Becoming a Reader
"Rattle, shake, screech, roar — who's knockin' at my door?" Matthew tears through the house, a sheet over his head. "Boom, boom, in my room!" he yells. "A witch is flyin' on her broom!"
For the past month, Matthew has immersed himself in a world of Halloween books. Although he does not yet know how to read text, he spends time every day looking at books with spooky ghosts, goblins, and skeletons. He recites lines he has memorized from the many times his parents have read them aloud. And he makes up his own, like the ones above. All this adds up to one thing: Matthew is becoming a reader.
Moving Toward School — and Reading
Preschoolers know a lot of things they didn't know as babies. They don't read independently, but if they've been read to a lot, they know a thing or two about reading:
- They know books are read from front to back.
- Pictures should be right-side up.
- Reading is done from left to right.
- The language of books is different from spoken language.
- Words have different sounds in them.
- There are familiar and unfamiliar words.
All of these are emergent literacy skills — important building blocks toward the day when they'll read independently. How can you encourage further development of these skills? Just keep reading aloud.
Choosing lots of different books to read aloud will build your preschooler's vocabulary, and help your child learn about different topics and understand how stories are structured and what characters do in them. Your child also will learn that:
- Text is words written down.
- Letters in a specific order form a word.
- There are spaces between words.
Understanding these basic concepts will help when kids start formal reading instruction in school.
When and How to Read
Many kids this age have moved beyond the small world of home to childcare or preschool. They may even be enrolled in lessons or classes. Read-aloud time can be a chance to slow down and spend time together.
Try to have set times to read together. Before bed works well, as do other "down" times in the day, like first thing in the morning or after meals. Your child will enjoy cuddling with you, hearing your voice, and feeling loved.
Kids between 3 and 5 years old are eager to show off what they know and love to be praised. Continue to choose some books with simple plots and repetitive text that your child can learn and retell. Encourage your child to "read" to you and praise the attempts.
Here are some additional tips:
- Yes, you should read that book for the millionth time — and try not to sound bored. Your child is mastering many skills with each re-reading.
- When you are looking at a new book, introduce it. Look at the cover and talk about what it might be about. Mention the author by name.
- Ask your child why a character may have taken a specific action.
- Ask what part of the story your child liked best and why.
- Talk about the parts of the story — how did it begin? What happened in the middle? What did your child think of the ending?
- Move your fingers under the words as you read to demonstrate the connection between what you are saying and the text.
- When you come to familiar or repetitive lines, let your child finish them. ("I do not like green eggs and....I do not like them, Sam....")
- Ask your child to point out letters or words he or she might recognize. You might also occasionally point to words and sound them out slowly while your child watches.
But even as you ask your child more complicated questions, your top goal should be to enjoy reading and have fun. Don't make reading a book like a test your child needs to pass. Look at the pictures, make up alternative words together, and be playful and relaxed.
Also, remember that reading comes to different kids at different times. Some kids fall in love with books earlier than others. So if your child is one who doesn't seem as interested right away, just keep reading and showing how wonderful it can be.
The Best Books for Busy Minds
Preschoolers like books that tell stories; they're also increasingly able to turn paper pages and sit still, so longer picture books are a good choice for this age group. Continue to read your child books with predictable texts and familiar words, but also include those with a richer vocabulary and more complicated plots. Consider reading chapter books that take more than one session to finish.
Kids are curious and likes reading books about other kids who look and act like them, but also want stories with kids who live in different places and do different things. Expose your child to many characters and talk about how they act and what decisions they make. Include talking animals, monsters, and fairies to stimulate your little one's vast imagination.
Reinforce positive feelings about something your child has learned to do (kick a soccer ball, paint a picture) by reading books about kids who have done the same thing. And pick books that will challenge your child and help further developing skills. Alphabet books, counting books, or books with lots of new vocabulary are all good choices.
Books about going to school — especially when kids are about to start preschool or kindergarten — are a great choice, as are books about making friends.
Pick nonfiction books that talk about a single subject of interest to your child — owls, the ocean, the moon, Borneo — especially if they have great illustrations. And don't forget poetry — preschoolers still love rhymes. This age group is starting to enjoy jokes, so silly poems or songs will be a huge hit.
Wordless picture books that convey meaning through the illustrations are also a must. Once the two of you have been through a wordless book a couple of times, your child will most likely begin telling you the story — and may even be found "reading" the story to favorite stuffed animals or dolls.
Try homemade books too — photo albums with captions and scrapbooks captivate preschoolers. When your child makes drawings, ask him or her what they are, label them, then assemble them into a "book" that you can read together. You can even laminate the pages and have fun creating book covers so that they will last for years to come.
Books aren't the only things your preschooler will love to read — magazines with lots of pictures and catalogues also are appealing. And ask people your child loves to send letters or postcards. Read these together and keep them in a special box where your child can look at them.
Other Ways to Encourage Book Time
Read-aloud time isn't the only opportunity your child should have to spend time with books — preschoolers love to choose and look at books on their own. Keep books in a basket on the floor or on a low shelf where your child can reach them easily and look at them independently. Keep some books in the car and always have a few handy in your bag for long visits to the doctor or lines at the post office.
At this age consider fostering independent reading by putting a reading lamp bedside so your child can look at books for little while before going to sleep. And kids who have just given up naps can be encouraged to spend "quiet time" looking at books on their own.
Most important of all: Remember to let your child catch you reading for enjoyment. Turn off the TV, pull out a book, and curl up on the couch where your child can see you — and join you with his or her own favorite book.
Reviewed by: Laura L. Bailet, PhD
Date reviewed: February 2010