Developing Pre-Reading Skills
Just as all people must learn to crawl before they can walk, children must attain certain milestones before they can become part of the world of words. Parents can do much to help unlock the magical realm of reading. When your baby is even just days old, there are steps you an take to foster your little one’s love for books. Here are some tips to help you introduce even the youngest child to words and help her develop important pre-reading skills.
“Reading is the most complex psychological process we deal with in our whole lives,” says Donna Sullivan, director of Commonwealth Learning Center in Needham, Massachusetts. “It involves the auditory system—how we hear and understand; and the visual system—how we interpret letters. When these psychological processes are in place, a child is ready to read.”
Not every child will learn to read at the same age. While some youngsters may start as young as four years old, most children become readers during first grade. But it is important to note that the process towards literacy begins long before a child enters a classroom.
Read Aloud Together
“There are two important components to teaching young children to read,” says Dr. Jeanne DeTemple, PhD, research assistant on the Home-School Study of the Acquisition of Language and Literacy Project at the Harvard School of Education. “Reading aloud to them and letting them see you read. Both of these tell your kids that reading is a useful, desirable activity worth learning.”
Talk the Talk
There is no minimum age to begin exposing children to language and books. “Parents should talk and read to their children even when they are small infants,” recommends Sullivan. “Using real words, not baby talk, will stimulate language development and model language as well.
“By the time a child is between the ages of four and five, she will comprehend that words are made up of sounds. This is the time to really start developing her vocabulary,” Sullivan says. “Extend one-on-one conversation to include lots of interaction with your children. Discuss topics which most interest them and encourage them to share their ideas. You can expand their language by repeating their sentences back and adding more words to what they have already said.”
All this talking will teach kids that speech is made up of a series of sounds. “Now children are ready to learn that what comes out of their mouths is represented by words on a page,” says Sullivan.
Wheeling Their Way to Words
But before they pick up a book, children must also learn to distinguish between left and right. Growing Child, a newsletter chronicling preschooler development, suggests that learning to ride a tricycle can help.
Most children are mature enough to ride a tricycle by the age of two and a half. The pedaling they learn forces them to shift from right to left, which helps them distinguish the two different sides of their bodies. This is a first step in learning to organize the left-to-right dimension in space.
Children who have difficulty differentiating a “b” from a “d” or words such as “saw” from “was” have not yet learned to sort their left sides from their right sides. Once a child can discern his own left and right, he has reached the starting point for separating left and right on the printed page.
Riding a tricycle also teaches the importance of sequence order. As a child rides he knows he cannot pedal both sides at the same time and must learn to pace his movements. This develops the ability to
organize time which will help him learn to read words in the correct order.
Fun and Games
“Learning to read should not be an academic endeavor,” stresses Sullivan. “All pre-reading activities should be kept playful.”
For example, she suggests singing rhyming songs, reading favorite stories over and over, or playing games which challenge children to find objects with similar sounding names.
“Children pick up reading skills all kinds of different ways,” says Joanne Stone-Libon, director of the Headstart programs in Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop, Massachusetts. “In our Headstart programs we like the children to have input into what our teachers are reading to them. We ask them to talk about the stories and pictures. It creates a connectedness, and the more involved they become the more fun they have.”
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