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Getting Started: Breaking the Ice

Establish the Relationship:

Not surprisingly children may be shy or unsure of what is expected of them in this new arrangement. From the very start your most important goal will be to establish a pleasant and trusting relationship, setting a tone so the child(ren) will be comfortable working with you and willing to take risks. Don't be surprised if this takes some time. In the early sessions you will want to try a number of different ways to"break the ice" such as bringing a special object or photograph to share and discuss, or drawing and exchanging pictures of where you live, your favorite foods or activities.

Avoid Putting Child on the Spot:

If you know the age and reading interests of your student, you can choose specific books along those lines to read to him or her. But be careful not to put the child on the spot. Initially, don't even expect the child to read to you, unless he or she offers to do so, and then be sure it is a familiar text so as to avoid any risk of failure.

Ensure Success:

Especially in these early sessions, plan activities in which you are confident the child will succeed and feel good. For a few sessions stick with materials that are familiar and comfortable. This will help you learn what the child already does know and can do well. It also helps the child feel secure and competent. Be sure to comment positively on the successes and avoid pointing out errors in these early encounters.

Beginning a dialogue with your student is important in establishing a tutoring relationship. One of the greatest challenges in working with young children can be getting them to relax enough to talk to you. You may want to begin your first tutoring session with a child by introducing yourself and explaining why you are there:

"Hi, my name is Naomi and I am going to be your reading tutor (or reading partner/reading buddy) for the next 4 weeks. What do you think about that?"

—Allow plenty of time for child to answer. Try to avoid questions that can be answered with only a"yes" or"no".

"What do you think a (tutor/reading buddy) is? What do you think we might do together?"

—Again, allow time for child to respond. If nothing is forthcoming you might explain:

"It's someone who will read books with you, will talk about stories with you, and will write stories with you. Can you tell me about a favorite book that you have heard or read? Is there one that we could read together?"

Don't be surprised if it takes some time before the student feels comfortable enough to answer your questions. You can encourage this by allowing plenty of time for students to respond, by listening carefully, and by showing interest and asking follow-up questions or making positive comments. For example, if a students simply nods"yes" when asked if he or she has a favorite book, you can follow up with:"What is it called" or"why do you like it?" Or make a comment that is confirming or appreciative:"Oh, yes, I remember reading The Cat in the Hat. It's one of my favorites too."