Habitot Children's Museum

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Habitot Children's Museum

Habitot Children's Museum
2065 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 647-1111

Parenting Q&A
Parenting Question of the MonthWhat can I do to make sure my child becomes a good reader?

Parenting Q&AAs parents know, the ability to read is one of the most important foundations for success in school and life. And in the first five years, parents can play a large role in laying the groundwork for reading success. However, that doesn’t mean teaching your child letters or how to sound out words. Because brain development must have occurred for the abstract thought needed for reading comprehension, there’s no point to rushing these skills. In fact, some advanced countries don’t begin to teach reading until children are 6 or 7 fearing that before this too many kids will turn off of reading early because they are not quite ready and give up.

The more important work for parents in preparing a child for reading is much easier than you think, but you may have to remind yourself to do it! As soon as your baby is born (and maybe before!), he starts absorbing the rhythms and sounds of our spoken language. Just by talking to, playing with, and caring for your baby every day, you help him develop language skills necessary to become a reader. It turns out that talking to babies and young children – which increases the number and types of words they hear – can make a huge difference in reading readiness.

Research has shown that the difference in the number words heard by age 5 between children from middle income and lower income families can vary by millions of words! What seems to be key are the number of “rare” words a child hears – the words that might come up in everyday contexts if you are narrating daily life to your child. But even with middle class incomes and education, some parents today don’t speak enough to their children, especially with the distractions of portable computers, texting devices and cell phones. Read this commentary.

Having books in the home and reading aloud to your child have also been found to be very important predictors of successful reading and academic skills in children. Reading to your child every day (even for a few minutes) as well as letting your child see you reading encourages her interest and ability in future reading. Early literacy is also supported by activities such as such as art making, dramatic play and singing. That's it - no special teaching or programs to helping your preschool aged child become a great reader!

Here are some tips on encouraging early literacy skills in your child:

  • Talk all day long with your baby and young child. Describe the weather, the vehicles on the road, what people are doing, and why you are choosing these apples and not those apples at the farmers market. Talk about the pictures in books and things you see on walks or on drives. By listening to you, your baby learns words, ideas, and how language works.

  • Use your experiences at Habitot and elsewhere to build your toddler and preschooler’s vocabulary. Use interesting words and concepts. When playing at the train table, for example, talk about all the parts on the table. Point out and name the parts of the trains (the engine, caboose, the wheels, etc) as well as the tracks, the bridge, the tunnels, and the water tower. Use words like over, under, beside and below. Discuss where the trains go and what work they are performing. Talk about your experiences at Habitot after you leave to reinforce words and ideas.

  • Sing songs with your child at home, in the car, in line at the grocery store, anywhere. The singing of ‘learning’ songs, such as alphabet songs, provides children with examples of rhyme, rhythm and repetition and acts as an effective memory aid.

  • Read to your child every day. Use humor and expression to liven up the stories. Discuss what’s happening the in the book, point out things on the page, and ask your child to make predictions about what’s going to happen next, before you turn the page. Though it may be boring to you, your child will love it when you read favorite books over and over. Get a library card so you can introduce new books frequently, too.

  • Think creatively about how to build literacy activities into your child’s spontaneous play. When playing restaurant, take the time to make a menu or write down orders. If your child is playing “mommy” with a doll, suggest she read a book to her “baby.” Or make up a story with your child, then write down the final story and have your child illustrate it.

  • Visit Habitot’s Art Studio and offer lots of art materials, especially drawing and writing supplies – crayons, markers, paintbrushes, chalk – at home. These help build gross and fine motor control needed for writing. Books, magazines, newspapers, brochures, and phone books are great literacy materials to make available. Notice when your child moves naturally from scribbling to making shapes – this is the beginning of the abstract thinking necessary for reading. By the time your child can draw a house, and know it’s a house, she is ready to learn that the written word “house” means the place they call home. You can’t rush (or teach) this development, but you can encourage it along the way.

Every child learns to walk at a different age, and every child will learn to speak, read and write in his own time, so patience, parents! However, please speak with your child’s pediatrician or teacher if you have concerns about the rate of your child’s language or literacy development.

Parenting Resources

Literacy in Early Childhood. Policy Brief: Translating early childhood research evidence to inform policy and practice. Centre for Community Child Health. 2008. Download PDF: http://www.rch.org.au/emplibrary/ccch/PB13_Literacy_EarlyChildhood.pdf

Early Literacy and Language Tips and Tools. 2011. Zero to Three Web Site: http://www.zerotothree.org/child-development/early-language-literacy/tips-tools-early-lit-and-lang.html

Teaching kids to read and helping those who struggle. 2011. Reading Rockets Web Site: http://www.readingrockets.org/

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