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Preparing Your Preschooler to Read

You are your child's first - and most influential - teacher. Learn how giving your preschooler daily opportunities to practice emerging reading skills will help her thrive!

By Barbara Graber, M.A.

As your child's first and most influential teacher, you've taught your 3-5 year old a lot about reading and writing. By providing opportunities each day for your child to practice emerging skills, you're laying the foundation for her to become a successful reader. She's learning that print is a powerful means of communicating knowledge and information and can be lots of fun, too.

Making Literacy a Part of Every Day

Kids learn best through direct experiences that let them safely experiment and explore their world. Offer your child choices and let her be the leader in deciding which activities she wants to do. Each child learns and develops language skills in her own unique time frame, but all young children need the following:

  • Opportunities to develop and practice emerging skills.
  • Encouragement and praise for effort.
  • Understanding that ongoing learning is a family value.
  • Parents and other caregivers to help plan learning activities that are appropriate for her development.
  • A special place of for reading and hands-on learning activities.

Developing Vocabulary and Language

Since oral language skills precede reading and writing, give your child daily opportunities to talk about what she's thinking and learning. As tiring as it may feel, try to answer her questions and talk about her concerns. Remember that a rich vocabulary and strong language skills are predictors of success in learning to read.

Here are some oral language activities you can do together:

  • Look at family photo albums. Discuss special holidays or important events that are part of your family's cultural traditions.
  • Read and talk about letters and emails from family members and friends. Have your child dictate messages so she can "write" back to relatives.
  • Sing songs that play with words.
  • Repeat favorite nursery rhymes.
  • Ask your child to say as many words as she can that rhyme with a certain word. Start her off with a simple word with many rhyming options, such as ball, hill, cat or sit.
  • Play word games, such as, "I'm Going on a Trip", "I Spy Something" and "Simon Says".
  • Make up silly names for household objects, i.e., vacuum "screamer" for a noisy vacuum cleaner.
  • Encourage your child's imagination through puppet play, dress-up, and other make-believe activities.

Preparing to Read

Learning to read and write is based on an awareness of the printed word. Your child will learn that the spoken word (speech) can be broken down into small individual units of sound (phonemes). These sound patterns are represented by a set of symbols (letters of the alphabet). Finally, combinations of letters can be blended together to form a word (phonics).

Here are some activities to help your child get ready to read:

  • Read aloud to your child every day for at least 15 minutes.
  • Go to the public library often. This becomes a special event when your child has her very own library card and chooses the books she checks out.
  • Have her participate in the children's story hour at the library.
  • Read books about things she's interested in. Read from a variety of materials - story books, picture books, comics, magazines - both fiction and nonfiction.
  • Read ABC books, nursery rhymes, and Dr. Seuss books. Encourage your child to "read" the repeated lines with you.
  • When you read with your child, point out how print goes from left to right. Let your child turn the pages to help reinforce that pages are read from left to right also.
  • Point out the the cover, title and author of a book. Explain to your child what each of those features represents.
  • Reread a favorite story and leave out key words. Ask your child to say the missing words.
  • Ask her to predict what will happen next in a story or to tell what she liked and didn't like about a story.

Communicating on Paper

Children progress from scribbling and drawing, to trying to form letters, to finally writing real letters and words. When your child asks you to "read" her scribbles, you know she's aware that speech is represented by symbols (letters of the alphabet). Writing and drawing activities also help her develop fine motor control, as well as imagination and creativity.

Here are some tips for expressing ideas on paper:

  • Have writing and drawing materials easily accessible. Include paper in different shapes, colors, and sizes; markers, crayons, pencils; paste, tape, glue, safety scissors. Keep supplies in a special box or place that belongs to her.
  • Give your child old magazines and pictures to cut and paste so she can create books on different themes - e.g., alphabet, colors, animals, toys, food, shapes, numbers.
  • Let your preschooler make her own book by using photos or drawings and dictating captions for you to write under each picture.
  • Help her write/draw greeting cards to send to friends and family on special occasions.
  • When your preschooler is able to match sound segments to print, encourage her to experiment with putting sounds together to make words. Invented spelling is one step on the way to becoming a reader.

Using the Internet

There are many other suggestions to help you as a parent build on your child's current skills. Remember the Internet is a source of free games and informal activities to help your preschooler develop emerging reading skills.


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

07/19/2010:
"Thank you for this column,this will ensure the improvement of pupils achievement in all subject areas'"
02/26/2009:
" Our granddaughter is in mainstream preschool she will soon be 5 years old.She is Vision impaired and must learn Braille to read and write. do you have any suggestions for us to help her? "
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