How to Encourage Early Literacy

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Children prepare for literacy long before they reach school age. In fact, children begin learning basic literacy skills as babies. Before your child actually begins to read, she’ll develop a set of skills known as pre-reading skills. These skills are the signs of early literacy and, though it may look to you like your child is just playing, she is actually taking what she knows about books and language and figuring out how they work together to become the skill known as ‘reading.’

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Photo courtesy John Morgan via Flickr

While many parents want their children to learn to read as young as possible, like writing, it is important not to push your child into something before they are ready. What you can do though is encourage the development of those pre reading skills by incorporating literacy development both into your home environment and your routine. Below are several suggestions for encouraging literacy and working on those pre reading skills that will help set your child up for success in literacy.

1. Read, Read, Read
Did you know that according to “Reach Out and Read,” a non-profit organization that promotes early literacy, less than half of American children under the age of five are read to daily by their parents? Simply sitting down and reading one five-minute story with your child can build memory skills, language development and other skills that can help your child be more likely to learn to read without problems.

Read to your child daily. Take the time to sit down and read a book to your child instead of turning on that video. Take a few minutes before bedtime and read another story. The more you read, the better. Make sure to keep age-appropriate books within easy reach in your home, and encourage your child to look at these books whenever possible. And don’t just limit yourself to fiction. Instead, read a variety of books including fiction and non-fiction. Consider getting a subscription to a child’s magazine so he is exposed to as many types of books as possible. Join the library or a book subscription service so there is constantly new books to read. When reading be sure to point out the words as you go so she can learn direction, one-to-one correspondence and other pre reading skills.

If your child has a favorite book that she asks you to read over and over, do so. This opens up even more opportunities for her to build her literacy skills. Once a story has become so familiar that she can “read” it along with you, encourage her by letting her finish familiar sentences, supply the missing rhyming word and even handing the book over to her and letting her “read” the story to you.

2. Make the Reading Experience a Learning Experience
A large part of literacy is understanding the process of a story – learning the beginning, middle and end, and trying to predict what might come next. Make it a habit to talk about the book when reading together. Point out the author and illustrator and explain what both do. While reading a story, pause for a moment and ask your child to guess or predict what might happen next. Talk about the pictures and how they illustrate the events in the story. When the book is over, ask him questions about what happened in the beginning of the story, or the middle and the end. Explore numbers, letters, feelings and whatever else you can find in the book to discuss. Doing this will teach your child to actually think about the story they have heard, and to appreciate the information that books contain.

3. Make Your Child’s Environment Literacy-Rich
Fill your child’s environment with letters and words. The more they are exposed to letters and words, the easier it is for them to learn to recognize them. It is much easier to do this than you think. In addition to keeping books, magazines and other reading material within easy reach, keep letter magnets on the fridge, label bins of toys and your child’s belongings. Put labels on the door, window, light switch, lamps and anything else you can think of. Make a habit of pointing out letters and words on the things your child deals with everyday such as the cereal box, the names of the colors on their crayons, words in advertisements and so on. Enrich your home with as much literacy as you can.

4. Model Literacy
A child copies their parents, you are their very first teacher. And when your child sees her parents (and siblings) reading on a regular basis, than she is more likely to become an avid reader herself. Try to make it a habit to read each day. Curl up on the couch with a good book, and make sure there are books available for your child as well. Then watch as she grabs a book and curls up with you to read (look at pictures) herself!

5. Banish the Baby Talk
Make a habit of using clear and simple speech without dumbing it down. Using more complex sentence structures and rich language will help improve your child’s grasp of literacy and build a solid foundation for language. Introduce new words in a way that helps your child understand it as best you can, and explain any unfamiliar words your child may not know.

6. Provide Literacy-Rich Experiences
Make it a habit to visit the library at least once a week. Help him get his own library card, or one in your name, so he can check out books on a regular basis. In addition to unlimited books to choose from, many local libraries offer crafts, story time and other activities to keep kids interested in and encourage a love of reading – let him attend these activities. While you can guide him to the age-appropriate area, let him pick the books that he wants to “read”.

Provide lots of opportunities to practice writing which is another important part of pre-literacy. Make sure children have access to paper, markers and crayons so they can write letters, lists, stories and more. Even if that writing is nothing more to your eye that a bunch of scribbles, it is still an important part of literacy.

Creating your own books at home is another great way to encourage a love of reading, teach your child the parts and process of a story, and work on other early literacy skills. Sit down and make a book together. Let her decide on the story while you write the words. Once it is time to illustrate the book, let her draw the pictures, or cut and paste pictures from magazines and family photographs.

Encourage pretend play. Children love to act out their favorite stories, often putting their own twist on the plot. You can encourage this behavior by providing dress up clothes, props, and other things they can use in their play.

7.  Talk and Listen
Although knowing letters and sounds is important, one of the most significant factors in your child’s reading success are his oral language skills. After all, language is the foundation of reading development and is strongly tied to your child’s growth in reading and writing. Too often these days kids are placed in front of a television or tablet while mom and dad take care of their business. Try to limit the amount of times this happens. Instead, make the most out of everyday opportunities for conversations such as car rides and waiting rooms. Encourage conversation at the dinner table, make sure to ask lots of questions and wait for their response. Show them that you are listening by commenting on what they say. Not only will this help their literacy skills, it will also strengthen the parent/child bond.