Learning to read and write is an ongoing process that starts early in life. Therefore it is never too early to start preparing your child to read! Research has shown that the more early life experiences a child has with language and literacy the more likely a child is to succeed in reading, and school in general. Contrary to popular belief, children don’t start learning how to read in kindergarten and first grade-- the learning starts at home! You as the parent get to play a key role in your child’s early literacy development. In this article I will lend some advice for preparing your child to be a successful reader!
First things first- Print concepts and book handling skills: Before a child can learn to read they must understand what it means to read. You can start by showing your child the front cover and back covers of a book and demonstrate which way to turn the pages. Demonstrate to your child that you read from left to right by tracking the words with your finger. When you get to the end of a line you “swoop” your finger down to the next line, starting from the left again. These are basic book handling skills. Knowing concepts of print means that your child understands that print is made by using letters of the alphabet and that letters combine to make words. This also includes environmental print- the words around you! Be sure to point out labels and signs to your child! This also fosters a child’s natural curiosity to learn about the world.
Ideas to engage your child in reading:
Read out loud to your child! I can’t emphasize this enough. Reading to your child expands their oral vocabulary and strengthens your child’s listening comprehension skills. When I was in graduate school studying early children’s literacy my professor told me that children who are read to regularly enter kindergarten with a vocabulary of over 1,000 more words than children who are not read to regularly! By reading to your child you give him/her a sense of words and sentence structure, plus it makes reading a meaningful shared experience. If you have trouble finding the time there are tons of great audiobooks available for free in libraries or online. One website I use in the classroom is www.storylineonline.com. It’s free and kids love it!
Read Wordless books
Wordless books are a great way to start your child’s love of literacy. Wordless books can be read at any age with or without an adult. These books are told entirely through illustrations, so your child can be the author of the story! Sharing wordless books with your child can be a wonderful experience that promotes storytelling and conversation. These books also help children start to understand the basic elements of story structure. Sit back and enjoy your child’s response when you show them a wordless book and say, “Tell me what happens in this story!” You are bound to hear some very creative (and sometimes hilarious) stories.
Read Nursery Rhymes and Poems
The first steps of learning to read are speaking and listening. Children must learn to speak and listen before they can read and write. Rhyming is a part of phonemic awareness. A huge part of early literacy and phonemic awareness is rhythm and rhyme. When children listen to nursery rhymes, poems, and songs, they start identifying common sounds in rhymes. Children can eventually start predicting rhyming sounds, and this prepares them to make predictions when they read. Dr. Seuss books are also great for teaching rhymes!
Build conversational skills
Language and literacy develop together and influence one another. The better a child’s communication skills the better a student will be able to understand sentence structure and communicate with someone about what they are reading. So believe it or not, just talking with your child is setting him/her up for success! It’s especially important to have conversations when you are reading. You can start introducing your child to basic story elements: characters, setting, beginning, middle, and end.
The more words you can expose a child to the better. This can happen in day to day life. Vocabulary knowledge supports a child’s comprehension and helps a child gain meaning from what they are reading. This betters their understanding of the world around them! Vocabulary development is essential to reading achievement. Have fun pointing out strange words to your child like “platypus” or “hippopotamus”! Children with strong vocabularies are more likely to be able to figure out a word’s meaning while sounding a word out.
Make reading fun!
Most importantly, teach your child that reading is a fun experience. With so many distractions like television and video games, it’s hard for books to compete. If you encourage a love for books early in life your child is more likely to become a lifelong reader. Kids learn better by not necessarily being “taught” but by having enjoyable conversations and experiences with books. Bringing your child to story hour, for example, can be an excellent way to expose him/her to books. It’s usually free and most public libraries and bookstores have story hour. Find out what your child is interested in and find books on that topic! Expose your child to a variety of different texts, including fiction and nonfiction. Some children are more interested in books that teach information rather than books that tell stories. Another way to encourage children to read is to set an example- let them catch YOU reading! If they don’t see you reading, why should they? Finally, make reading a tradition in your home, even if it’s just for ten minutes at bedtime. This way reading will become a cherished memory in your child’s life that he or she will want to continue for a lifetime.
Good luck and happy reading!
Robyn Drake Castellanos is a first-grade teacher in Raleigh, North Carolina. She went to Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she received her Master’s in Elementary Education with a specialty in Literacy. She lives in Raleigh with her husband, rescue dog, and a big collection of books.