The mom of a 22 month old asked me recently what she should be doing to teach her child to read. Her daughter reads words that she has never been taught. She was saying, “Moot,” while pointing to an apple juice bottle. Her mom had never referred to it as anything other than apple juice, but the brand name was Mott. Is she reading and what should this mom do to teach her daughter?
Recently an infomercial aired in the US for Your Baby Can Read. It sounds like a great idea, but is it worth the money and time?
Researchers are agreed that the neural pathways necessary for decoding letters then mentally combining them to form words are not ready until around 5 years of age?
So, who is right and what is a parent to do?
“In elementary schools, we have oodles of kids who can read the words. They can sound out any word we give them, in any subject, at any level. These children are great decoders. Their parents want them in kindergarten a year early or to skip it altogether. The problem with ‘word callers’ is that they can not answer a single question about what happened in the story. They aren’t comprehending a single thing they read. They make no connections to their own lives, can’t tell their favorite part and so on, because they are just reading the words. Trekking through the text, not making any applications isn’t reading and this catches up with many of them when they hit third grade and have to start reading to learn. They have a really hard time making that transition.”
Natalie, a mom who is a reading specialist, had this to say about teaching toddlers to read.
“Today,” Joan Almon said, “kindergarteners are expected to perform at the level traditionally expected of first-graders; reading, for instance, by the end of the year, despite any solid support behind the change.
“There is absolutely no research showing that children who read at age four or five do better at age ten or twelve than children who start reading in the first grade; but there is research showing if you push four and five year olds too hard, it backfires.”
Joan Almon is the executive director of the Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit organization in College Park, Md. Read Almon’s discussion on the benefits and reasons for play in early childhood development.
What are the appropriate reading skills for 3-3.5 year olds?
They may be able to identify some letters and may know correlating sounds.
They should be able to “pretend read,” in other words, hold a book, turn the pages, and tell the story.
They may know all the correct words, but they are telling the story from memory.
They should be able to repeat a repetitive or patterned story book.
Strategies for Reading Readiness
Some strategies for reading readiness include many activities you are probably already doing.
- Talk a lot to them. Have real conversations, even about things they don’t seem to care about. The more words they have heard, the better their comprehension will be later on.
- Read lots of books to your child. Read books on many different topics and different styles. Research shows that a child who has been read to has better receptive language development –the ability to understand spoken language and follow directions, a larger vocabulary, and longer attention span than one who has not. They also learn that the text is the key to the meaning.
- Talk about the stories that you are reading. Ask questions that will make them predict an outcome. Ask them about the cause and effect relationships in the story. Ask them to tell you their favorite part of the story or why they liked the book. Promoting this kind of thinking now will help them in the future. These are the habits of “lifelong” readers.
- Relax and have fun. Their little minds are like sponges. They have their whole lives to learn. Don’t burn them out so that they end up hating to read. If they would rather just look at the pictures and talk or skip several pages or go back and read an earlier page again, go with the flow. Don’t treat story books like text books to be mastered.
- Have them draw a picture and tell you a story about what they drew. (Wait until you hear what they come up with!)
- Play word games, like rhyming. Teach and act out nursery rhymes and poems. Make up silly stories using all rhyming words.
- Point out environmental print: stop signs, store signs, cereal boxes, logos. Just mention these while driving by. You may be amazed at how many words they already recognize, and you didn’t even need to put on any pressure for them to learn.
Every child will benefit from reading readiness activities. If they are in a word-rich environment, they will learn a love of learning and that the words in books are the keys to knowledge.
Some Additional Resources