There are many milestones that you will enjoy watching your little one go through – from taking those first steps, speaking their first words, and eventually learning how to read and write. From this excitement, can also come some pressure for both parent and child. Many parents will be left googling ‘when should my baby’ or comparing notes on their child’s milestones with other parents in mother’s groups or at daycare / preschool.
The fact of the matter is, every child will develop at different stages. As Beverly Cox, an associate professor of literacy and language at Purdue University concludes – ‘an early walker isn’t destined to be a great athlete, and an early reader isn’t destined to be more intelligent’.
What is important, is that you support your child through learning in a way that is suitable to their capabilities, and age. This will ensure that neither of you feel ‘pressured’ in the activity and that your little one can enjoy the process learning at their own pace.
Reading is one of those activities. Children absolutely adore books and to be read to. But how do you know when it’s time to start reading to them and encourage them to be attempting this for themselves?
If your child is under the age of 5, then the answer is not just yet! In order to read and fully comprehend the words, several areas of the brain must start to work together first. Whilst it’s likely that this will happen for most children at around age 5, teaching your child to read is a process that begins as early as infancy.
Reading to your baby
Language development starts from the very beginning of life. This is why we are encouraged to talk to babies, even when they are not capable of responding or even comprehending what is being said. Introducing books early on, is a great way to expose your baby to language and the foundations of reading. It will also encourage visual tracking for a young baby. So whether these are board books, cloth books or books that make a sound – introduce the concept of story time to your baby and before you know it, they will be responding.
Reading to your toddler
Did you know that if your child gets enjoyment and pleasure out of reading, it will help them to be successful with reading at school? If children don’t ‘learn’ to enjoy reading at an early age, it is likely to hinder their ability at some stage down the track. Implementing storytime at home might seem like a menial task after a busy day, but it can be such a special way for you to bond and have amazing benefits for their development for years to come.
Signs your child is ready to read
It can be very hard to predict when a child’s brain will be ready to read. Just like babies show signs that they’re almost ready to start walking, they will also give clues that they are ready to begin reading. Pre-reading skills include concepts such as: motivation, print awareness, letter recognition and sound awareness. If your toddler is picking books up on their own, and recognising the first letter of their name or have started rhyming words – they are likely ready to start learning how to read.
How to prepare your child for reading
Asking questions whilst reading to your child is the perfect way to encourage them to interact, but also comprehend what they are reading. This is a great way to ensure your child understand what they are reading and therefore advance in their reading skills. Remember, even children who can read well, might not actually understand what they are reading. This is why questions are a fantastic tool!
For a younger toddler, ask questions like ‘where is the cat?’. This will not develop their vocabulary, but it will encourage them to interact with what they are reading.
For a child between 2-3 years of age, ask questions about the story before, after and prior to reading together. Show your child the cover of the book and ask them what they think the storyline is about. At the end of the book, ask them to tell you what happened.
Set the example
Even if your child is incredibly interested in books, this passion is unlikely to continue if reading is not encouraged in your home. Make a conscious effort to let your children see you reading for at least a few minutes everyday. Children are mimics, so they will be sure to follow suit. It’s easy to get distracted by our own to-do list over the course of the day, but taking the time to read a book for yourself can also benefit your little one too! If your child grows up in a literate environment, and you have supported their love of reading – this will have its own benefits with teaching them to read.
Identify letters as early as possible
Learning the alphabet is important to encourage your toddlers interest in language, and eventually reading. After all, the ABC’s are the building blocks of language. Once the alphabet is learnt, your child will be well on the way to developing successful reading skills.
When your child has learnt the sounds of each letter well (this can take up to a month or two of continual practice), they are ready to begin reading words. There are two strategies you can use to achieve this.
- Sounding out individual letters and blending them together to make words
- Memorising common words including ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘of’, so that your child can save time by recognising them straight away
Repetition is an excellent way for children to learn. Whether it be letters, numbers or names of objects – repetition is key. Some parents choose to keep several books in rotation each month, and reading them over and over again. Then at the end of the month, pick out a new set of books to read for the following month.
Make it fun!
Here are a few ways you can encourage your little one to love reading:
- Make frequent visits to the library, picking out books together
- Incorporate the alphabet into craft activities
- Use different voices for different characters when reading
- Sing songs together to develop language skills
- Choose books that have lots of coloured pictures, pointing out any objects as you read them
- Take advantage of teachable moments no matter where you are: the supermarket, the library, driving in the car, the playground
- Don’t get upset if your child doesn’t learn or understand something: use patience, learning to read doesn’t happen overnight
- Make it a rule that if your child brings you a book to read, stop whatever you’re doing and read them the book!
- Use alphabet toys: blocks, magnets or whatever you have to build and read words
- Preschoolers naturally go through a developmental phase where they request to have favourite stories, songs, games, or movies repeated: it will drive you crazy but accept this as a great way for them to learn through repetition!
It’s important to remember that putting pressure on your child through regimented activities such as flash cards or worksheets (although these are fantastic in moderation), will only make reading a chore, and not a joy. With time and patience with making sure your child is motivated to read through fun activities – you will have a little person who can read to you before you know it.