You've made it past your child's infancy and toddler days, and are enjoying all the new discoveries she makes every day as a preschooler. Now you've started to wonder: are there things we can do together so she's ready to start reading? Here are five simple ways to start.
Sing. As you sing to your child, especially simple songs that he or she can learn to sing with you, you are working on skills that will eventually help with reading. Singing slows down the sounds we make when we read or talk, so kids can hear the small parts of words. Think of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." As you sing those words, you separate the syllables of MA-RY and LIT-TLE. Singing often involves rhymes. Understanding rhyme helps kids differentiate beginning and ending sounds in words. Don't worry if you can't carry a tune: just sing.
Talk. There are many ways to talk with your child. While telling kids what to do is important, sometimes we need to slow down and talk just for fun. You can ask open-ended questions (questions that require more than one word to answer), listen carefully to your child's answers, explain things, or share silly ideas. Encourage your child to tell YOU a story! Talking is one way children hear new words and build their vocabulary. Children who hear wonderful, complex words and learn to use them will master reading more easily. So go ahead, spend some time talking.
Read. You knew this one was coming, right? The more children are read to before they are able to read to themselves, the better their vocabulary, comprehension, and knowledge of the world. Knowing that stories are entertaining and worthwhile means kids will be more willing to work at learning to read. Words are everywhere: help your child see words on signs and buildings, boxes and bags. Reading a book? Did you know picture books are a great source of "unusual words," or words we don't often use in conversation? Nonfiction, or true information, books help kids see and learn about things they might not otherwise experience. Spend time reading together every day!
Write. This skill surprises some parents, but learning to write goes hand in hand with learning to read. Understanding that letters have particular shapes, developing the fine motor control to hold a pencil or crayon, and imagining things they might write are all precursors to the abstract skill of giving meaning to words printed on a page. Help your child hold a large crayon and start to scribble. Let them tell you the story of what they drew and write it down for them. Together you can write notes, recipes, or labels that help your child understand that those letters mean words, ideas, and stories.
Play. Play can combine several of the other skills to help kids act out and understand the world. As they build a tower or play with trucks, you can ask open-ended questions like, "What could you add to your tower?" or "Where do you think the trucks are going?" Listen to the answers and ask follow-up questions. You're helping your child express himself, formulate thoughts in sequence, and find the right words to say what he means. Sometimes your kids will play while you're doing other things, but make time often to play together.
Want to know more? Here's a booklet created by Multnomah County Library in Oregon to help parents understand the importance of these five early learning practices and use them often. Happy learning!