How to stimulate one's own offspring to process/hearken to/understand what they read and what they hear in everyday life? What questions to ask so as to test their Cognitive Function and incoming information? Especially in a bilingual home the parents speak to each other in 1 common language but they each speak to the offspring in their native language.

Language exams be it as a first language or a second language have a Reading part. One is asked to answer questions on what they just read. They are expected to comprehend and interpret it.

In Second Language exams there is a Listening part. They do the same now but instead of reading a text they hear a cd playing.

The ability to process well, writen text or voiced speech is how functional literacy is defined.

It just seems frivolous, dilatory, and procrastinative to wait for children to go to school to learn a skill that extends much further than academia does. The skill is necessary for academia, profession, daily life, and even free time just for fun or family issues.

Not to say that school hours including homework are limited in comparison to the entirety of time spent with parents.

As a side note I am not sure if the Pre-schooler and Bilingual tags are accurate.

My question is primarily focused on pre-schoolers because that is when parents are almost the entire time present but the education from parents does not stop when school begins. So my question is not limited to pre-schoolers. As for bilingual my question is not about the state of speaking( or learning to speak) 2 languages in itself. It is more of a context. My question is about parental education and language development but I am just interested in homes where 2 languages are spoken.

Please edit my question, remove these two tags and add Teaching and Language if you feel they are more accurate.

3 Answers 3


The way to promote functional literacy is to read to your child often about a variety of subjects on their level, like every. single. day. Since you're a bilingual home, both parents will need to do this in their own language.

I started reading to my first child as soon as they were able to rest on my lap, at about 4 months. At seven months, they said their first word ("moo") and spoke in complete sentences at 17 months (including the proper pronouns.) My child was gifted but not exceptionally so.

To test comprehension, ask (non-pedantic) questions about the stories (in both languages) that you just read. Reading myths and fables are great ways to assess comprehension. Ask questions (Who do you think was right? Why? What did you like best about that story? Why?) and listen, don't correct. If they understood the story correctly, their answers may be naive, but they will tell you about their level of comprehension. I started with Classic Myths to Read Aloud before they were able to read. The myths are written to take from 5 to 15 minutes to read, and there is a vocabulary section at the beginning and a section for teachers at the end of each story. Though the age group intended is 5 and up, I read this book to my preschoolers.

We read aloud every day continuing into high school. We read the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy out loud after dinner every night. It was really fun. And the kids were all voracious readers, reading their own chosen books as well.

If test scores matter to you, reading and comprehension skills were over the 97th%ile (usually 99th) in all of my kids.

Nota Bene: Functional literacy does not a good communicator make. It is but an aspect of their capabilities. Emotional literacy is even more important, but that's not your question.

  • 1
    * Emotional literacy is even more important,* +1 Mar 18, 2020 at 13:38
  • I am certainly not interested in test scores. Even if I was interested, a couple of test scores are not representative. The tests could be easy. If it was multiple choice questions they could just have been lucky. Or they could be gifted themselves regardless of your informal teaching. Sadly good test scores do not mean they are functionally litterate and much less that your teaching method/system was good. They could just as well be truly exceptional themselves, well taught or not. Similarly bad test scores are only indicative they are not sufficient to claim one is functionally illiterate. Mar 18, 2020 at 22:59
  • As far as for being a good communicator. Functional literacy is a necessary condition but it could not be further away from being sufficient. There are too many people( relative to the quantity of functional literate people) that are functionally literate but are awful communicators. I constantly aced Reading exams and got first place even with my Sight Problem and that was in all languages I speak. I sometimes got first place in Listening exams but my hearing problem is much too severe. I would like to think I am a functionally literate person. I make a good receptor for linguistic signals. Mar 18, 2020 at 23:07
  • 1
    "Notheless I am an awfull transmitter/sender." I completely agree. Your strong opinions make this a primarily opinionated question, not a good fit for this site. It also sounds like you don't really want advice, but something specific that is not well expressed in your post. Mar 18, 2020 at 23:18
  • 1
    @GeorgeNtoulos - Clearly you've never heard of homeschooling. You don't need an institution to teach your children; you need a decent education yourself, dedication and good planning. However, in your case, I suspect (as you admit you 'transmit' poorly) it would not be an option. Mar 19, 2020 at 5:16

A very successful approach are picture books with many details (e.g. animals).

