Raising a Reader

photo taken by Flickr user B&K WeaverEarly Literacy

Early Literacy is what children know about reading and writing before they can actually do it themselves. From the earliest experiences; babies chewing on books to your preschooler "writing" a grocery list for you, all literacy interactions are important. Parents and Caregivers - you are your child's first teacher.

You can help your child learn those important skills now so that they will be successful in school, and later in life. You can also lay the groundwork to show them that learning can be FUN! Don't worry about flash cards and programs. Instead, have some fun with your child and engage in activities that are fun, natural and relaxed like playing games, singing songs and telling stories. Your child will grow up associating pleasure with learning.

Researchers agree that children are more likely to become good readers if they start school with three sets of accomplishments:

  • Oral language skills and phonological awareness: Children are able to comprehend and to express themselves with a wide range of words. They are able to distinguish the sounds as well as the meaning of words.
  • Print awareness and letter knowledge: Children have learned that the black and white marks on a page represent spoken words. They are able to name the letters of the alphabet.
  • Motivation to learn and appreciation for literary forms: Children have been exposed to a wide variety of literary experiences and have learned to love books and stories.

Raising a reader

  • Begin when your child is born and spend time reading every day.
  • Sing to your baby.
  • Repeat nursery rhymes.
  • Visit the library. Ask about storytimes. Borrow books to share with your baby at home.
  • Choose books with colorful pictures and simple words--or no words at all.
  • Read with expression--or just tell the story in your own words.
  • Hold the book so your child can see the pictures clearly.
  • Let your baby play with the book.
  • Encourage your toddler to point out objects, repeat words, and talk about the story.
  • Reread your child's favorite books over and over again.
  • Use the technique of dialogic reading to help a child stay actively involved with a story and develop reading comprehension. Instead of reading the story straight through, ask the child open-ended questions about the story: "Why do you think Goldilocks ate Baby Bear's porridge?" "What do you think will happen next?"
  • Read or tell stories in the language you are most comfortable with. It doesn't have to be English!
  • Help your child develop phonological awareness --the understanding that words are made up of smaller sounds--by playing games with the sounds of words and repeating rhymes.
  • Tell stories about your family and your culture.
  • Encourage older children to read to their younger brothers and sisters.
  • Be an example to your children; let them see you read books too.

More tips for book sharing

  • Set aside a special time each day, such as nap time, bedtime, or after meals.
  • Share books when you and your child are both in a relaxed mood.
  • Take advantage of "waiting" times to share books--on trips, at the doctor's office, in line at the grocery store.
  • Reading even 5 or 10 minutes a day to young children helps them get ready to read on their own.


This information can be found on the Born to Read website of the Association of LIbrary Service to Children (ALSC).


Recommended Web Sites:

National Center for Family Literacy for suggestions on other family literacy projects

Reading is Fundamental for literacy information broken down by your child's age and including a section for the Whole Family. Also links to the new site Leading to Reading with interactive literacy building games, books, articles and advice to help you in your quest to raise a reader.

Zero to Three offers parents information on children's brain development, developmental milestones, early literacy, and choosing quality child care.


Early Literacy Tip: Play!

This last week's early literacy text message was about the importance of play.

There is a lot of research out there to support it, including:

  • The Assocation of American Pediatrics report, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds which says "Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children"
  • The importance of pretend play is described  in this article in Psychology Today (3/6/12), where the authors stated: "Systematic research has increasingly demonstrated a series of clear benefits of children’s engagement in pretend games from the ages of about two and one half through ages six or seven. Actual studies have demonstrated cognitive benefits such as increases in language usage including subjunctives, future tenses, and  adjectives. The important concept of “theory of mind,” an awareness that one’s thoughts may differ from those of other persons  and that there are a variety of perspectives of which each of us is capable, is closely related to  imaginative play"
  • Work to facilitate children’s play. This article in Child Care Quarterly (Winter 2012) recommends: "As children are engrossed in their play activities in the various centers, use open-ended questions to encourage interaction with teachers and peers. Provide props that help children pretend, imagine, create, explore, discover, and communicate as they play. Model interactions that promote children’s social skills, stimulate their sense of self-worth, and encourage collaboration."
  • In this 2007 article, Play in the Preschool Classroom: Its Socioemotional Significance and the Teacher’s Role in Play it is stated that "...sociodramatic play contributes to children’s emotional and social development. As children engage in play, they develop and enhance emotional and social skills that will serve them in the school setting and other aspects of life."

What is the short and sweet of it? Let your kids play! Play is "the work of childhood" according to developmental psychologist Jean Piaget - it is as important as learning the letters, counting, or learning nursery rhymes.

Early Literacy Tip: Reading and Vocabulary!

A recent study by researchers from Penn State, UC-Irvine, and Columbia University have confirmed important early literacy information. The jargony abstract says: "Even after extensive covariate adjustment, 24-month-old children with larger oral vocabularies displayed greater reading and mathematics achievement, increased behavioral self-regulation, and fewer externalizing and internalizing problem behaviors at kindergarten entry." What that means is that the children with higher oral vocabularies at age two have an easier time succeeding academically and behaviorally at school when they get there.

