Some parents and educators believe it’s best to let kids be kids for as long as they can. Why push them to grow up? Why force them into a rigid education structure before they’re even out of diapers? We wholeheartedly agree. But we also believe helping kids to begin developing literacy skills during early childhood is a key to healthy development and success in their future schooling.
Fortunately, developing literacy skills in your child doesn’t mean you need to start teaching him to read right away. On the contrary, simply reading to your child twenty minutes a day is one of the most important literacy building activities you can do to prepare him to learn to read and succeed in school.
Did you know there are several “story time” strategies you can use, while reading to your child, to help him develop early literacy skills without him ever knowing? Try a few of the tricks below the next time you read with your child, and see if he doesn’t start turning into a little bookworm right before your eyes.
Run your finger under each word
Running your finger under each word as you read starts developing literacy skills for small children in ways you might not even imagine. Reading and writing left to right, and top to bottom, doesn’t come naturally to all young children.
Running your finger under each word as you read helps children develop a sense of orientation. At first your child may not even notice what you’re doing with your finger–but they will sooner or later. Then your child will start watching your finger, and as he does, he’ll not only develop a sense of orientation for reading and writing, but he’ll begin developing a concept of words, spacing between words and print.
Before you know it, he will start running his finger under words as you read mimicking what he’s seen you do, and he will begin pretending to read–a very big step toward early childhood literacy.
Focus on vocabulary
A child doesn’t have to know how to read to build vocabulary. In fact, much of a child’s vocabulary is acquired long before he starts to read. Having a well developed vocabulary is key to learning how to read down the road.
Developing a strong vocabulary at a young age helps children develop “background knowledge” that they’ll draw on for future learning. Most parents, and even some educators, don’t realize that the human brain–especially the brain of a child–learns by attaching new information to old information. If we can attach something new to something old, it is easier for us to understand it.
Helping your child build background knowledge, by developing their vocabulary, will make it much easier for them to grow their vocabulary and learn to read when they start school. Did you know that children who enter kindergarten with a strong vocabulary are typically able to learn 8 new words per day, while children who struggle with vocabulary learn only 2 words per day? The stronger your child’s vocabulary, the easier time he’ll have learning how to read and comprehending what he’s reading.
Use your story time to expand your child’s vocabulary. Take time to point out important words. Use picture books to start developing associations between words and the objects and meanings they represent. As you read, discuss important words with your child that he may not know. Building your child’s vocabulary at a young age will make it much easier for him when he starts learning to read.
Point out the punctuation
It may seem like pointing out punctuation to a four year old is going a bit far, but it really does make a difference in early childhood literacy. We’re not recommending that you teach your child what a question mark, period or exclamation point is, we’re simply suggesting that you point them out.
Many adolescents as they begin to read struggle with punctuation. Believe it or not, punctuation is intimidating. Introducing your child to punctuation at an early age, while you read to him his favorite stories, will help him feel much more comfortable–and less intimidated–with punctuation when he starts reading on his own. Again, the idea is to build familiarity and comfort with punctuation while reading to your child, not teach them how to use punctuation.
A great way to point out punctuation while reading is to create a game out of it. For example, when you come to a question mark, let your child answer the question. When you come to an exclamation point, place exaggerated emphasis on the last few words in the sentence preceding the exclamation point. You can also vary your inflections based on different types of punctuation.
Read with voice inflections
It’s been suggested that 93% percent of all communication is non-verbal (55% body language and 38% tone of voice.) The same holds true with ready. Meaning communicated through reading comes not only from the words themselves, but how the words are used.
When reading with your infant or young child you should use voice inflections. Using voice inflections in your reading serves two purposes. First, voice inflections help children hear how reading should sound. They’ll pick up on how you emphasize words and use voice inflections as they hear you use them. Second, using voice inflections as you read holds their attention and gets them excited about reading. It isn’t necessary to exaggerate every word, but it is useful to use voice infection whenever appropriate.
Hunt for letters
If your child is a little older, doing a letter hunt with him from time to time is a great way to make story time fun while helping him begin to recognize and learn his letters. Teach your child a specific letter, like “A”, or maybe use the first letter of his name “B” (for Brian) to make it interesting. Then have Brian search each page you read for the letter B.
Count how many times he finds B on each page, then count how many times B appears in the story. Repeat this exercise for all the letters in the alphabet to improve your child’s letter recognition and help lay a foundation for future success in reading.
Search for sight words
Being able to recognize and understand basic sight words is extremely helpful when it comes time to teach your child to read. The most common sight words found in most books include: a, of, the, and, is, in, it, you, to, that. Just like playing “hunt for letters”, have your child count how many times he can find the sight word on each page, then count how many times the sight word appears in the story. Now go back and read each sentence that contains the sight word so he can hear and see how the word is used. Repeat this exercise for each sight word.
Arriving at kindergarten the first day being able to recognize and understand basic sight words will give your child a big head start. (Note: If your child doesn’t like this game, don’t do it. This exercise will give your child a head start in reading, but isn’t necessary–and may have the opposite effect if you push it.)
Ask your child to make a prediction
Before you start reading a new book, have your child look at the cover, read the title and possibly flip through a few pages to look at some pictures. Now ask your child to tell you what he thinks the book is going to be about. After you’ve finished reading the book, have your child tell you how close his prediction was to what the book was actually about.
This exercise will help your child pay attention as you read and focus on comprehension as he hears the story and mentally compares the actual story to the version he predicted.
Check for comprehension
Reading comprehension is one of the most important skills school age children need to have. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the areas where many children struggle the most throughout their elementary and high school careers.
Focusing on comprehension at an early age will not only give your child a head start, it will help ensure that your child will be able develop the ready comprehension skills early that he’ll need to succeed in school.
After you get done reading a story to your child, ask him a few questions to see how much he understood or remembers. If he is unable to answer a question, go back to the page where the answer is found and reread the page. Then ask the question again.
Read it again and again!
Reading the same book every day may seem a little bit tedious, but if it’s a book your child enjoys, they’ll love reading it again and again. Repetition is key to learning. It’s not to say you can’t, or shouldn’t, switch it up a little, but reading from the same book regularly will enhance all of the learning strategies you’re employing, enhance his vocabulary and make it much easier for him when he is required to start reading on his own.
Read to your child from the same book every day, and in no time he’ll start turning the pages when you come to the end of the text, correcting you when you make mistakes or change the story, and even pretend reading the book himself.
More important than developing early childhood literacy skills is helping your child learn to love books and enjoy learning. Focusing too much on skill development at a young age can have a negative effect, and cause your child to not like reading. Include some learning activities, games and exercises in your reading, but most of all, make sure that story time is a fun time for your child.