There are many who say that it is unnecessary for children to learn to read before kindergarten, and that it is too complicated a skill for young children to handle. However, there is also plenty of data out there to suggest that kids who start learning basic reading skills before kindergarten develop more positive associations with reading and are therefore more motivated to read. Even if your child doesn’t learn to read at this age, it’s a good time to teach them the foundational pre-reading skills that will help them with their literacy as they enter the school system. Here are some ways you can support Pre-K and Kindergarten age readers:
1. Now that your child is familiar with books and may even be starting to read, it’s imperative that you have an established reading routine, perhaps even more than one. But don’t stop there—take other opportunities to introduce literacy into your child’s world. You could follow simple recipes, make and read lists together, leave notes for each other, look at kid-friendly articles on the internet, get subscriptions to magazines or newspapers, point out signs, or even make a behaviour chart with simple words and pictures that your child can help you read out loud. This reinforces the idea that reading is everywhere, and we can gather information from different sources.
2. Consider playing word games together with your child to encourage phonological and phonemic awareness, i.e. knowing how (and which) sounds are put together to make words. This is an important skill to master, as children will use this awareness to eventually start blending these sounds together as they learn to read and write. The games you use can be as simple and low-prep as you want (think something as easy as “I spy something that starts with the letter S”), and they can be played whenever you have a couple of free minutes. The internet is a great resource for game ideas.
3. When you read with your child, make sure that one of you points to each word that you read. This will help your child understand that we read from left to right, top to bottom in English. It will also encourage them to slow down and focus on each word as you read, which will in turn help them to start recognising more and more of them.
4. Start telling — and encourage your child to start telling — more stories. Ask leading questions, laugh at the funny parts, confirm who the characters are, and try to establish a (relatively) clear beginning, middle, and end. Storytelling is a great way to boost vocabulary and work on listening and communication skills, and it also allows children to become familiar with story elements before they start learning about it in school.
5. Start spending more time on each book. Point out the author and title every time and start comparing books by the same author of illustrator. What’s the same? What’s different? Pay special attention to the pictures, and how they relate to the words or to the story as a whole. Notice different text features, like bold words (is this an important word? Why?), maps, or labels. Start thinking about simple messages or lessons found in books.
Elementary aged children, on the other hand, have slightly different reading needs than their younger counterparts. Once students start reading for themselves in elementary school, they will be able to take a more active role in their reading routines. Instead of being read to all the time, they may start reading to you, and eventually, reading independently. Supporting young independent readers will look different for each child, and some of the best, most practical advice will come from their teachers, who can help you with specific things you can work on at home. Most importantly, don’t forget to keep reading fun. Focus more on reading for pleasure — be it together or alone — than drilling and correcting every mistake, because this will be the biggest motivator to keep your child reading. These ideas are ideal for for encouraging elementary school readers:
1. Now that your child is actually learning how to read, it’s important to start prioritising independent reading. This doesn’t mean you can’t still read to them, but it’s important that they get into the habit of at least trying to read books by themselves. If your routine is that you read together, you could try sitting together and reading your books independently, and then reading together or have them read to you at the end. Keep working on this, and slowly increase independent reading time as their stamina increases. Whatever happens, make sure that independent reading time is built into your schedule at a time during the day where your child is alert and not busy doing other things. For an extra fun touch, create a physical reading space together that will be your child’s go-to reading spot.
2. Get your kids hooked on audiobooks. They’re a great way to fill up time in the car or at home, and encourage kids to use their imagination as they follow the story, rather than rely on the pictures. This is a great step to take before your kids start reading chapter books.
3. Start learning about context clues. When your kids encounter a tricky word and you’re not around to read or explain it to them, what strategies will they use to figure out the meaning? Model how to do this with your children, and then give them lots of opportunities to practice it with you. Try to encourage it during independent reading by asking your child which words they tried guessing the meaning of, and how they attempted it.
4. Start reading series with your kids. When children find a series that they love, they will want to devour every book in that series. Try reading a few chapters or even a whole book together — enough to get your kid hooked on the story — and then give the book to them to try and read by themselves.
5. As your child gets older, it’s a good time to start introducing more different kinds of stories to them. Books with diverse characters and emotions will give them a better understanding of how the world works, and how to interpret it. When your child is in late elementary school, it’s important that they start reading sad stories or stories that don’t have happy endings, so they can explore lessons in empathy, justice and injustice, and perseverance through difficult situations. Reading about sadness or difficult situations can help children realize they're not alone when they themselves are sad or face their own challenging situation.
All together, the requirements for each student will depend on their experience and exposure to positive reading experiences. But having strategies to keep these experiences enjoyable and flexible to the needs of your child will make for the most enthusiastic of lifelong readers. At the end of the day, it’s important for your child to know that you are there to help them and support them with ways to keep reading desirable. Ensuring that children feel empowered to make good reading decisions independently will plant the seed of a love of books for years to come.