Not every child learns to read at the same age. While some youngsters start reading as young as 4 years old, most become readers during first grade.
During the preschool years, children learn about objects, events, thoughts and feelings, and develop the language skills and vocabulary they need to express ideas and describe their experiences. They learn that what comes out of their mouths is represented by words on a page. Parents can help their children learn these skills, but the goal of all pre-reading activities should be to have fun learning.
Here are a few ways you can help prepare your child to become a successful reader:
Help your child acquire a wide range of knowledge. Take her with you to various places, such as the bank and supermarket, to help her learn about the world.
Read on the road. Play word games in the car, using billboards and street signs: “I see a word that has four letters and ends with a P!” or “Can you find a word that ends with ‘ING’?” You can also do this in the mall or the grocery store.
Talk with your child about his day. This helps him learn new words, to verbalize his thoughts and understand what the words mean.
Ask your child to describe events. This will teach her to give good descriptions and help her learn how stories are constructed.
Read aloud to your child. This is probably the single most important activity you can do to encourage your child’s success as a reader – especially during the preschool years. (See Read-Aloud Tips for Parents.)
Encourage reading as an regular activity. Suggest that your child look at books as a leisure-time activity instead of watching TV.
Visit the library frequently. Encourage your child to select books that he likes. Get your child a library card.
Help your child expand her language. Repeat her sentences and add more words to what she has said to help her learn additional words and more complex sentence construction.
Make your own books. Take a piece of paper, fold it into four quarters, staple it, cut off the fold and – presto! – you have an eight-page book! Younger children can illustrate the book, then dictate their text. Older children will enjoy writing their own stories.
Provide preschoolers with writing materials. Writing is an important way for children to learn about letters and words. Even when your child is too young to hold a pencil or crayon, he can use magnetic boards and letters.
Teach respect for books. Identify the difference between books and toys. Discourage tearing of pages or scribbling in books.
Set a good example. By reading newspapers, magazines and books, you demonstrate that reading is enjoyable and worthwhile.
Growing Up Reading: Learning to Read Through Creative Play, by Jill Frankel Hauser, Williamson Publishing, 1993.
The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease, Penguin, 1995.
American Library Assocition – The ALA’s site includes children’s book recommendations, articles, author interviews and bibliographies. You can find books for young children through the Association for Library Service to Children, which awards the Caldecott and Newbery medals.
The Children’s Book Council Offers ideas about ways to celebrate the joy of reading. The parents’ section includes a great guide to choosing the perfect book for a child.
National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance – This non-profit network seeks to build connections between children, literacy professionals and the community at large to make young people’s literacy an ongoing part of the national agenda.