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6 Skills to Prepare Your Young Child For Reading

by Carolyn James

Each year at the beginning of March, school children kick off National Reading Month by celebrating the birthday of the beloved Dr. Seuss. Teachers will design contests, family literacy events, and even pajama & pillow days to provide cozy mornings of uninterrupted reading. With help from Read Across America their goal is motivating kids to read every day of the year.

But what about the little ones? With a little help, they can enjoy National Reading Month too.

Research findings outlined in a recent report of the National Early Literacy Panel highlight the fact that literacy skills begin to develop at birth. The panel identified a number of early skills that are related to—and may even help predict—a child’s later success with reading and writing.

Skills closely related to later success with reading and writing

Alphabet knowledge—the ability to name letters and the sounds they make
Phonological awareness—the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds of spoken language (such as hear the beginning sound of a word)
Rapid letter or number naming—the ability to quickly name letters or numbers
Rapid object or color naming—the ability to quickly name random series of colors or objects
Phonological memory—the ability to remember spoken information for a short period of time
Writing letters or one’s own name—the ability to write single letters in isolation, or write their own name

So, even young children who are not yet reading can join in the celebration of National Reading Month. While each child’s developmental journey has its own pace, the next section describes how you can help foster these important skills with activities that suit your child’s current abilities and interests. And chances are, you and your child already engage in some of these activities!

Activities to foster important early skills

Knowing letters and sounds

Sing the Alphabet Song. The number of versions on iTunes alone is testament to its enduring appeal. Have fun singing this familiar tune with different tempos or silly voices (monster voice, tiny mouse voice, robot voice).
Hunt for environmental print. Start a game of I-Spy and have your child search for letters prominently displayed on signs, posters, billboards, even cereal boxes.
Play with alphabet letters. Pull out the magnets, blocks, puzzles, whatever you have, and name the letters, eventually having your child identify the letter names on his own. It’s usually best to introduce letters in alphabetical order, or start with the letters in your child’s name. Upper case letters can be easier to tell apart, so they are often introduced first. At the same time, the lower case letters show up more in print, so there are good reasons to include both. Also, help your child match the letters with the sounds they make, along with a familiar word that contains the letter sound.
Explore the Starfall website. The ABCs section contains activities designed to help your child learn letter names and sounds.

Playing with the sounds of language

Introduce nursery rhymes and sing-along games. Recite nursery rhymes, play the name game (Mason, Mason, bo bason, bananfana…), check out children’s sing-along CDs at the local library, and spark your child’s delight in the sounds of language.
Enjoy rhyming books. Read aloud and pause at opportune spots, encouraging your child to join in on the rhyming portions of text.
Go on a treasure hunt.Help your child search for items in your home that rhyme, or start with the same sound.
Tune your child’s ears to the rhythm of music. Clap or dance to the beat, or tweak lyrics by substituting new rhyming words, even silly ones. Music provides plenty of natural opportunities for children to appreciate and manipulate the sounds of language.

Remembering what you hear

Read it again…and again. When your child asks for repeated readings of the same book, rejoice! While you may tire of the storyline, your child is gradually memorizing the text and enhancing her listening comprehension. Eventually, you can encourage your child to “read” the story to you, using what she’s memorized to retell the tale. You can also have your child retell the story using puppets, or by simply acting it out. Books with predictable, repetitive storylines are a good place to start.
Read and discuss. While younger children benefit from fewer interruptions during reading in order to maintain attention, occasionally ask your child questions about the story and illustrations. Sometimes, repeat your child’s response. Other times, expand on what he has said, or make your own responses. This provides your child with a model of how to talk about books and enhances his ability to remember what he’s heard.
Make up listening games. Implement a version of Simon Says, with one, then two, then three or more verbal instructions to follow (Simon Says, touch your nose; Simon says touch your nose, then jump. Simon Says touch your nose, then jump, then turn around).

Quickly naming letters, numbers, objects, and colors

Play beat-the-clock. Open a book or magazine and have your child point to, and name, as many letters, numbers, objects, or colors as she can in 30 seconds.
Put a new twist on Slap Jack. As with the original version of the game, a deck of cards is divided equally between two players, with the stacks face down. One at a time, each player places the top card of her pile face up in the center of the table, but in this version of the game, the first player to name the number on the top card wins the pile and adds these cards to his own pile. If both players name the number at the same time, neither player gets the pile, and the game continues. Play continues until a player has won all of the cards. Other versions can be played with cards from games such as Memory or Old Maid.

Writing letters, writing your name

Paint with water Grab a bowl of water and a couple of paint brushes or sponges and “paint” letters on the sidewalk or on a wooden fence.
Scribble in the sand. Use fingers or small sticks to draw letters in the sand.
With the assurance that even the youngest children are on the road to reading, here’s to embracing March as National Get-Ready-to-Read Month and building on these important foundational skills well beyond March 31st.