Early literacy is recognized as a critical precursor to later success in reading. How can you help your school-age child get ready to read?
Beyond the basics, like reading and conversing with your child, there is more you can do to teach your 4 or 5-year-old to be a strong reader. Key skills are phonics, narration and letter recognition.
Tips from the Pros
Phonics is critical to reading success. According to the American Library Association (ALA), most children who have difficulty with reading lack “phonological awareness”. The ALA has some suggestions to help early readers learn the sounds within words:
Rhyming – Words that sound the same are often spelled the same. For example, knowledge of the sound made by the letters “at” leads the child to recognize words like “cat”, “hat”, “mat” and so on.
Remove letters – Show your child how changing one letter can create a new word. For example, if you take away the “m” from mat and replace it with a “b”, you get a whole new word. It’s a simple concept for an adult, but a fascinating one for a child.
Add small words together – Show how to combine small words into larger ones, like “cow” and “boy”.
Sing songs and read poetry – Both songs and poems emphasize the sounds in words. Simple songs and poems are endlessly entertaining and easy for a child to remember.
To develop narrative skills, ask your child questions about books, about his day or about a drawing or painting she did. Your child’s explanation is his or her first attempt to tell a story. Stories help children realize that things happen in sequence. If your child is very familiar with a book, let her tell the story while you listen. Children who are encouraged to describe what happens in a story have a stronger understanding of what they have read.
For letter recognition, be sure to use words that are important to your child, like his name or her favourite toy. Use brightly coloured markers or crayons to write the words for your child. Point out the letters in each word and make the sound of that letter. The more they are exposed to the letters, the sooner they will recognize them and the sounds they make.
Tips from a Parent
The ALA recommendations work. I advise all parents to follow them religiously! Here are some of the materials that I’ve used in conjunction with the ALA tips to help my son develop early literacy skills.
Flash cards with 3-letter-words – These are available in most educational toy stores and many book stores. Most come with instructions, but we often just pick a word, find others that rhyme and talk about the letters that are the same and different in the each word.
Magazines – There are magazines for children, all suited to different ages. My son loves Chirp, a Canadian magazine for pre-schoolers and early readers.
Board games – Pick an age-appropriate game, like Cariboo, that encourages letter recognition.
Dr. Seuss books – You just can’t get any better than Dr. Seuss. His silly rhymes and zany pictures are ideal for creating interest in reading. His early reader books, like Hop on Pop, have simple, short words that a child can easily recognize.
Regular trips to the library – We go often to borrow new books and to familiarize my son with the library and all it has to offer.