Reading Together With Children
Your child begins to learn long before he or she goes to school. In fact, just about every experience in early childhood is a learning experience, from exploring to experimenting to interacting to playing. It is never too early to begin supporting literacy in a child's life and you can do so long before your child begins to talk. Language and literacy development begins from the time a child is born. In addition to providing an environment that values communication, knowledge, and an appreciation for books and literature, reading together with your young child is one of the best ways to support emerging literacy.
Learning how to read is similar to learning how to talk - it is a process that takes many years to unfold. When learning how to talk, children are surrounded from the beginning of their lives by people using language as a tool to communicate thoughts, ideas, facts, and feelings. Reading is a similar tool. In an ideal learning environment, children are surrounded by people using reading as a versatile tool to obtain and convey information such as facts, directions, and instructions, as well as a gateway to imagination, fantasy, and creative thinking. Lifelong readers know that reading is an essential tool for acquiring and sharing knowledge and ideas.
Our tips and recommendations below provide you with some guidelines to support emerging literacy with your child. These guidelines are not intended to be all-inclusive. We encourage you to also think of other ways to make reading an important part of your child's life.
Supporting emerging literacy with infants:
Early language development begins with the first interactions between parents and infants. Exchanging facial expressions and non-verbal sounds are the first steps to building language and literacy skills. Respond to your baby's babbles with interest in what he or she has to say. Talk to your baby, point to and name objects, and think out loud about what you are doing. This will one day add to your child's growing vocabulary. Research in the field of early literacy indicates that the size of a child's vocabulary affects how well he or she will do as a reader.
It is never too early to begin reading to your baby - even newborns! Simple picture books can go a long way. Look at the pictures together - point at and mimic things you see in illustrations. Read with enthusiasm! This will teach your child that reading is more than just words - it's an experience! Allow your baby to explore books, holding and handling them and feeling the pages. In addition, let your child see you reading for yourself. Familiarity with and respect for books and text are great ways to start a lifelong passion for all that books have to offer.
Supporting emerging literacy with toddlers and preschoolers:
As children grow older, they become more interactive verbally. Take the time to listen carefully to what your toddler has to say and encourage him or her to tell you more. Inviting statements such as, "Tell me more about that!" can go a long way in opening up your child's communication and shows that you value his or her ideas. Use descriptive words when talking with your young child and encourage him or her to do the same. For example, "My picture is red and blue. There is more red than blue. I made circles and lines. Tell me about your picture!"
Read books again and again with your toddler or preschooler. Don't be concerned about being repetitive if your child always wants to hear the same story. Reading books that are favorites and already familiar to your child provides opportunities to notice patterns in the text or discover new ways of looking at things. If your child has memorized parts of the text, pause and allow him or her to fill in the blanks as you go along, for example, "Humpty Dumpty sat on a..." or ask, "Do you remember what happens next?"
When reading together, stop and ask your child to find objects or other details in the illustrations. For example, after reading a page, pause and look at the illustration and ask, "Can you find a tree?" Connect the text with the illustrations, making comments about what you've read and pointing out how the illustration coincides (or doesn't!) with the text. Good readers pause, ask questions, and make connections.
Encourage your child to read books to you. Make reading time a shared experience that is interactive. Take turns reading and turning the pages. Many children begin to "pretend" read from memory or make up words for stories long before they can actually read text. This is practice! Give your child opportunities for such practice and don't worry about correcting missed words. This will build his or her confidence as an emerging reader.
Children begin reading earlier than you may think! In addition to pretend reading, the first signs of reading emerge with the recognition of familiar symbols, street signs, and common icons and logos. For example, in the grocery store, your child may be able to recognize his or her favorite food boxes. Encourage your child to pick out his favorite cereal or juice and comment on his developing reading skill. "Wow, you knew that was the apple juice!" While driving, ask your child to point out all of the stop signs or other familiar symbols. The world is rich with opportunities for learning for young children.
Children learn best when they learn new skills and concepts in the context of something that is familiar to them. For example, when reading a book about trees, questions such as, "Have you ever seen a tree like this?" or "I wonder what the leaves might feel like..." are great ways to start conversations about the content of the book. Conversations like this help children to make meaningful connections from what they are reading to what they already know. You can extend the experience beyond the pages of the book by encouraging your child to make his or her own book about the subject. For example, "We have a lot of trees in our yard. Let's make a book about the trees we know about!" Learning in this way is more concrete and more likely to become a solid part of the child's knowledge base. These are the building blocks for success in future learning.
Before beginning a new book, look at the cover with your child. Comment on the title, the author, and illustrator, explaining that the author writes the words and the illustrator draws the pictures. Ask your child what he or she thinks the book might be about based on the cover and title of the book. After finishing a book, go back to your original predictions and talk about whether you were right. Also, making predictions before you turn the pages is another way to help your child actively think about what is happening in the story. When a story becomes suspenseful, for example, you can add to the suspense before turning the page by saying, "Wow, now they really have a problem! What do you think they'll do next?" Ask your child to relate the events in the book to experiences he or she has had. You can use moments like this to allow your child to explore his or her own reactions to and feelings about similar experiences. Thinking empathically about the characters in the book can support your child in understanding his own feelings. For example, asking questions such as, "It seems like [the character] doesn't like what is happening. How do you think she feels about that?" Encouraging your child to think and make predictions while reading will help to make him a more active reader.
And finally, good readers are good story tellers, and good story tellers are good readers. Encourage your child to tell you about pictures he or she has drawn or about experiences he or she has had. Use open-ended questions such as, "Tell me more about your picture," to get the conversation started. Children's first drawings, even a baby's scribbles, are their first steps toward becoming communicators: writers and readers. Value your child's attempts to communicate through babbles, words, scribbles, and drawings and your child will grow up feeling confident and capable as a writer and reader, one who shares and values the printed word as a versatile tool.
For more information on early childhood literacy, please visit the additional resources page.