Sometimes he is patient and will let you read the whole story (this requires a lot of enthusiasm and condensing parts of the story). Sometimes he will start turning pages to get to his favorite page (always something he relates to from his world, like the illustration of the “Piggies” in the bath) and start talking about it. Occasionally, he will recite a short sentence that goes with that page. We do voices for the characters, use gestures, point out things in the pictures, and let him control the page turns to keep him engaged. Carter is learning to read.
If I asked you, when do children start reading, what would you answer? I think most of us would respond with the age our own child could sit down and independently read a book. But kids start building foundational reading skills the moment they enter the world and hear you for the first time.
When you begin talking to your child (“Hi, Carter. I am your grandma. I love you soooo much”), you are opening the world of words and language for that child. When you are intentional about teaching children a specific word by saying the word, then pointing to an object or action (flip the light switch on and say “on,” then flip the light switch off and say “off”), you are building their vocabulary. When they listen to the back and forth of a conversation, they are learning English and about dialogue.
When you first sit down with your child (hopefully a habit you develop with your an infant), open a book, read them the words, discuss the pictures or tell them a condensed version of the story (because let’s be real, you have to be mindful of attention span), you are opening the doors to the world of reading and laying the foundation for school success and lifelong learning.
Over the course of “Pre4,” the majority of our students at the Norwalk Catholic School Early Childhood Center can identify most of the letter names and many of the letter sounds (vowels are so tricky in English). Most of our kindergarten students have built a repertoire of sight words, are sounding out short and common words that follow “the rules,” and reading leveled readers.
In preschool and kindergarten, the students continue to build on their foundational reading skills. Teach your toddler or preschooler about rhyme. Point out rhymes in your conversations. “Go ahead and throw the ball against the wall. Oh, Mommy made a rhyme — ball and wall.” Read them a Dr. Seuss book and other rhyming books. Invite them to beep or buzz or make a noise when they hear a rhyme in the story, then ask them which rhyming words they heard. Rhyming is an important building block for literacy.
Help your child develop “phonological awareness.” That is a fancy term for training a child's ear to hear the sound structure of spoken language instead of focusing on the meaning of words.
Here is a great example of how to do this from Hallie Kay Yopp and Ruth Helen Yopp: Sing “Old MacDonald” with your child. For the first chorus sing “E-I-E-I-O.” For the next chorus, sing “ME-MI-ME-MI-MO.” Next time, sing “LE-LI-LE-LI-LO.” Then invite your child to make the sounds for the next chorus.
Celebrate when they can do it or hear what you are talking about. This helps your child develop the ability to manipulate and substitute sounds. When reading a book ask your child which word is longer "caterpillar" or "train." They may answer train because a real train is longer than a real caterpillar; show your child the word, drag your finger along the bottom of the letters to help him or her see the length of the word and then count the letters in both.
When driving in the car with your preschooler or kindergartner (once they are finally big enough to sit front-facing in their car seat), play “Letter I Spy” with the objects they see. You: “I spy something that starts with the letter C, (the “K” sound)/.” Them: “Is it a c-ar?" You: “It is. Great job. How did you know car starts with (the “K” sound)? Now you spy something. Tell me what letter or sound it starts with and I will guess what you spy.”
This game helps with a reading skill called phoneme awareness. Phonemes are individual sounds or the smallest units of spoken language. There are about 44 sounds in English. Help your young reader dissect words into the individual sounds. Write out their name or another word, then help them cut the word into each sound (or you could do this with syllables). Then have them pick a word or name, that you will cut into sounds or syllables.
Never stop talking with and listening to your child. Your child learns so much from every exchange. Not only are they learning about the subject you're discussing — animals, babies, cars, dinosaurs, princesses, blocks — they are learning language. They are learning vocabulary. They are learning the rules of grammar: Tense, plural, sentence structure, using adjectives and adverbs to describe, comparison and positional words. Again, a car ride is great for this because it provides precious down time in a busy life and children are a captive audience in the car.
Finally, when your child is starting school, make their education team your partner in your child’s education. Talk openly and often with your child’s teacher; he or she will have important information on the skills your child is ready to work on and great ideas on how you can help at home. Teachers can help you decode those report cards and assessment scores when you have questions. Every teacher I have worked with wants to see every student succeed.
We would love to help you foster a love of reading, math, science, exploration and learning in your child. If you are looking for a preschool or kindergarten for your child — next year or down the road — I invite you to visit the Norwalk Catholic School Early Childhood Center at our open house and free pancake breakfast from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Jan. 27 at 77 State St. in Norwalk.
Local columnist Angie Smith is the director of the Norwalk Catholic School Early Childhood Center.