If you have young children at home, now is a great time for them to get a head start on developing early reading skills. Learning to read starts at home with parents playing a crucial role in language and reading development. You may not have realized it, but when your child was just an infant, you were preparing him or her to learn sounds, letters and words. Once children learn these basics, they gradually become able to make the connection to put them all together. Here are some ways that you can continue to lay the groundwork for language and reading development.
Encourage your child to use language to express feelings, needs and objects. In order to grasp reading skills, your child must have a strong command of language. Make an effort to keep conversations going about the things your child sees, does and feels. This will help your child make sense of his or her emotions and the activities around him or her. Similarly, books also help children make sense of their experiences.
Read aloud to your child. Of course, you have been doing this since birth, so keep it up! Having lots of books at home shows that reading is important to your family. Exaggerate and add emotion to your words when reading to your child. Read “predictable” books with your children. Predictable books are those that are familiar to your child, such that they can finish a sentence that you start. The ability to finish out your sentence will help your child feel comfortable and relaxed with reading.
Encourage hearing and playing with the sounds of language. Does your child love to chant, sing phrases and rhymes? This type of playing with language is actually shaping your child’s literacy development. You can play “name that sound” or “what sound is that” games with your child. When reading to your child, have the child find all the objects on a page that start with “s.” Have play letters handy in case your child is curious about what a word looks like that they hear.
Expose your child to writing. Any involvement your children have in writing letters or sending cards can be very beneficial in developing their language skills. Children love to participate in sending and receiving mail. Keep paper and writing utensils available at all times. Your child’s scribbles will develop into more organized marks and will eventually become letters and words. Help your child observe signs and labels such as a stop sign. What does the “stop” sign mean?
Last, but not least, make reading fun! Choose books about things your child has an interest in. Help your child “act out” what is happening in the book. It may also help if you use obvious facial expressions and emotions to help your child understand what some unfamiliar words mean.
The road to literacy does not start at preschool, day care or kindergarten. It starts at home and from birth. The time you spend encouraging language and reading development with your child from birth all the way through high school graduation will greatly influence their literacy success.
Bill Stone is 4-H Youth Development Agent for N.C. Cooperative Extension in Lee County.