Medical City Healthcare - February 20, 2017

Information and activities to support pre-literacy development

Believe it or not, there are a ton of things you can do with your baby/toddler/preschooler to get her ready to read. These pre-literacy skills can be beefed up years before you would expect your child to begin reading the words in any "Dick and Jane" books. I know what you may be thinking —in those early days in newbie parenthood, developing your baby's literacy skills is likely last on your to-do list.

What's all the buzz about reading, anyway? A ton of research has been conducted showing positive relationships between reading skill and educational (and life) success. Additionally, there has been a correlation identified between poor reading skills and criminal activity as an adult. Simply put, reading matters! As a pediatric speech-language pathologist, I have worked in early intervention, teaching parents ways to help their children develop. Reading is an integral part of a child's development and something I absolutely encourage every caregiver to do — daily — with their children.

What "Reading" Looks Like at Different Ages.

Babies. One thing that I hear a lot is, "My baby is too young to read and isn't interested." Sure, this can absolutely be true! Make sure you are choosing books that are developmentally appropriate for your child. For babies, this means books that are simple, sturdy, colorful and contrasting. Books that have textured pages make for a fun sensory experience for your little one. Additionally, these books may have little to no text on the pages, instead having an emphasis on pictures/illustrations. For babies, the focus of reading at this age is creating an enjoyable bonding experience with whoever is reading with him. In other words, snuggle up with a touchy-feely book!

Toddlers. A common complaint of toddler parents is, "My child won't sit still long enough for me to read a whole book." Attention spans and toddlers typically don't go hand in hand. Choose shorter books that are interactive, such as books with flaps or other moveable parts or books with sound buttons. Make an emphasis on super spirited out-loud reading — don't be shy to bust out funny faces, voices and sounds as you read to this age group!

If your toddler bolts halfway through a short story, here's a tried and true tip: Flip to the second to last page of the story and coerce the child back to your lap with the "one more page and we're done!" promise. Read those last two pages, even if your only responses are squirms and fusses, and then praise, praise, praise him once the story is finished by saying something like "THE END! Wow, good job Carson!! You are ALL done! You finished that book! What a big boy!" as he runs off to dump a box of blocks on the ground.

Pre-schoolers. "Oh, you want to read "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" again?!? Awesome. Only the 80th time this week…" By age 3 and 4, the serial book reading is at an all-time high. Refrain from hiding that book or trashing it — repetition of favorite books increases confidence in reading (i.e. knowing what is happening in the story) and reinforces reading to be a pleasurable experience. Length is still important at this age, as you want them to be engaged during story time, but you can push their limits when you are picking out longer stories!

Extra Things to do WHILE you Read to your Child

When you are reading a story to your child, you can do things beyond (or even instead of) just reading. Depending on the attention span and age of your child, there are things you can do to make the story time experience more complex or simpler. The therapist term for this is "scaffolding" — either scaffold up (make it more complex) or scaffold down (simplify) to their abilities.

Here are ways to scaffold up or down, depending on the age and developmental level of your child:

Things you can have your child do:

  • Help you turn the pages of the book
  • Point to things in the book as you name them
  • Name things in the book as you point to them
  • Describe what they see in the illustrations

Things you can do:

  • Point at things within the book and label them for your child
  • Label things in the book and ask child to repeat words or sounds after you
  • Describe what you see in the illustrations to the child
  • Leave out words in a favorite story and have the child fill in the blank
  • Point to the words in the book as you read each word
  • Ask your child
    • A question about something you just read on the page
    • What they think is going to happen next before you turn the page
    • What they would do in the story if they were a character in the book
    • Some comprehension questions about the entire story after you've finished the book

Other Skills that Support Reading

"Working" on other developmental skills will help your children once they begin learning to read. An excellent vocabulary, a boisterous imagination, even those fine motor skills used to cut paper and trace letters — will all play a role in your child's readiness to read! While there could be (and are) tons of blogs, articles and books on how to beef up your child's vocabulary and imagination, my number one tip for building a child's vocabulary and imagination is (ironically) to READ to them, every day!

Outside of that, there are other ways to help facilitate speech development and great play skills:

  • Limit electronics and screen time; tablets are not what is best for the developing brain.
  • Talk to your children about everything that you or they are doing. Narrate their day!
  • Let them get messy! With crayons, paint, markers, chalk, etc. It's good for their imagination and their fine motor skills.
  • Forget fancy Pinterest activities. Grab some junk mail ads and kid scissors and let your kiddos go to (supervised) town.
  • Scissors too scary? Let your child rip up pieces of paper and use a glue stick to glue them onto pieces of paper. Talk to them about the colors or things that are on the paper.
  • Is your child's play area overwhelming? I'm a big advocate for rotating toys (keep just 3-4 big play items out at a time). At our house right now, we have the play kitchen, Little People toys, dress-up doctor and chef stuff out. We do a couple crafts a week, too. All the other toys are in bins in my office and I switch them out every week or week and a half.

Spending the time on these pre-literacy practices before your child gets to kindergarten will certainly help their readiness to read when the time comes. Academically, our children will only spend 1 to 2 years learning to read in school —a skill that they will need for the REST of their lives. The take-home message should be that learning and reading is FUN, and if you can instill that attitude in your child at a young age, I can guarantee that while it may not be as easy as handing them a tablet or letting them watch "educational" shows, you are making an investment in their future. Happy reading!

For more tips on turning your baby into a bookworm, check out Tara's blog post on that here.

For more tips on facilitating speech in your young children, check out Tara's blog post on that here.

About Tara

Tara Boyd, North Texas mother of three, to Beulah ("Boo"), Lucy ("Lu") and little brother Jacob, dishes practical advice on marriage, motherhood and munchies with humor and southern charm in her blog, Boyd Meets Girl.

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