Preparing for reading

Learning to read and write is probably the biggest schooling achievement for children and for many also the biggest challenge. We know that literacy effects all other areas of learning. Research has told us lots about what makes kids good or poor readers and writers and this can help us prepare preschoolers for success when they begin school. Let’s look at what we know we can do that is helpful.

So what skills do preschool children need to be ready to develop good reading skills?

The strongest predictors of good reading skills are:

  • Alphabet knowledge (knowing what the sounds and names of letters are)
  • Being able to write your own name
  • Phonological awareness (hearing sounds in words and sound patterns such as rhyming)
  • Oral language (being able to express yourself well)
  • Print concepts (understanding about books such as how to hold them, turn the pages and how the words tell the story)

So there are five key skills kids need and we can help them learn all of these though simple activities for a few minutes each day.

Here are some ideas to develop alphabet knowledge:

  1. Look at alphabet books and talk about the letters and the pictures that go with them.
  2. Play with alphabet puzzles.
  3. Play with magnetic letters on the fridge and make your child’s name and other simple familiar words.
  4. Help your child trace, copy and write letters.
  5. Sing the alphabet song.
  6. Make letters out of playdough.
  7. Get some stamps or foam letters for printing and talk abou the letters as you print.
  8. Cut letters from magazines, sort and paste the same letters on a page.
  9. Make your own alphabet book. Put one letter on each page and paste or draw pictures of things that start with that letter.
  10. Write letters in a tray of sand or paint them with water on a path outside.

When talking about letters focus on lower case letters (except names of people which should always have a capital). Focus on the sound the letter makes as this is more important for literacy than the name of the sound (eg 'sss' rather than "es").

Here are some ideas to develop your child’s ability to write their name:

  1. Write your child's name often and talk about the letters, the sounds they make as you write. Write it on your child’s drawings, lunchbox, books.
  2. Make a sign for their bedroom door and sound out their name as you walk through.
  3. Help your child try to write their name by themselves by tracing dotted letters.
  4. Write it with a highlighter pen so they can trace over it.
  5. Buy your child a set of stickers with their name on and help them stick them on the things that belong to them. If your child has an unusual name buy some blank stickers and write their name on it together.
  6. Make their name out of playdough using dough cutters or roll the dough into sausages and shape them into letters.
  7. Make their name out of biscuit dough and cook it together or make cupcakes and put one letter on top of each cupcake to spell your child’s name. Mix them up and help your child put them back in order before eating them.
  8. Spell out their name using pipe cleaners.
  9. Cook some spaghetti in food colouring, strain it and while it is warm (not hot) you can shape your child’s name on a sheet of coloured paper. Allow it to dry flat and it should stick to the paper.
  10. Paint your child’s name on paper using glue, sprinkle it with glitter and shake it off.

Phonological Awareness is the ability to hear and understand sounds and sound patterns within words and is related to phonics. Phonics is understanding sound-letter relationships e.g. A is for apple or s says /s/ whereas phonological awareness is about understanding the sound structure of words, e.g. hit and pit rhyme, cap has three sounds and elephant has three syllables. Preschool children who understand syllables, rhyming and beginning sounds are ready to begin learning to read and write.

Here are some ideas to develop phonological awareness skills:

  1. Clap out the syllables in words. Clap out the names of people and items you can see around the room, words from a story book or words from flash cards.
  2. Read books that emphasize rhyming words. Nursery rhymes and Dr Seuss books work well. Part the way through the book you may be able to stop before finishing the sentence and see if your child can guess the word.
  3. Make up ‘silly rhymes’ and feel free to make up words as well. For example, let’s make up words that rhyme with ‘crocodile’- “propodile, trocodile, golocodile”
  4. Listen to rhyming poems and rhyming songs. Talk about the words that “sound the same on the end”. Play them as you drive in the car together.
  5. Recite rhymes or stories your child knows well that has rhyming words. Leave out the second rhyming word and have your child “help you” to finish it.
  6. Sing ‘silly songs’ that rhyme with your child’s name e.g. Tommy, bo bommy, fo fommy, Tommy. Then have your child try it for other people’s names.
  7. Talk about beginning sounds. Start with familiar words such as names and talk about the sound that each name begins with.
  8. Play “I spy” e.g. [adult] “ I spy, with my little eye, something that starts with a ‘c’. [child] cat! This is a great game to play in the car.
  9. Play the “Sound Bucket Game”. Use a bucket to collect as many things as you can that start with a chosen sound. Try to select a sound where you can see lots of easy to find items that will fit in the bucket.
  10. Play memory with a difference. Make picture cards by cutting out pictures from magazines, or printing off the internet (talk about the beginning sounds as you do this together to). Find pairs that match because they have the same beginning sound.

