Everyone knows at least one precocious preschooler. He’s the student who wows teachers and parents by reading Dr. Seuss aloud to his classmates, many of whom are still clutching stuffed animals and learning to talk. The proud mother, bombarded by questions about how she taught her toddler to read, likely shrugs in amazement, saying, “He just picked it up himself.”
This isn’t a case of a falsely modest parent: Her toddler is an outlier, one of a small group of children gifted with high-level word-decoding abilities. Most kids can’t learn to read until they are five to seven years old. By then, their brains have developed enough to make the complex neural connections necessary to decode the changing morphology of letter imagery and sound. Ideally, teaching kids to read is an integrated, organic, multi-step process that exposes your child to the concept until he’s ready to grasp it.
Set The Table
Learning to read begins long before your child can talk. Many educators advise making reading to your child a part of your daily (or nightly) routine, even with babies as young as six months old. Consider these babyhood-to-preschool techniques to boost phonological awareness:
• Re-read favorite books to develop sound and image recognition
• Use books that have rhymes
• Point to images and speak the names
• Teach her the alphabet song
• Identify words you see in daily life, such as a stop sign, store names, and your child’s name
• Use alphabet books or alphabet video games to introduce letters
Gather The Ingredients
In preschool, your child will be introduced to letters and numbers on a regular, weekly schedule. The age of four or five is a great time to strengthen the lessons by doing some early reading development work at home.
• Have your child draw a new letter each week, and draw or cut out pictures of items that begin with that letter sound
• Encourage the recognition of common sight words in everyday life and also by using flashcards
• First readers often have predictable story lines that you can encourage your child to fill in
• Encourage your child to try to sound out short, easy words like cat, fat, hat
• Take advantage of phonics video games to make letter and word identification fun
Dinner Is Served
Once a child has grasped the idea that letters and groupings of letters represent specific sounds, and collections of those sounds make up words with meanings, the basics of reading are set. Increasing fluency while retaining reading comprehension is the next level of learning which continues to grow and develop for years.
• Offer up books of increasing difficulty that are challenging but not so much as to discourage the new reader
• Let them choose some reading material themselves
• Continue to read to your young reader, asking questions to encourage comprehension
• Encourage writing in any form, like thank-you letters, homework assignments, etc., to reinforce words, letters, and meaning
• Have your child read aloud to you to improve his fluency
Reading doesn’t happen overnight, but with steady work your child will soon comprehend that those silly little squiggles on the page contain sound and meaning. Before you know it, he’ll be reading comic books by the light of a flashlight long past his bedtime.