Although all children develop at their own pace, there are reading readiness skills that children commonly and predictably develop based on their age. These pre-reading skills helps parents and educators know what to look for as a child’s development is followed, and it can alert parents and caregivers to any reading skills that may need extra attention.
I love reading. I truly do. Just like most children have a small comfort, like a blanket, that helps them fall asleep, I have books. It seems that I simply cannot fall asleep until I have read a few chapters from a book that is or probably once was on the New York Times best sellers list. Being that reading is both fulfilling and relaxing to me, and that most people would agree it is the single most important academic skill, it is important to me that my children also are book lovers.
I began reading to my children when they were only weeks old. Here William and I are enjoying a reading of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown when he was only two weeks old.
Now, William loves to read…and hates giving books back to the library. His argument goes like this, “But Mom, I need those books!” and I really do feel like I break his little heart every time I insist we slide the books into the drop-off bin.
Corinne will sneak away from the fun in the playroom to crawl upstairs and read her favorite board books. I’ll check in on her to see she is sitting in her great-grandmother’s rocking chair in her bedroom with a pile of Sandra Boynton or Eric Carle books, like Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? and From Head to Toe, both of which she has carefully selected from the book basket next to the chair. When she sees that I’ve caught her in the act, she smiles brightly and holds the books out to me, requesting to be read to. And, how can I resist?
What Are Pre-Reading Skills
Simply put, pre-reading skills are the skills your child needs in their arsenal before they learn to read. These are things that will ease the stress and difficulty of learning to read then they begin formal education. Helping develop pre-reading skills are one of the best and easiest things a parent can do to prepare their child for reading.
Recent research shows that a child’s brain capacity for language and literacy skills increases by being read aloud to. Reading to our children is one of the most valuable things we can do as parents to prepare them to learn to read. There are six primary pre-reading skills children develop before and during preschool that, if learned appropriately, aid dramatically in easing their learning to read.
Print Motivation means being excited about and interested in reading books. Parents should read in front of their children. Even if it is a grocery list, recipe, or E-mail, make it visible to your children that you not only read frequently, but that you also enjoy it. Of course it is also appropriate to read with your child every day. Read with a natural, but cheerful voice. Allow your child to choose his own books from the library or book basket, and help him find books that are of an interesting topic to him. If your little boy wants to check out eight dinosaur books, fine.
Print awareness is noticing print and understanding it has a function, that each word on a page represents a spoken word. Print awareness also includes knowing how to handle a book, which side is the cover, how to hold the book, and how to turn pages one by one and which way to turn the pages. Parents should allow children to handle books, showing them which way to turn the pages. Point to words as they are read and point out familiar words in the environment. (See my post here about environmental print). Children especially love to see words that are related to a favorite topic, and love seeing their own name in print.
Having narrative skills means being able to describe things and retell story events, although for a young toddler this may simply be repeating major nouns found in the pictures. Building narrative skills can be done by encouraging pretend play, telling one another stories, and asking open-ending questions while reading. Children love to read repetitive books, which helps build story telling skills because children use the predictability of the text to retell the story.
In this sense, vocabulary simply means knowing the names of things and connecting them to objects, feelings or ideas. Of course non-fiction books are great vocabulary builders, but so can other picture books. Words like marvelous, wonderful, and extraordinary, are words that may not be in a three year olds speaking vocabulary, but reading can be a great way to increase their use of less familiar words. When approaching unfamiliar words in reading, parents should stop to give a simple explanation.
Phonological awareness is the piece that comes before phonics. It is being able to hear that words are made up of smaller sounds and playing with those individual sounds. Parents can help build this skill by encouraging their children to talk and say silly things. Challenge your child to change the beginning sound in a word, or the end. For example, from cat to fat to sat, or cat to can to cap. Sing to your child and share nursery rhymes.
Letter knowledge is understanding that letters look different from one another and have their own name and sound. Parents can begin teaching their children letter knowledge by singing the alphabet song, and teaching their child to identify his own name. Read aloud alphabet books, of which there are hundreds, and challenge your child to describe the shape of each letter.
Many of these suggestions come naturally to parents, and you will find that many of them you are already doing. What great readers you are preparing! Or, you may read this and find yourself slightly overwhelmed. Just take one concept to focus on. Start with what you find the easiest, maybe print motivation, and gradually move into the other pre-reading skills mentioned.