I love reading and teaching kids to read, which is why before my kids were born I was a kindergarten teacher and an elementary reading specialist. I know that helping our kids be as successful as possible is something that moms think about a lot. So today I'm here to help put your mind at ease. You CAN help your child be a successful reader and I'm willing to bet you're already doing it. It's no big secret. Here's what you do:
Talk to your kids. Read to your kids.
Seriously, that's all you need to do. I'll give you some tips, but there is no reason to "teach" a child to read before kindergarten. Worksheets, flash cards, any kind of "teach your child to read" curriculum (even the websites) are just not developmentally appropriate. Kids like them, I know. Many parents tell me their kids are begging to do their workbooks. My kids also like chocolate cake and ask for it multiple times a day, but I don't give it to them often because I know it's not what's best for them. :) Do you remember waiting for your child to learn to walk? I do. I thought about it A LOT. I stalked what every other kid close to his age was doing (thanks, Facebook), read about how to encourage it...and then, one day, he was ready. He walked. By the time he was 2, no one remembered or cared which kids walked early - everyone just ran and played together. Then I thought, "Wow, I was so silly! Why did I worry so much? He did it when he was ready! Next time I will definitely not get that worked up over it." Then kids his age began to potty train and I started the same cycle all over again anyway... It's the same with reading. Lots of kids can learn to read early, but those few truly gifted children who are ready to read early will learn to do it without any direct instruction. There is no academic advantage to learning to read early. However, a good foundation of being curious, asking questions, learning how to solve problems and knowing how to learn will serve your child well.
Talk to your kids
If you're tired of hearing your kids talk, you're well on your way to raising a reader! I know, many times you think if you have to listen to one more long, drawn-out story you're going to pull a van Gogh and chop your ears off. But they are putting to use all that you have taught them! In a major study, generally referred to as "The Thirty Million Word Gap", researchers found that, by age 3, children from the wealthiest families have been exposed to 30,000,000 more words than children from the poorest families. (https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/tyc/feb2014/the-word-gap) Building vocabulary and background knowledge is so, so critical to learning to read and future academic success. Without even opening a book, you can increase your child's chances of being a successful reader by using vivid, descriptive language when you talk to them. The difference in saying, "Get your coat" and "It's cold outside today, so you need a coat. Why don't you go get your blue coat with the hood and I'll help you zip it up?" really adds up over the years. So describe things you see around you, ask questions, engage in dramatic play with them, and do whatever you can to encourage conversation.
A quick example of how background knowledge helps us be better readers at the adult level:
My husband is way more science-y than I am and has a degree in aerospace engineering. One day there was a half-page article in Time magazine about how scientists have found a ripple in gravity or something? Apparently it proved the Big Bang theory and two other scientific things? I have no idea. I struggled over it for a while, trying to figure it out, but ended up suggesting that we watch The Big Bang Theory on tv instead because it might as well have been written in Chinese. But because my husband has a lot of background knowledge on the subject, for him it was a quick and interesting read, and he understood why it was a BIG DEAL. He tried to explain it to me and I said, "Be quiet. I'm watching tv"
Silly songs, poems, nursery rhymes, and word play not only make kids laugh but are developing an important pre-reading skill called phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the individual sounds in words. Kids develop it through rhymes, alliteration, rhythmic patterns, and word play. So go ahead and teach your child "Humpty Dumpty", sing "apples and bonoonoos", and call your kid "Sam Sam Bo Bam Banana Fanana Fo Fam Me My Mo Mam. SAM!" one more time. You're building essential pre-reading skills!!
Read and write with your kids
Any kind of real life reading is good: comics, chapter books, the cereal box, stop signs, the Chick-Fil-A logo. If it holds your child's attention, read it together! However, picture books are classic children's literature for a reason - kids generally love them and they provide great read aloud opportunities. If you're a straight "sit down and read the words" kind of mom, that's great! Your kid is getting a ton out of that! But you can help your child by talking through it, too. Wondering what to talk about? A few ideas for you:
Summarize. "Oh, you want to read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? again? That's the one that's about all the different colored animals who see each other!"
Pause and let your child complete a sentence. Chances are, you've read this book at least 23 times already. :) "I see a yellow duck _____"
Make connections to your life. "A blue horse! That's so silly. I've never seen a BLUE horse! Have you seen a blue horse? What color horses have you seen?"
Talk about the pictures. "I love how curly the wool is on this sheep! He has four feet and two ears."
Make predictions, even though everyone in your house knows what's going to happen next. "What do you think all the children are going to see?"
*Just so you know, I went back and put these suggestions in the order they are found in the book, without ever picking up the book. It's my 2-yr old's current favorite - our record so far is 10 readings in one sitting - and I can read it with my eyes closed. I feel your pain, mamas!
You don't have to do everything - or anything - every time. How much you do depends on how you and your child are feeling that day. There's no formula. Have fun with it! Teaching your child to enjoy reading is your most important job.
"Reading" pictures, memorizing text, or re-telling a story in his own words while flipping pages IS reading for a pre-reading child. Any kind of print that conveys a message - letter-like shapes, random letters, words written with invented spelling - IS writing for him. So be sure your child sees himself as a reader and a writer. It's ok to tell them "that's not the real way to spell it but that's great writing for a 3-year-old!" or "I know you've memorized it, but you're looking at the words and saying them so you're reading!". Encourage them to add suggestions to the grocery list, sign their names on cards, or label their pictures in whatever way they can. They ARE readers and writers at their own developmental stage. Convincing them of that is a major first step in raising a reader.
There's a lot more to say and I could talk about this all day long. So if you'd like to, feel free to hit me up or ask questions. Happy reading!! Have fun with it!
Sarah O’Dell spends her days taking care of her four small people (3 boys and 1 spoiled rotten baby girl) and trying to come up with creative responses to “You sure have your hands full!” As an extrovert who spends most of her time at home with little people, she is frequently found on Facebook sharing the details of her less-than-Pinterest-worthy days to make other moms feel a little more normal.