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At this point in the summer, you might be wondering whether your early elementary-school child has learned a lot since school ended — or if he actually lost ground and been victim to the infamous “summer slide.” Regardless of your child’s age, remember this:

To understand what you read, it helps to already know a lot about the topic you’re reading about. When you have a lot of prior knowledge, even the more difficult books or articles are easier to understand because you can use what you know to help you figure it all out.

So if you are a lawyer, for example, you will have an easier time reading an article that describes the details of a big court case than I will. While I might be able to read the words of the article and generally understand it, if the text is full of legal terms and goes into specifics about the prosecution team’s strategies, your legal background and knowledge will mean that you can take more away from the reading of that article than I can, and you will also do a better job of writing and talking about what the author said. In other words, we can surely both read the words fluently, but your familiarity with the vocabulary and topic will mean that you comprehend more easily and more deeply than I do.

Why do I bring this up? Why should all that talk of “prior knowledge” make you feel good at this point in mid August? Because chances are you helped your child learn or learn more about a lot of things this summer!

  • When you read to him and talked to him about each book’s topic, he built up prior knowledge (e.g., the book about space travel that helped prepare him for the biography about Neil Armstrong that he will read in class this year or in a year to come).
  • When you brought him to places he hadn’t been before or had different experiences in familiar places, he expanded his knowledge about a topic and started thinking about things in a different way (e.g., when you went to the park and spent time looking and discussing the busy ants and the ant hill, you prepared him for the book he will read someday in science class about animal habitats).
  • When you talked to him about how what you do today is different from how you did the same thing when you were younger, you helped him look at the world around him from a larger perspective, think about the passage of time, and compare and contrast behaviors (e.g., when you talked about the camera you had when you were younger and how most people just use their phones to take pictures now, you prepared him to read and think about the article he will come across in social studies about how technology has changed everyday life).

In other words, pat yourself on the back for every time you helped your child build knowledge about the world and think more expansively through the everyday conversations you chose to start with him. That background knowledge will help him when he reads and tries to make sense of any texts that cover the same or similar topics, or that ask him to wrestle with similar ideas.

And if you read this and wonder if you had enough of those conversations….start today!