Parents often ask me "how can I support my child as he learns to read?" I tell them there are several ways you can help your child. First and foremost, read to them! "When do we start reading to them?" It is never too early to begin reading to your child. In utero, a baby responds to its mother's voice. The cadence and timbre of your voice can calm and settle a baby. Once he is born his eyes will begin to associate your reading voice with the book in your hand. Know that as an infant, the content of what you are reading (it can be a work journal or a mystery novel) isn't important, it is the rhythm and tone of your voice that the child responds to. Simply read aloud the books, letters, and articles you are already reading.
As your child begins to reach out for books as you read and begins to babble, imitating your voice, you can encourage your child by getting basic picture books like Pat the Bunny and Good Night Moon that he can look at and enjoy. At older ages, let your children see you read. Children between the ages of two and five years of age look at the adults in their world as role models. They imitate your words and your actions.
Also, don’t limit your child’s reading experience. Read poems and literature to them. Poems offer an almost musical quality to the written word. Some of Robert Frost’s poems have been beautifully illustrated and can be found in the children’s section at your library or book store. Literature is not just a story, but a story told in a certain style, crafted with carefully selected words. Children’s literature such as Charlotte’s Web or The Trumpet of the Swan by EB White captures the child and allows her to be transported into a different place or time, using the words of the author to paint a picture in her mind.
In my Montessori class, I love the mid day relaxing time in which I read a “chapter book” to the children. The first time I do this the children often say “Laura, you forgot to show the picture!” It is with this statement that the book is put aside as we create the images that are missing; I tell the children this book does not have many pictures and I ask them what it is they would like to see. In response, I get a description of the people and places created by the children. It is with their imagination that the story comes to life.
Children’s books have come a long way since many of us were children. I have many books to share with the children in my class, and the illustrations are beautiful and the content meaningful. The books you read with your child should support your child as he or she grows. Books on visiting the doctor’s office help a child know what to expect. Books can instill the social graces we wish our child to express. Jamie Lee Curtis has a series of books that deal with self esteem and self expression. Age appropriate books can be found that will help your child with toilet training, moving to a new home, or even understanding why Grandma is losing her memory. Children who have heard their favorite books hundreds of times often recite a book verbatim. They will exclaim “I’m reading!” Acknowledge them for this and let them know how much you admire someone who can read.
When a child is intrigued by books he naturally has the desire to learn the skills required to explore them on his own. It is vital that we follow the child’s lead and offer him the tools when he expresses this interest. Don’t make a child wait for an arbitrary time, such as the day in first grade when reading is taught, for them to learn to read. In my years teaching 2 to 6 year olds, I have had many children show a strong desire to learn to read and accomplish this task on their own time—often well before the scheduled date of a school curriculum! But in order for that to happen, the child must be encouraged and excited about the possibilities opened by reading!
Children are at a very young age, typically two or three years old, when they are most eager to develop their language by learning new words and expanding their communication skills.
Because they are in the first steps of learning the language, it seems logical to offer the child the smallest unit of our language, the letter. When a child learns the sound that is associated with the letters his speech becomes clearer, he is better able to articulate and communicate. Soon, he learns how to build words, then phrases, then sentences. This first manifests itself through spoken language but with the right materials the child can follow this same path in a written format. Using the individual letters of a moveable alphabet, the child can take the first step—a single letter—and build on that to create words, phrases, and sentences.
Finally, after constructing his own words and sentences from the sounds he has learned he makes the next step to reading words that someone else has written. While the words a child can recognize by sight from a favorite book are helpful, and often the first “reading” a child does, the key to really learning to read is understanding the written language at the most basic level and building from there. Reading is an exchange between two humans, the writer and the reader. It is a gift that should be given to every child. We must take full advantage of the child’s interest in language that is so prevalent in the preschool child. It is never too soon to start enticing your child to read!
By Laura Morris