How do I help my pre-school child begin the reading process?

It’s never too early to begin reading with your child. Overwhelming research shows that nurturing a love of books and reading from an early age is directly linked to success in school.

Read a book together every day

Regularly snuggling up to share a book together not only makes your child feel special, it is the best and most fun way to start the reading process. Reading to your child also boosts language skills and imagination far more than any Disney movie could.

When your child is 6 months to 2 years old, choose books with lots of clear pictures to discuss and your child will love revisiting them again and again. Point at the picture, name the people and objects in a soft, expressive voice. See if you can find the object in the house together (e.g. an apple, a bath, a teddy). Talk about the colour, the texture, the noises the animals make etc. Some books have buttons you can press for sounds or songs – repeat the sounds together and sing the songs. Reading at this early age is more about talking, smiling, repeating words and nurturing a love of books.

After 2 years, choose longer picture books with a good amount of text. When you read aloud to your child, use expression and different voices for each character and talk about the pictures. Start pointing out one letter sound e.g. “Oh look, there’s an a for apple”. Don’t make a big deal out of it, just point out the sound and carry on reading. After a few days of pointing out the same sound, ask your child if they can spot an “a” for apple and praise them when they do. Change the letter sound each week and revisit the old sounds regularly.

Importantly, make sure you use the phonic sounds of the letter (and not the sound you would say when you recite the alphabet), i.e. say “a” for apple and not “ay”; say “bu” for bus and not “bee” etc. When your child is able to recognise all letter sounds, you can encourage them to read simple words that sound the same as they are spelled, e.g. “big”, “cat”, “van”, “dog”.

If you are keen to progress your child and they are keen to learn, create some little flashcards with the letter sounds and simple words you have visited. Praise and patience is everything – beginning reading needs to be a relaxed, enjoyable and rewarding experience for children.

Don’t stop reading books to your child when they learn to read themselves – even a 10 year old will enjoy settling down with mum or dad to share and discuss a good book together (fiction or non-fiction). If your child sees you reading a book on a regular basis, they will see reading as a positive, worthwhile pastime.

Their own special bookshelf

Buy or borrow a small collection of age-appropriate, fiction and non-fiction books with plenty of colourful pictures in. Pop them on a small bookshelf especially for your child and encourage them to look at books on their own and with you. Start with baby books at 6 months and change them at least every year until your child is a teenager.

For example, a 3 to 4 year old might like this book collection:

·       A simple wildlife book – e.g. the world’s weirdest animals.

·       A simple cookery book with step-by-step picture instructions.

·       A comic/magazine that interests them.

·       5 longer story books for you to read, but with lots of colourful pictures e.g. The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Rumpelstiltskin, The Enormous Crocodile, The Three Little Pigs, The Gruffalo.

·       2 or 3 picture books that they could understand on their own just from “reading” the pictures e.g. The Hungry Caterpillar, Rosie’s Walk.

·       Another non-fiction book that matches your child’s interests e.g. recycling rubbish / dog breeds / space / trains / ponies / gardening for kids etc.

·       A letter sounds book – this is called an early phonics book.

Talk about the story and characters

TALKING about books goes hand-in hand with the reading and comprehension process. Your child’s opinion is key to their learning – it helps them make sense of the story and kick-starts simple analysis skills. Briefly chat about the front cover before opening the book. If reading a story, after the first few pages ask your 3 or 4 year old what they think happens next; encourage them to talk about the characters; ask them what their favourite part of the story was; change the ending together to something scary/something more exciting.

If reading a non-fiction book together, e.g. about weird animals, use as much discussion as you can to develop the thought process – “which is your favourite weird animal?”, “I’m most scared of that one because…”, “Wow, I didn’t know it could run that fast”.

Apps are a great support

There are some excellent apps which encourage letter and word recognition. These apps should be used as a supplement to reading books with your pre-school child, and not as a substitute. Computers are a very useful educational support tool, but they should not replace sharing individual picture books with real pages that can be touched and turned and cherished.

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