Helping Your Child Learn to Read
Parents want to know, “When should I start reading to my child?” The answer is very simple…as early as possible. When you are sitting and holding your baby on your lap, open a book. Pick a book that’s large, with bright, colorful pictures and just a little bit of text, or no text at all (even a child at one or two months will enjoy being held and looking at colorful pictures -- but remember, at this age, attention span is short, so if they lose interest, put the book down). Point to the pictures and name them. Even a family photo album is fine. It’s just that simple. You can even take your little one’s hand and point together.
When your baby becomes a toddler, you can emphasize the text (as long as it is simple) a bit more, as in “See the dog? The dog is running.” Then, as your toddler becomes more of a talker, rather than just the listener, you can take it a step further. Start pointing out the sounds in the words. Let’s say you have a picture of a horse in your picture book. So you say, “Horse, h…h…horse” and you can even point to the letter “h” if it’s on the page. One very important pre-reading skill is the awareness that words are made up of sounds. That ultimately leads to sound blending, the ability to see h/a/t and form the word “hat”. Rhyming books, like those by Dr. Seuss, also help develop that awareness, because the child can hear that by changing one little sound, you make a whole, new word.
Now, let's say you have a little preschooler, a child of 3 or 4 years of age. Pick books that are developmentally appropriate and read, read, read. Pick short books -- chapter books are not necessary. Talk about the story, act it out, take turns re-telling parts of it. This will enhance your child’s understanding of the story and is also a great way to learn new vocabulary words. But, most of all, you both should have lots of fun. Your child should learn from you that reading is pleasurable, especially when you share it.
As your child gets closer to starting kindergarten, you can emphasize how the letters and sounds go together even more. You can play lots of letter-sound games with your child. For example, you can play a "20 Questions" kind of game. "I am thinking of a fruit and it begins with /a/ (short a as in alligator), then give more clues until your child figures out that you are talking about the a in apple. Another way to help your child learn about letter-sound combinations is to play a matching game, using pictures or objects that begin or contain the same sound such as "bunny" and "baby". Another activity could be going on a "search" for objects beginning with the same letter-sound. Selecting /t/ as your beginning letter-sound combination could yield words like towel, toaster, and TV. Write the words down and draw or find pictures of the items that you find. Practice writing the letters as you talk about the sounds they make. You can write with pencil and paper, and you can also use a whiteboard or rice or even spaghetti!
Expectations of what a child should know upon entering Kindergarten vary. The more your child knows about the fact that words are made up of sounds, that sounds are represented by letters (and what those sounds and letters are), that reading is from left to right...and so on, the better off your child will be. As always, make it fun and be patient!