You have young preschool children. You think ahead to when they will begin school, and wonder what you might do to make it easy for your children to learn to read. Here are some hints for parents and caregivers about learning to read.
Read Aloud Daily to Your Children
Reading can begin at birth. A child is born into a community of language users. How a child’s family uses language to listen, speak, read, and write, and whether the family values reading and writing, will have a huge impact on how the child learns to listen, speak, read, and write. When a child sees a parent immersed in a book, the child infers that “Reading is enjoyable, reading is valuable.” This prompts the child to want to be a reader and a writer.
When reading aloud to an infant, make the experience a warm, loving one. You might hold the child snugly on your lap. You might lie down next to him when you read a bedtime story. The child then comes to associate reading with a warm, safe time, when he/she has the undivided attention of a loved one.
Re-read favorite books. Initially, the child will not understand what the book is about, but will be attracted to the colors and shapes on the page and the different sounds of the language being read aloud. When a favorite book is re-read aloud many times, the child becomes familiar with the patterns of the language, expects certain things to be on certain pages, and learns when it is time to turn the page. The infant might even reach out a hand to help do this.
As soon as young children can crawl or walk, they may fetch their favorite books and request that they be read. How exciting—children under 2 years of age already hooked on books! They know that books are enjoyable. Re-reading loved, familiar books helps the child relate the spoken language to the written form.
Encourage children to join in. When a story has a refrain (e.g., “Run, run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man”), encourage the child to join in. When the text is a short rhyme, encourage the child to “read” along with you. When a toddler is familiar with the text of a rhyme or simple picture storybook, the toddler will find the book for himself, and sit on the floor, “reading.”
Encourage children to think beyond the text. With 3-, 4-, 5-year-old children, occasionally ask them to think beyond the book. At a particular point in a story, you might ask, “What will happen next?” or “Why do you think he did that?”
Talk about the title. With 3-, 4-, 5-year-old children who have developed favorite books and know the names of the stories, you might draw attention to the title on the front cover and on the title page. You might say: “What is the name of this story? Yes, ‘The Three Little Pigs.’ ” Read the title, pointing to each word. Ask the child to read the title and point to each word. When the child is able to do so, draw attention to some of the letters in the title, using the letter names. You might say, “Do you see any letters the same as in your name? Yes, ‘Pigs’ starts with the letter ‘P’ and ‘Peter’ starts with the letter ‘P’. Do you know the names of any other letters in the title?”
Take advantage of a nearby public library. Public libraries usually have extensive, up-to-date collections, and the library staff are very informed about books. Check with them about appropriate books to borrow for particular ages. In addition, libraries may have copies of taped books. Often, children’s authors attend public libraries to give talks about their books. Inquire about these sessions.
Talk about any environmental print you see when out in the local community with your child. For example, stop and look at the street sign displaying the name of your street, or at the names of particular shops you are visiting (e.g., “Pet Shop”). You might ask the child to read the words. You also might ask if he/she knows how many words are on a particular sign. If your children are 4 or 5 years old and are starting to learn the names of the letters in their names, you might ask if they see any letters on a sign that are the same as in their names.
Similarly, when driving with your child in the car, point out and read the road signs. Soon, your child will be calling out the signs (e.g., “Left turn only”).
When children have been read aloud to in the preschool years, they enter school knowing so much about reading. They know that:
- Reading is enjoyable
- Reading starts at the front of the book, progressing from top of the page to the bottom of the page, and from left to right
- Picture story books have writing and illustrations
- Writing consists of words and letters.
At school entry, children who have been read to from birth are a considerable distance along the reading continuum. Some enter school being able to read.
Many websites offer lists of suggested books to read to children of different ages. Listed below are just a few.