The best and easiest way to enrich vocabulary is by reading picture books. No, really! Children's books are lousy with rare words, or rich vocabulary words. Children's books have 50 percent more rare words in them than does adult prime-time television and the conversation of college graduates (read more here)! When you read out loud to your child, and accompany the words you're reading with pictures, the children have a context to place the word in and it's an authentic way for you to connect with your child, as opposed to just trying to use flash cards or insert Brobdingnagian words into your conversation. See what I did there?

Early Literacy Tip: Fun with letters!

Between the ages of two and four years old, most children are ready to learn the alphabet, which involves learning the names and sounds of each letter shape, including upper and lowercase letters. Making it fun is easy!

For younger kids, learning about shapes is a primer for learning letters. Point out the circles, triangles, and squares you see in your environment, as learning to notice the difference will prepare them for learning the differences between letters. If they're younger than 2, playing with shape toys such as blocks is a great way to start (chewing on them counts).

Sing the alphabet song! If you have the alphabet in front of you, sing it slower and point to each letter as you go, so a child doesn't think that "elemeno" is one letter. You can also sing the alphabet song to a different tune for the same effect (try Mary Had a Little Lamb).

Names are an anchor for learning. Have kids practice writing the letters in their name and point it out in their environment. Put shaving cream in the shower, in the sand at the beach, or write with chalk. Use capital letters, because they're easier to write to start!

Alphabet books come in all sizes and shapes! Choose one that matches the interests of your child, such as A Horse Lover's Alphabet or The Alphabet Under Construction. Look around and see what else in the room starts with the letters you're reading about.

Early Literacy Tip: Why all the rhymes and songs?

Lots and lots of rhyming and singing goes down in our storytimes. Regardless of if you think your voice is amazing or terrible, singing with your little one is super important to their early literacy development.

Rhymes and songs teach children about the different parts of words. When you sing, the note often changes on syllables, and singing is a fun and cooperative way to learn about language. Rhymes show that different words can have the same endings. When children can discriminate different sounds in language, they will have a much easier time learning to read - and, songs have lots of "rich words" (exciting vocabulary words), another strong indicator of literacy skills.

Darien Library Rhymes from Darien Library on Vimeo.

For more information, see these resources:


Early Literacy Tip: Learn Math at the Library

Math skills are important for understanding our world, and you can teach them very early on in a child's life. You can even do it here at the library!

Count: learning the numbers is of course a foundation to mathematics. Count what you see around you. Count what see you in books, count people, count blocks, and do it together and out loud! You'll get some bonus vocabulary skill-building and probably have a lot of fun, too.

Sort: understanding patterns helps us learn how to predict outcomes and build logic skills. Sorting is also a good way to build hand-eye coordination skills.

Measurement: talk about different sizes of the books, chairs, benches, and people around you. This builds spatial awareness as well, which later translates into geometry!

Here are some more resources:



Early literacy tip: Bring a book wherever you go this summer

If you're going to be out and about this summer, enjoying the sunshine, bring a book! 

We have books about places like the beach or the zoo, books about the library and the museum, and books about things you might travel on, like the subway or a plane. We have books about things you might see, like butterflies or ballet.

While you're reading, make sure you are making connections to your child's memories or expectations. Ask lots of questions about concepts, emotions, and facts, such as "What did that painting remind you of?" or "What colors do you see on the subways?" or "What sound does a monkey make?"

This talking and reading associated with place and experience is a great way to learn to enjoy reading, connect with each other, and have a deeper experience this summer!

Early literacy tip: Give everything a name!

There are lots of ways to develop vocabulary, but one of the main ones is just to talk, talk, talk. Point things out to your child and give everything a name. Instead of saying, "Yes, that's an airplane", try naming all the parts you can see on the airplane, or describing what it's like to fly in one. What do people sit on? What does the pilot wear? And so on.

Using real words instead of "baby talk" can help kids learn words more quickly. Research shows it helps kids learn when grown-ups use that high-pitched and expressive language that's been dubbed "parentese," but using real words while you do so is the best way to teach your child words so they are ready to read.

Great Read-Alouds for Preschoolers

Reading aloud with your preschoolers!
Reading aloud with your preschoolers!

Now that preschools are coming to a close for the year, are you preparing for a summer chockful of fun activities?

If you need to fill in some of the quieter downtime with great books for your preschoolers, try one of these read-aloud chapter books that will keep both you and your little ones entertained. They'll help build vocabulary while keeping your young ones enticed and engaged!

Early literacy tip: Grow your vocabulary this spring!

One of the best ways to build your child's vocabulary is to use your own! Research has shown that it's the quality, not just the quality as earlier thought, that matters when using words with your child. When they're young, use "parentese" when talking to your child (the tone of voice that comes instinctually when talking with puppies or small children). Describe and discuss the world around you without holding back, explaining the words you are using to your child. Spring is a great time for this, with all the new plants bursting out of the ground, the bird migration and nesting, the changes in weather...

This is true for pre-talking babies all the way up to your teens! For pre-talking babies, you will hear how they sound out words and play with alliteration. Hearing new words only adds fuel to the fire.

For toddlers and preschoolers, new words mean new understandings of how language works and builds a scaffold for learning to read. This can happen through singing, or just simply talking and describing what you see.

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