At Any Age: Follow Your Child's Lead
During all stages of pre-reading development, parents can do the best for their children by noticing and responding to their cues, such as preferences for certain books and the desire to sit still or move around while reading. Parents will then "set the stage for children wanting to read," Dr. Barbour says, and make reading part of everyday life.
By reading to their children frequently in this interactive and nurturing way, parents will also help kids develop skills that will help them in school, especially the ability to focus. "You can teach kids about phonemes, but if they can't pay attention long enough to sound out a word, to see how print flows on the page," Wong says, "then all the techniques in the world aren't going to help."
However, literacy experts strongly caution parents against trying to teach formal reading skills to young children—rather, parents should focus on building relationships.
"I'm always a little bit hesitant about talking about some of those fundamental literacy skills with young children, because it sometimes gives the impression that children should be doing these things," Dr. Barbour says. "That really is not the case, and it tends to perhaps convey the impression to parents that they should be pushing things that are not appropriate for little ones."
Above all, parents should have a light touch when reading aloud to infants and toddlers. "The key word in all of this is play," Dr. Herb says. "If you treat prereading activities as playful, language as play . . . it's much more likely you'll have a highly literate and early literate child."