This week’s theme is Early Literacy – what we can do with our babies, toddlers, and preschoolers to lay the foundation for learning about reading and writing. [Check out these posts for developmental stages of literacy, how to read to a child, and games and activities that build literacy skills.]
Building early literacy skills does not mean teaching your toddler to read a book. Formal instruction at this age is not developmentally appropriate*, and may be counter-productive, if your child comes to think of reading as a difficult and burdensome task.
Early literacy should instead be focused on creating an environment where books are so cool and the ability to read is so amazing that your child just can’t wait to learn how. Librarians call this “print motivation.” Here are some things we can do to foster this enthusiasm:
- Model how powerful reading is. Point out to your child how helpful it is that you can read the instructions on how to cook food or assemble toys, how much you enjoy reading friends’ news on Facebook, and how whenever you want to do something new, you can learn how by reading. Point out the words that are all around us – signs, menus, etc.
- Model reading as something you do for pleasure. Whether you read books, magazines, newspapers, or blogs on your tablet, let your child know how much you enjoy it.
- When you read to your child, make it fun! Choose books you will enjoy reading.Choose books that are about the things your child loves – whether they’re passionate about chickens, trucks, gardening, building or splashing in puddles, there are books about it, and reading about things they are excited about will help them be excited about reading.
- Literacy is a social process, which happens in relationships with family, caretakers and teachers. There’s a wonderful connection that happens you snuggle up with a book, give your child your full attention, and you enjoy sharing an experience together. (When your kids are too old for snuggled up story time, you can still enjoy books together. Try listening to audio books in the car on the way to school, and talking about them over dinner.) This together time can be a big motivator for spending time with books.
When and where to read
Don’t just save books for in the bedroom at bedtime. Have them scattered around the house, in the car, the diaper bag and so on. Share books every day – at breakfast, naptime, the grocery store, the doctor’s office, when you arrive at a class or meeting early… show that we can always enjoy a book, anytime, anywhere!
It’s OK to read for just a few minutes at a time – don’t worry if they don’t want to finish a story. They may flip through several books quickly or glance at one, then want to run off to play. On the other hand, if they want to read a book slowly, lingering over one page, going back to it over and over again, don’t feel like you need to rush them.
Resources for books and songs to get excited about:
King County library has a collection of lyrics to songs and rhymes AND videos of librarians singing them (so you can learn the tunes): http://wiki.kcls.org/index.php/Main_Page
Brooklyn Public Library’s site includes great literacy tips, book recommendations, and lyrics for lots of children’s songs: http://www.bklynpubliclibrary.org/first-5-years
* Note: I’m saying that formally teaching reading by using textbooks or formal lessons or flash cards is not necessary. Expecting your child to read at a young age might end up being frustrating for them and disappointing for you.
However, some kids naturally learn to read at a very young age. For example, with my son, we just used the tips I’m sharing this week for creating an environment with lots of great books and fun reading times. We didn’t “teach” him to read, and didn’t expect him to read. But, he learned anyway! He could read basic words before he turned three, and now at three and a half, can easily read books that are written at a kindergarten to first grade level.