  1. you show the baby: look at this, a little bear etc.
  2. then you ask: where is the little bear? And the baby shows.
  3. You ask: who/what is this? The baby says: little bear.

Then you are describing what he‘s doing, what he wears, what he is doing and later you ask the questions.

For the child this like playing. Of course you can do this game also in nature and real life as well with youtube videos and baby songs and puzzles.

It may be better to do this only in one language - the language the child will be schooling in. But you can play it also in both languages, the development of speaking may be a little retarded but what is this compared with the advantage of knowing 2 languages.

  • I never thought about picture books. Obviously pictures transmit information and one has the important task of understanding it. Your answer was very smart and very helpful. Things get complicated with a text in some natural language. Reading a book, or a newspaper makes one wonder what are good questions to ask. Is there a test, a thought experiment, a necessary and sufficient condition to decide if the question is good or not? How to evaluate the answer and how to react depending on the evaluation? Mar 18, 2020 at 23:36

It just seems frivolous, dilatory, and procrastinative to wait for children to go to school to learn a skill that extends much further than academia does. The skill is necessary for academia, profession, daily life, and even free time just for fun or family issues.

I want to challenge this claim of yours. Children develop. Is it frivolous, dilatory, and procrastinative to fail to teach a 4 month-old to walk? Talk about a skill necessary for daily living! Of course not, a 4-month old is not at a stage where they can learn to walk, they will reach that stage much later. In fact I think most people would agree you don't really teach a child to walk at all; they learn it on their own at a certain developmental level given the opportunity to do so. Modern child development experts would even argue that many attempts to try and teach them to walk (with those walker toys for example) hurt more than they help.

Of course not all childhood abilities fall in the same category - a child won't spontaneously learn calculus unless they specifically set their mind to it for example. So the question would be where reading falls, and my understanding is that "school age" is comfortably within the appropriate developmental window for children to learn this skill. Many children learn it earlier, but many children also suffer for being forced into learning it earlier.

This is relevant to your question because you aren't just asking about a child being able to parse words - functional literacy is about understanding what's written... But written works contain a variety of very different concepts, not all of which are easily understood by very young children! Just like you wouldn't expect a 7 year-old to understand a treatise on calculus, even if they could parse all the words and letters in it, it might not be trivial for a 4 year-old to understand complex causal relationships, the internal beliefs of characters who aren't them, and such things that are common in the works you might want them to read. 4 year-olds are on the cusp of developing abilities like knowing that what's in their head is different from what's in other people's heads, or knowing a narrow glass doesn't contain more water just because the water goes higher.

I'm reminded of a passage in Daniel Pennac's "The Rights of the Reader", which is not about child development and is very opinionated in a way that disagrees with you (but might still be an interesting read for you; it's about how to instill the love of reading in children). It talks about the transition from a small child being read stories, and then once the child is learning to read suddenly the challenges begin - "Why did Snow White fall ill? Come on now, it's easy! The apple. It's the apple. Read again!", but when the child was just being read fairy tales at bedtime nobody asked them why Snow White fell ill, and in fact they probably didn't get it had anything to do with the apple at first, but it didn't matter then. And now suddenly it does, and reading has become this minefield-ridden chore where stories used to be a joy and a refuge.

So this is all to argue in a similar direction from other answers, but just giving a more detailed rationale. I think for one thing you should read up on childhood development, to have a clearer idea of what you can expect from a given stage and what things you can hope will be learnt on their own, and which things you need to actively teach, and which things will be learnt on their own but you can still promote that learning. But read, read, read to your children, and ask them questions about what you just read to test their comprehension, and I would argue this: only do it to test their comprehension, for you to know where they are at, or to model how you yourself relate to stories ("Wow, brown bear hit that other bear! I think he must have been angry"). Not as a test that they need to provide the right answer to. Trust that if they give wrong answers at first, it's just them being too young or too inexperienced with the structure of stories, and that they'll get there, but that you just got valuable information on where they are at. And also, that just by asking the question you are already exercising a part of their brain that seeks the answer, so you probably are helping them develop functional literacy in time.

And I would add, please prioritize your relationship, especially in the younger years. If they seem upset by your questions, maybe lay off them or find a different way of asking them. Your children will learn better over the long term if they feel safe and heard by their parents, if they think their needs and wants are being hearkened.

