If you are like most parents, you may have wondered if you should teach your young child how to read and write. Children grow into reading and writing much the same way they grow into oral language – you might be surprised just how early in life reading readiness begins. The minute a baby turns their head to their parents’ voice, they have begun to distinguish one sound from another. Between preschool and kindergarten, children have countless opportunities to play with language and letters – they’ll have a solid foundation by the time they reach first grade when children are usually taught how to read.
But well before the first grade, your child is beginning to attach meaning to letters and words, start writing, and may even recognize letters. Parents need to facilitate these first steps towards literacy. What’s paramount is that your child is ready to learn and that you are not pushing them to learn a skill they are not ready for (or interested in).
The ABCs of Literacy
While it is not vital for children to know letters and numbers before kindergarten, encouraging and supporting your child’s first attempts at “reading” and “writing” will promote school readiness. Young children have an innate curiosity and motivation to read and write. We can galvanize this desire with developmentally appropriate activities.
Let your child set the pace. When it comes to reading, some preschoolers are eager to know every word in their favorite book. Others are content to look at the pictures. However, when children are read to routinely and encouraged to look through books independently and make up stories, they develop the motivation to read and the reading readiness skills, they will need to become successful readers. Reading in the home is the number one predictor of success in school. Even ten minutes a day is a good start. Reading does not just happen. It is an aptitude that must be nurtured from the earliest years.
Encourage the use of language
- Ask open-ended questions
- Take time to talk about feelings
- When discussing a concept, extend the conversation to encourage your child to think of other ideas.
- Make a game of listening for great-sounding words.
- Create tongue twisters with the first letter of your child’s name
Make reading important (H3)
- Demonstrate to your child that you read for many purposes. As you perform daily tasks, explain to your child why you read – to follow a recipe, to get information, to enjoy a story.
- Point out the variety of materials you read in a day. Read directions aloud, street signs, food labels, bills, newspapers, and letters.
- Start a home library and set aside time to read together every day.
- Obtain a library card for your child and schedule weekly trips to the library. Participate in
Special events like story hour.
Select good books (H3)
- The words should be interesting and distinctive. Preschoolers like to hear rhyming words, sound words, nonsense words and the repetition of words and phrases.
- Preschoolers have short attention spans. Books should have a few words and lots of action.
- Illustrations should be bright and uncluttered. Start young children off with books featuring one or two main objects and plenty of blank space. As children mature and attention spans expand, books with more detail can be added to their repertoire.
- Choose books that feature main characters and situations your child can readily identify with. These books can help children make the connection that books can hold personal and intimate meaning to them.
- Does the book have words and sentences that are easy to understand? The text will be more
meaningful if they do not confuse or overwhelm your child.
Enhance storytime (H3)
- Turn storytime into a family ritual. Consider the time you read with your child priceless – research shows reading to your child early on and often is one of the best ways to ensure healthy language development, help form a close bond, and instill a lifetime love of words and reading. For most preschoolers, storytime should not last more than 20 minutes.
- Go beyond the words. Whenever you read a story, take occasional short breaks to let your child describe what is happening, as well as what he sees in the picture.
- Let your child “read” the story to you and do not correct his version even if it differs from
what is on the page.
Parents can instill the awareness that communication can take many forms and offer an abundance of opportunities for children to explore ways of expressing themselves. By being exposed to language in all its forms, children can develop skills needed for later academic success. After all, literacy is the foundation from which all academics are built and the key to future school success. Parents can impart a playful fascination and joy in using language that a child will carry throughout their life.
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Dawn Marie Barhyte is a widely published author with over a hundred articles to her credit. A former early childhood educator and co-director who continues to touch the lives of families through her writing! She lives and works in the beautiful Hudson Valley, NY with her beloved husband and rescue chihuahua dachshund.
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