as a parent and a teacher, I have witnessed the huge advantages early reading has on shaping a child’s mind. The benefits are too numerous to name but the best of all is seeing the delight on their faces when it is story time. So read to your children, expand their world to one of adventure and excitement and know that you are instilling a love of learning in the most wonderful way.
Sylva Fae is a married mum of three, from England. She spent her early career teaching adult Literacy, and now works from home as a writer and editor.
Her earliest memories are of bedtime stories snuggled up close to mum to see the pictures. It was a magical time, those last special moments before dozing off to sleep would feed dreams of faraway lands and mystical beings. She now wants to share that love of stories and inspire children to create their own magical adventures.
Sylva owns a wood and escapes there at every opportunity. Adventures in their own enchanted woodland, hunting for fairies and stomping in puddles, have inspired Sylva to write stories for her girls.
Sylva published her first children’s book Rainbow Monsters, in 2017. She also writes a blog, Sylvanian Ramblings, and has a short story published in a charity anthology.