Tuesday, October 18, 2011

5 Tips for Helping Your Child to Read at an Early Age

This post is an excerpt of a presentation given by Rachel Harlan of the Arlington Public Library at the 16th Annual National At-Home Dads Convention. Give your child the edge when it comes to reading.  Here are five small steps you can take to help increase your child's reading ability at an early age.


Talk through your day.  You and your child see a lot of things, hear a lot of things, smell a lot of things, and touch a lot of things on a daily basis that you can describe to them or talk about.  Use details like colors, sounds, and textures to describe what is going on around you.  When you are in a new environment for your baby - i.e. grocery store, post office, library, etc. - talk to them about what they are seeing and what you are doing.  When there is weather like rain or snow, there are certain words you can use to describe the scene.  Women, this comes naturally to most of you.  You already tend to use three times the amount of words the typical male uses in a day.  Men, it's time to start using adjectives and adverbs!  Let's increase our sentence construction ability and talk to our kids!

Dialogic reading is another skill that involves talking.  Dialogic reading is when you talk about what is going on in the pictures of a book.  You are creating a conversation with your child about the book, not merely reading the words on the page.  Look for opportunities to talk about colors, shapes, animals, etc.  Make comparisons like taller/shorter or fast/slow.  So, if the words on the page are "Mommy said, 'Goodnight.'" talk about the bedroom where her child is sleeping.  What color are the sheets?  What color are the walls?  Are there toys in the room to describe?     


The reason that singing helps your child to learn how to speak and ready is that is slows down your natural speech patterns.  For example, if you simply said the lyrics to the song "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" it would be over in no time.  But when you sing the words, they slow down so your baby can understand. When speech is slowed, it is easier to comprehend the phonics that make up our words.  

Singing also helps with syllables.  Words like "twinkle" are broken down into "twin-kle" by the rhythm of the song.  Bouncing and clapping songs like "Pat-A-Cake" are giving your child slower rhythm to the speech, and they can learn the cadence of words by singing them first, then gaining the confidence to say them.

Motions are also helpful when learning words.  If someone asks you to memorize a list of words, it can be difficult.  But pair that list of words with pictures, and you can usually remember more words from the list.  Motions in a song do the same thing.  They provide a picture to match with the word, and require both left and right brain use.


Imagine that, reading with your child helps them be a better reader!  Seems obvious, right? But it's not just what you read, but how you read, that can make a major difference.  Children see the way you hold the books, turn the pages, and read left-to-right/top-to-bottom.  Before long, they have learned how to "operate" a book on their own.  They see the way you point to the words, and they begin to develop awareness of the letters that are all around them.  Soon, they being to recognize letters and words on everything from shoes to high chairs to toys.  

Your child's desire to read is a good indicator of their future learning.  They gain confidence when they learn to read early, and that carries through into their elementary school years.  Through reading, children learn the art of narrative - stories have a beginning, middle and end.  Reading develops vocabulary as well.  Books use rare words.  A good illustration of this is the book "The Napping House."  It uses words like "slumber" to describe sleeping.  When was the last time you said "slumber" in conversation?  It's a rare word, but you can teach it to your child by reading it to them.  Reading also teaches comprehension.  Children learn what the stories of the books are, and they are able to predict what will happen.  My daughter, for example, loves the book "Go Dog Go!" and every time we are about to turn the last page, she pre-emptively yells, "A dog party!"  


This one requires a little more effort.  As a culture, we are writing less and less.  When was the last time you sent a letter to a friend?  Take the time to involve your child when you write.  Let them see the act of writing.  When you write checks for bills, let them watch.  Let them hold the pen or pencil (safely, and under your supervision, of course).  When they color a picture, have them sign their name.  Help them hold the crayon until they learn how to do it themselves. Say the words that you are writing.  If you are signing their name, say the letters so that they become familiar.  An activity that you can try is to pick a words that your child identifies regularly (usually on a product, like in our house it's the "evenflo" on the high chair) and help them write it on paper.  

Playing is a way to make the TALKING much easier.  When you have periods of interactive play with your child, you can use a lot of words.  You can play games like "I Spy" and "The Name Game" with older kids, but you can also work with younger kids too.  Have a theme to your day.  If today is an "A" day, maybe you eat "apples" for morning snack and "apricots" in the afternoon.  You have taught two new "A" words, and you have the chance to describe the fruits with words like red, green, shiny, crunchy, or juicy.  You can do the same thing with colors.  Have a "brown" day and your snack can be peanut butter on wheat toast.  This gives you plenty of material to talk about.  

Other activities for older kids include cutting out magazine letters to create an alphabet book.  They can paste the letter on a page and work with you to cut out pictures of things that start with that letter.  Dramatic play works well with any age groups.  From as early as 12-18 months, children learn how to pretend (at least on a small scale like drinking tea from a cup at a tea party).  Dramatic play lets you have fun with your child and accomplish the goal of using more descriptive words. 

I hope you have enjoyed these tips, and hopefully, they have inspired you to be more intentional about getting your youngster ready to read.  If you have any questions about this subject, you can visit Every Child Ready to Read or talk to someone at your local library.  


  1. we do a letter a week here(home school preschool)we plan a snack, an art activity and we find the letter during the week.I do think maybe sometimes I talk too much for him though...

  2. Get all of your words it now before he stops listening as a teenager! Thanks for following!

  3. This is a great list because there are no gimmicks or how-to videos involves -- only being an active parent.

    On the one hand kids are learning faster than ever, but on the other, we expect things to be now, now, NOW! Nothing beats being a great parent to your kid.

    Even better: the day your kid is reading to you the books that you read her as an infant. Beaming.

  4. @dadvsspawn - It's funny that you can phrase something as "5 Easy Tips" and a light bulb goes on! People need to slow down and parent! Thanks for the comment.



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