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: Reading pictures

Wordless picture books are a great way to do this!
Wordless picture books are a great way to do this!

Pictures are just as important as words in picture books. They help explain what the words mean, work both parts of the brain, and ignites conversation. Don't forget, talking is part of early literacy! 

One way to do this is to take a "Picture Walk" through a book - best for preschoolers and up. Here are some tips from Saroj Ghoting, early literacy extraordinaire.

"A picture walk helps develop your children’s language and pre-reading skills. Talk about the pictures keeping in mind what is needed to understand the story when it is read.

• Have a conversation with your child around a book before you read it.
• A picture walk is not reading the book. It’s talking about the pictures—getting to know the book together.
• Works best with books that have a predictable sequence or story.
• Speak in the language that is most comfortable for YOU!

What to do:
o Look at the cover.

o Point to and say name of author and title.

o Looking at the cover, ask your child what he thinks the book will be about.

o Without reading the words in the book, encourage your child to turn the pages one at a time.

o Point to a picture and ask, what questions
- What do you see on this page?
- What is happening?
- What is this picture telling you?
- What do you think will happen?

o When you talk about the pictures
- Take turns talking
- Introduce new words; explain what they mean
- Add a bit more information to what the child says
- Rephrase what your child says adding more words or ideas
- Help your child make connections to past experiences and future events.
- When did you  . . . ?
- How did you feel when. . . ?
- How would you feel if . . . ?

o Guide your child so he will understand the story
- What words might he need to know?
- What does he need to know to understand the story?"

Early Literacy Tip: Snow!

Pretty much anything is a good excuse to read, write, talk, sing, or play. But snow is especially fun!

Here are some fun snow play ideas:

- Write in snow! Practice your letters. Start with capital letters - they're easier!

- Build snowballs and play! Those play activities can build hand muscles which can later be used for writing.

- Read your favorite snow story. Try Red Sled, Blizzard, or Over and Under the Snow!

Early Literacy Tip: Movement

Dancing in the library!
Dancing in the library!

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a lot of interesting information for parents, as long as you can translate it from teacher-ese! A 2010 article, "Linking Literacy and Movement" discusses the importance of movement and exercise in learning - specifically literacy. This is why in our storytimes, we do a lot of dancing, fingerplays, and rhymes with movement.

Literacy: "There are many links between literacy and movement. Movement and language are both forms of communication and self-expression. Body language is a distinct method of communication, and it is believed that 'ideas and feelings expressed in words actually begin in the body . . . Before you write or speak, there is a physical response' (Minton 2003, 37)."

Writing and Communication: "Stringing actions together to form sequences is similar to linking words to form sentences and eventually paragraphs. Both require children to choose components that flow naturally. Both also require breathing room (a pause in the action, or a comma) and an ending (a full stop, or a period). When children learn, create, or dance to songs, they experience flow and phrasing. When the songs have lyrics, children must think about the meaning of the words. And because those words are important to them, they have much more relevance than a vocabulary list or a spelling list."

Long-term effects: "Explicit learning may be quicker than learning through physical experience, but the latter has greater meaning for children and stays with them longer. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that implicit learning creates more neural networks in the brain and employs more senses (Jensen 2001). Another reason may be that implicit learning is simply more fun!"

Early Literacy Tip: Itsy Bitsy Spider

Did you know that fingerplays, like the Itsy Bitsy Spider, build dexterity necessary for children to learn to write? By pinching fingers together and learning to manipulate different finger and write positions, children are doing mini hand workouts.

What are some other good fingerplays?

Five Fingers
Five fingers on this hand,
(hold up one hand)
Five fingers on that
(hold up other hand)
A dear little nose,
(point to nose)
A mouth like a rose,
(point to mouth)
Two cheeks so tiny and fat.
(tap both cheeks)
Two eyes, two ears,
(point to each)
And ten little toes
(point to toes)
That’s the way the baby grows.

The Train
Choo, choo, choo,
(slide hands together)
The train runs down the track.
(run fingers down arm)
Choo, choo, choo,
(slide hands together)
And then it runs right back.
(run fingers up arm)

Where is Thumbkin?
(tune of Frere Jacques)

Where is Thumbkin?
Where is Thumbkin?
Here I am.
(bring out one hand with
your thumb up)
Here I am.
(bring out the other hand
with your thumb up)
How are you today, Sir?
(wiggle one thumb)
Very well, I thank you.
(wiggle the other thumb)
Run away, run away.
(hide hands behind your back)

Here is a nest for a robin,
(cup hands)
Here is a hive for a bee.
(make a fist and wrap other hand around it)
Here is a hole for a bunny,
(make circle with thumb and finger)
And here is a house for me.
(put arms above head with fingers touching like a roof )

If you want a whole bunch of fingerplays, check out this Youtube playlist by two librarians!

Here are some other ways to build dexterity:

- Cutting play dough or junk mail with scissors.

- Drawing/scribbling

- Playing with tools, pots and pans, musical instruments

- Fingerpuppets

- Using pegs or toothpicks to make designs in play dough.






Early Literacy Tip: Listening

The Toddler Room chalkboard this week encourages caregivers to listen! In all early stages of childhood, listening to kids can help them develop communication skills.

With babies, responding to and encouraging their babbling shows them that sound is communication, and helps them develop patterns of speech.

With toddlers, asking them to tell you about something (their food, what they see outside, what they are feeling) allows them to build narrative skills (the ability to tell a story and describe a situation). 

With preschoolers, their imaginative play can be a rich space for their storytelling and descriptive skills to grow.

With toddlers and preschoolers, another great way to listen is the Story Walk! Here's how you do it:

"In preparing children for a read-aloud session, you can stimulate their natural curiosity and pique their interest in a story by going through a "picture walk." Before opening the book, show the children the cover and read the title. Ask them what they think the story will be about, based only on what they see.

Then slowly flip through the book, page by page, without reading a single word. Ask them questions about each picture they see, and try to elicit responses that require them to make inferences based upon the images, and not the words, on each page.

"What is going on here?" "Who is this?" "Why does the character look so excited?" "When is this story taking place?" "Where did the character just come from?" "How do you think the story is going to end?""


More resources:

Some resources and games for taking turns

Talking to yourself is great for preschoolers


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:


Syndicate content