Reading is one of those major milestones in a young child’s development.  As a parent, we wait with baited breath for the day to come that we don’t have to read Harold and the Purple Crayon one more time to our child because they can now read it to themselves.  It is with joyful celebration that we acknowledge their accomplishment of the written word.

But when does all this reading begin?  It starts with the first book the parent picks up and shares with the child, at one day, one week, one month or older.  The things we, as parents, do with our children at a very young age prepare them for becoming sucessful independent readers.

There are five skills that specifically enhance a child’s literacy experience from birth that parents should share with their children.  How a parent addresses these skills will depend on the age of the child, and they will change as a child grows based on their ability level.

  1. BUILDING A VOCABULARY:  Children should be exposed to as much verbal language as possible.  Explain to your baby where you are going and what you are doing.  And, when a baby babbles back, stop and listen to their “talk”.  This is how babies learn the art of conversation.  As children grow, you can name objects, talk about feelings, and eventually get them to share their feelings.  Reading aloud from a very early age is extremely vital – they hear the oral sound of words and the flow of a story.
  2. ENCOURAGING A LOVE OF PRINTED WORKS: Make sure your child can see the book you are reading, not just the pictures but the words, too.  And, as a child gets older, let them choose their books to hear and read.  Give them ownership and acknowledge their literary preferences.  Let your child see you reading things that interest you as well – magazines, books, newspapers…let them see that reading is a life skill.
  3. STORYTELLING: Reading a favorite book over and over again is a wonderful way for a child to grasp the concepts of beginning, middle, end, plot, characterization, mood, climax, flow.  So, when you are reading Goodnight Moon for the eightieth time in a day, realize it is a GOOD thing.  Let the child hold the book and help turn the pages.  Play games with the book as the child gets older…if you hold the book upside down, does the child realize it?  And, as they become familiar with a story, can they tell it back?  Many young children like to retell a story and turn the pages, and they are thrilled that they can “read”!  Point to the words so your child will understand how we read.  With older children, ask them questions as you read, such as “What happens next?” or “What do you think is happening in this picture?”
  4. THE LANGUAGE OF LANGUAGE: Play with rhymes and songs, making up actions for the words you say.  Finger plays like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels On The Bus” are great for encouraging language and vocabulary development.  With older children, have them come up with rhymes: what rhymes with ball?  What starts with the same letter or blend like ‘truck’?  As children discover the relationship of words they will develop skills for helping them read unknown words later on.
  5. KNOW YOUR ABC’S:  Talk about shapes with your child (round, square, short, small), point out letters on printed material, like a cereal box or sign down the street.  Read books that focus on the letters of the alphabet.  As a child gets older, encourage a multisensory approach to letters, making them from playdough, playing with magnetic letters, or building different letters from other household items (we like to use cooked spaghetti!).

Keeping these skills in mind will not automatically make your child an early reader, but they will encourage language development and an early awareness of the printed world.  The goal is not to have a child that reads at three years old, but to foster a love of print and stories that will, in turn, encourage reading skills.