Be sure to check out our Ready-to-Read Checklist at the end of this article for a list of signs your toddler is ready to start reading!
By Alexa Joy Sherman
Parenthood can be a pressure cooker in more ways than one, but the intensity is especially high when it comes to making sure our kids hit their developmental milestones on time. As they approach school age, the heat is really on, with learning to read atop the list. “Reading-level expectations of kindergartners are very high,” says Susan B. Neuman, EdD, professor of educational studies at the University of Michigan and author of Reading to Your Young Child: A Parent’s Guide (Scholastic, 2007). “And they’ve gotten dramatically more rigorous in recent years.”
But don’t panic yet. Chances are you’ve been raising a capable reader without necessarily knowing it. “Early literacy is highly related to the attachment created between parent and child,” Neuman notes. In other words, simply reading, making eye contact, talking and playing with your child all eventually translate into literacy. The additional strategies outlined here will only serve to further boost your efforts.
Teach by example
As with most things, children learn by observing what you do. “A parent’s job is not to teach reading—it’s to model and demonstrate, through your own behavior, what reading is and what it can do for your child,” Neuman notes.
So ditch your inner drill sergeant and just start exploring the wide world of words: Read and write in front of your child, follow recipes together, ask questions when you read your little one a story. “Parents can help children learn by focusing on details and using the books as opportunities to talk about their lives,” Neuman says. For instance, you might ask your child how the illustrations are similar to or different from where you live—or simply ask her to tell you the names of the things on any given page.
Keep it interesting
Point out words all around you—from street signs to billboards—and seize every opportunity to emphasize the magic of reading. “Children learn a lot through environmental print,” Neuman says. “They don’t actually learn to read that way, but they realize that print will help them better understand the world around them, so it really helps in motivating them to want to learn to read.” Also, read at all hours of the day—not just before bedtime.
Otherwise, says Neuman, children will associate reading with going to sleep! “I recommend parents take books with them everywhere and let children hold them even if they can’t read them yet,” she adds. Finally, head for the library! “The library is the gift that keeps on giving,” Neuman says. “Children need to develop a library habit from the very beginning.”
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