From other comments it sounds like you have pretty technical concerns about what questions to ask, what information you should prompt them to derive from their reading. I have less opinionated answers on that, but I can come up with ideas. For example, maybe at the earliest stages just do basic recognition of objects - "what's this? A ball! That's the bear!". Maybe more complex would be recognizing actions ("What's the little pig doing? It's kissing its daddy!"). Later, questions about the internal processes of characters ("The little pig is smiling! How do you think he feels?") or basic causality ("The shark seems mad! Why do you think that is?" or "Look, the ball fell on his head! Where did this come from? You're right, it's the ball she dropped on the previous page!"). Consider, what situations might your child find themselves into, what challenges might they face - problems sharing, problems dealing with sadness or anger, arguments with friends... children's books often involve messages about these things, once your child seems adept at understanding what characters are feeling and why, consider questions that go to the "point" of the story ("Little brown bear was mad and didn't want to share! What happened afterwards? Do you think it's good to share? Why was he happy at the end?"); almost by the definition of a children's book they will be things that are relevant to your child's life. You could also with all those things model the behavior your soliciting by giving your own thoughts, or making comments about your own thoughts instead of asking them ("Shark is mad! Wow, I'd be mad too if the octopus had stolen my ball").

When they're older they'll have to do all this at school anyway, I think you can probably take your foot off the pedal and see what kinds of questions they get asked at school, how adept they seem to be in answering them, and see if what they need help with if anything. Maybe something fun you could do is assume that there's a certain type of question they're asked in school (questions that are about the theme or message of the text, usually) and challenge them with very different, silly questions that still require interpreting the text, such that they'd be exercising slightly different mental muscles than in school but in a fun way that puts the school questions in perspective. Like, who would win in a fight, this or that absurd combination, or what would have happened if these characters had done something silly instead of the tragic action they did take...

I think with all these things it's important to model the behavior you wish. Do you have yourself an interest in interpreting texts, understanding the intent of an author, seeing what morals you can derive from a story and whether you agree with them, that kind of thing? If so, just share that with your kids. If not, maybe try and develop those skills yourself so you get a deeper understanding of how they work, and you'll probably find it much easier to transmit them then.

  • Thank you earnestly for your answer! When I used Functional Literacy I did not mean Reading in itself(the ability to capture signals) I meant a higher, more abstract skill. Understanding( the ability to process those signals) the text( written or any other verbal material). And I intended to ask about a Descriptive-Objective understanding( strictly understanding the subject and the meaning of what is relayed regardless of any Emotional-Moral noise). I want to make use of any and all texts regardless of their size or simplicity. May 28, 2020 at 16:37
  • As I understand it Labels, Posts, Signs, Announcements, Advertisments, Disclaimers are all text ( regardless of being on the product body,bottle, wrapping, road, construction sites) and I would really want children to understand( descriptively-objectively) what they are seeing rather than simply looking at them or really just reading them without actually understanding. May 28, 2020 at 16:44
  • @GeorgeNtoulos I believe my answer addresses that. I feel you're looking for both more and less than is reasonable - understanding a text means understanding the words, and understanding the concepts. If a child is too young to understand a concept then it's pointless to force the impossible. On the other hand if they can, then just understanding a text at face value without interpreting deeper intents or meanings (what's "emotional-moral noise"?) seems... rather trivial to me? The vast majority of people who can read in literate countries reach this level, seems a weird worry to focus on.
    – Oosaka
    May 28, 2020 at 16:58
  • I simply dislike emotional-moral paternalism. Concepts( when well defined) are objective and descriptive they have a clear intension and a clear extension. Values, instead, are moral and emotional( a moral proposition), being a moral anti-realist I don't believe there is an inherent truth to moral propositions regardless of the subject expressing them. I really don't want the children to answer with moral propositions( good/bad, beatiful/ugly, hot/cold, pleasant/unpleasant, tasty,distasteful) I only want to ask questions that are answerable with descriptive/objective propositions. May 28, 2020 at 17:14
  • 1
    "Is there a test, a thought experiment, a necessary and sufficient condition to decide if the question is good or not?" I suppose you could ask yourself, "what am I trying to achieve with this question?". If you want to teach your child something, what is it you want to teach? Insofar as your question guides their thought processes towards a result you want, what is the result and do you want them to get there in any specific way? Let me ask you a question: why does this matter? Why do you not trust yourself to come up with good questions naturally?
    – Oosaka
    May 28, 2020 at 19:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .