There is a lot you can do to help a child get ready for reading, even if you decide not to teach your baby to read. Such a child will enter kindergarten eager to learn, and primed for success. This readiness is not hard to do, and should be included in any manual on parenting young children.
First off, if you want to raise a reader, you must be one! Your actions really do speak louder than words. The toddler and preschool child is eager to be just like you. If you swear when you stub your toe, you can expect to hear those words coming from your child’s mouth at the most inopportune moments. If your child often sees you in front of the mirror fixing your hair, she may want her hair fixed, too. Let your child watch you brush your teeth. Hand her a toothbrush and she will try to copy your actions. This “show and do” method of teaching is so simple! How else do you think your baby learned to speak in the first place?
Read books. Read magazines. Read the back of the cereal box. Read stories to your child, and read the road signs as you drive. Have books laying around the house. Library books, board books, picture books, even expensive coffee-table books. Teach your child how to use books, and don’t allow her to destroy them. Do expect to lose a few books as she learns. But when she rips a page, it is not a major offense requiring a time out. Simply remind her that that is not how we treat books and she has lost the priviledge of using books for the rest of the period. You decide if that should be an hour, or a few minutes, or even a day if this has been happening a lot. Then give her a book again after the time has passed and let her demonstrate that she understands the right way to treat a book.
Visit the library weekly. Many libraries have beautiful children’s sections. Ours is filled with sturdy preschool toys, puzzles, games, kitchen sets, play houses, and more. Little ones can play while their parent selects picture books for them. They even have book sets to check out – a bag of books, puzzles and toys centered on a theme, such as “pets” or “music”. I love the children’s library, but more importantly, so does my granddaughter.
Next, teach your child to recognize her own name. Do just the first name, or the first, middle and last- especially if there are likely to be other children in school with the same first name. Print it out, and say it. Write it on a card for your child to keep in her pocket. Label every piece of artwork she makes with her name in the corner. Put it in the upper left corner, so she learns to read from top to bottom and from left to write. Write her name on all her outside toys if you take them to a public park or playground. Write her name inside her clothing, especially jackets and outer wear that she might remove and leave behind. Write her name on a peg where you want her to hang her jacket, if appropriate. Write her name on a placemat at the table.
And finally, teach your child to write her own name. Have her form crude letters with ropes of playdough. Let her draw the letters in wet sand or shaving cream. Write her name with glue on cardboard and shake colored salt or sand into the glue. After it dries, she can trace the letters with her fingers. And when she can hold a pencil or crayon well, help her learn to write her name.
That is the bare minimum of what you should do with your preschool child before she goes to kindergarten. There are many ways to expand the reading readiness activities, and to take your child to the next level – actual reading. You can teach her the alphabet song. She’ll learn the names of all the letters, although she won’t yet know what they look like. Next you can use flashcards or alphabet charts to teach what the letters look like. You can play sound games without paper while driving in the car or making dinner. “Your name begins with a “T”. That’s the “tuh, tuh” sound. Can you find something else that starts with the same sound? What sound does “television” start with? That’s right!”
If your child enjoys that sort of game, move on to ending sounds. This is very helpful for the child who doesn’t pronounce the last sound of words. That is, by the way, not uncommon, but do not let it continue. If your child says “dow” for down, or “uh, uh” for “up”, then you need to fix that. Over-enunciate the final sounds. Pretend you do not understand. Say something like, “Do you mean dowN? Downuh? Say “DOWN”. You can expect your child to rebel a little, but before long she will be listening for, and pronouncing the final sounds of her words, as well. If not, then you may want to have your child’s hearing tested. It is not a bad idea to have both hearing and vision tested sometime before kindergarten.
Readiness for kindergarten and the school experience is more than just letter recognition. Other skills your child should master include tying her shoes, toileting by herself including washing her hands, cutting with scissors, holding a pencil correctly, able to sit reasonably still on a chair for a minimum of fifteen minutes, listen to and follow directions, and get along with other children.