Last month I shared the importance of reading aloud to your children to boost their language and literacy. This time around, I want to share tips for how to help your child grow as an emerging reader. The “learning to read” stage is an amazing and exciting time, so use these ideas to help foster success and build confidence with reading at an early age.
First, children need to know that words are made up of letters and that letters make sounds. The letter “b” says /b/, “t” says /t/, and sometimes letters can work together to make sounds like “th” and “sh”. Pick a letter to focus on and play games with it. “The letter ‘m’ makes an /m/ sound. The word ‘milk’ starts with ‘m’. Let’s think of some other words that start with ‘m’. ‘Monkey’, ‘man’ and ‘map’ all start with ‘m’, nice job!”. To build up phonological awareness skills, play rhyming games. “Air rhymes with chair and bear. What rhymes with rug? Bug, snug, tug! I love how you helped think of those rhyming words!”. One of my favorite songs to practice these skills is The Name Game song. You know, it’s the one that goes, “Shirley! Shirley, Shirley, bo-ber-ly, banana fanna, fo-fer-ly, fee fi mo-mer-ly, Shirley!”. It’s fun and quite the tongue twister, and what’s more motivating than hearing your own name in a silly song?!
To get down to the actual business of reading books, I recommend starting with ones that have lots of repetition and simple syllable structures. The “Bob Books” collections are a popular first choice for emerging readers. In the beginning, you can read aloud while pointing to the words, then as your child becomes more familiar with the story, pause and wait for them to finish sentences. Using the pictures is a great strategy and is encouraged because it helps kids at this stage figure out unfamiliar words! Introducing sight words will also be important for your child to help them get started with reading. Sight words can be common words like “and” or “want”, or words that don’t play by the typical sound rules like “the”, “who” and “know”. These just need to be memorized. Committing these sight words to memory helps kids recognize them as a whole, so no time is needed to decode them, making them more fluent readers.
Last but certainly not least, reading needs to be FUN. Go with your child’s interests and find topics that are highly preferred for them. The “Step Into Reading” and “I Can Read” books offer a variety of favorite characters like Pete the Cat, Batman, and Thomas the Train. They are also leveled to help kids find their strengths and build from there. It’s also important that your child sees YOU reading. You can do this by building reading into your daily schedule – for so many families that time is bedtime. But, it can be even more than that! Maybe breakfast is followed by a book for your child and a newspaper for you, or afternoon snack could be magazine time for both of you. For our young animal lovers out there, National Geographic Kids is a great option. Don’t forget that print is everywhere – on billboards, fast food restaurant signs, storefronts (I bet “Target” is one that many kids can read!). When you’re ordering food at a restaurant, spend time exploring the menu and discussing your child’s favorite foods. If your little one is a chicken nugget fiend, find that on the menu, point to and say “chicken” then point to “nugget” and wait expectantly to see if they can recognize that second word. If they need a little help, point out the letter “n” and how it makes an /n/ sound and say “chicken nuh—“. Find those moments of success and excitement about learning to read. This is a special and magical time!
As always, if you have concerns about your child’s reading development, contact your pediatrician, your child’s teacher or a speech-language pathologist. Warning signs that there may be cause for concern with your emerging reader include difficulty learning letters and letter sounds, trouble sounding out simple one syllable words like “cat” or “pop”, or complaints or avoidance of reading. The process of reading is amazingly complex, so if you are seeing any of these red flags, please, reach out and ask questions! As a parent, you are the number one advocate for your child, and they are so lucky to have you on their team. Now head on out to your local library and check out some good books!
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