Here are some ideas to develop oral language skills:

  1. Talk together every day. Talk to your child whenever you can, as you go about daily activities like cooking, bathing, dressing, eating, travelling to kindy or school, getting ready for bed.
  2. Make a special talking time each day where you just focus on talking with your child for a few uninterrupted minutes.
  3. Ask your child questions and answer theirs.
  4. Follow your child’s lead when you talk together. Take some time to see what holds your child’s interests. Watch what they look at, touch, hear and talk about and talk with them about these things.
  5. Talk about what you are doing and ‘think out loud’. Talk in simple words about what you are doing as you do your daily activities to develop your child’s vocabulary. “I am cutting carrots into circles”.
  6. Think out loud as you make decisions to develop problem solving skills “I need to cut this; I will look for something sharp; a pair of scissors would be good”.
  7. Model new words. Tell your child the names of things they have not seen before. Teach them new action words when you do things together. Teach them describing words by talking about what they see, hear, touch, taste and smell. Include words about size, shape, colour and feel.
  8. Recast your child’s errors. If your child makes a mistake when talking, repeat the sentence, fixing the mistake to show them the right way. Use a positive tone and repeat it a few times but keep it natural. E.g. Child “I runned”. Adult “Yes you ran, you ran very fast, you ran right to mummy”. Try repeating this same word a few more times later on, so your child gets lots of chances to hear it the right way.
  9. Embrace new experiences. Try new places, games, songs, books and activities with your child. Do something special and different every chance you can as this opens up new words, ideas and concepts to talk about. Plan ahead if you are going somewhere. If you need to pick up that parcel is there a new playground to visit nearby. If you are shopping is there a new food your child might like to try.
  10. Encourage your child to share their experiences with others. When you do something special take some photos or collect something to remember what you have done and encourage your child to show this to others and talk about what they have been doing.

Here are some ways to develop your child’s knowledge of print:

  1. Provide lots of experience with books and other written materials such as signs, recipes, letters, cards, magazines....
  2. Talk explicitly about what you are doing when you do reading and writing activities "look I am looking for a phone number, I am checking this bill to see what I need to pay, I am writing the address on the envelope so the postman know where to take it....
  3. Provide access to books, paper, pencils and other writing materials
  4. Visit your library and borrow books
  5. Make your own books with your child.
  6. Retell stories from familiar books by looking at the pictures, and retell things that you have done in real life too.
  7. Include reading and writing in play by pretending shops, schools, libraries and post offices.
  8. Read together as often as possible. When reading talk about the book as well as the story. Talk about the book and how books are made. Look at the cover, the title, the author, the way the book is set out and the way you turn the pages. Point to the words. Talk about words, letters and sounds.
  9. Use lots of repetition. Young children learn though repetition and when a story is predictable they are able to learn about the patterns and structure of sentences, stories and books. Children love to hear favourite stories over and over and this does help them to learn.
  10. Make your own books and include a title, author, cover and page numbers.

Much of the work on emergent literacy comes from the work of American Speech Pathologist and researcher Laura Justice. You can read more about emergent literacy here.

Children with speech and language delays have extra challenges learning to read and write. Getting support for this as early as possible can reduce the impact of these difficulties on the development of literacy. Find out more about how Talking Matters can help your child.

Talking Matters is offering School Skills groups in the July holidays to help kids be ready to start mainstream school in 2017. To find out more click here.

To keep up to date with new resources and information to develop children's language and literacy skills check our Pinterest page. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with new information, tips and resources.

Jo Brenecki

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