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.


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.

Early literacy tip: Speak parentese!

Parentese is the way that we instinctually speak when we speak to babies - the sing-songy, drawn-out, slow and exaggerated thing we do. It's surprising how naturally it comes, and babies really do like it. Research has shown that speaking in this way helps babies learn language more quickly, and may in fact be more important than exposing your baby to a variety of words. However, don't confuse parentese with baby talk (making up words or speaking in a speech-impedimenty way - ie "wittle wone" for little one) - baby talk can actually hamper language development! 

Here are some ways to practice from the Center for Early Literacy Learning!


Early literacy tip: Growing a reader means reading together!

This week's early literacy tip on the Toddler Room chalkboard is as simple as it sounds: Growing a reader means reading together!

The single best way to encourage early literacy skills is to read books out loud to your child. Fine some favorites, explore our different sections (are you a Nature kid? or a Folk and Fairytales?), and have fun together. Talk about what you see in the drawings and what you hear in the words.

And it's definitely never too early to start. Have you seen our 100 Before One initiative? And it's definitely never too late to stop; we have some excellent picture books in our iRead section for older readers.

Early literacy tip: Have fun with literacy!

This week, the chalkboard in the Toddler Room is about encouraging fun in early literacy.

Play games - Play is one of the five tenets of early literacy. Playing pretend, playing I spy, playing together - all of these build skills in communication, problem solving, and socialization.  Here are some other games to play together!

Follow your child's interests - When looking out the window with really little ones, acknowledge the things that interest them (a squirrel, truck, or cloud for instance?) to develop language skills, and show them they have valid opinions. This will inspire them to talk and share more, building vocabulary and a strong foundational relationship! The same goes for choosing books. It's important to let your child choose books about things that interest them - and watch you read about things you're interested in too!

Read funny books - We have some great funny books! Come in and ask and we can help you. Here's a start for preschool aged children: Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear by Emily Gravett, Oink-a-doodle-moo by Jeff Czekaj, or Chickens To The Rescue by John Himmelman.

Early literacy tip: Speak your first language at home!

In the Toddler Room this week, the chalk board is letting you know that speaking your first language with your kids is great!

If English is not your first language, or your child's caregiver's first language, don't struggle with speaking English because you worry they will be left behind. Speaking a first language to a child gives them your rich vocabulary and builds a foundation of transferable skills. "Students who are literate in their native language have many skills to draw on when they learn academic English, even when the writing system is different. It is much easier to teach a concept if the student already has some background with it in native language. Once students grasp the underlying literacy skills of one language, they can use these same skills to learn another language" (Judi Haynes). So have fun and talk a lot with your child!


For ELL teachers, but helpful for parents and caregivers too! "8 Strategies for Preschool ELLs' Language and Literacy Development" by Karen Ford http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/36679/

"Why is it important for young children to keep their home language AND learn English?" http://illinoisearlylearning.org/faqs/dll.htm#homelang

"What Language should ELLs Speak at Home?"  by Judie Haynes http://www.everythingesl.net/inservices/language_should_ells_speak_hom_00405.php


Early literacy tip: Car ride tricks!

If you feel like you spend a lot of time in the car and it's getting boring for everyone, here are some fun early literacy tips for the car.

  • Sing as you go! Pop a CD in from our CD collection, and let loose. Don't worry about how good your voice is. Singing helps your child break down words into smaller sounds, which is a preliteracy skill, and it's fun!
  • Describe what the car is doing! Are you going fast? Practice speaking fast. Is the car going slow? Turning? Narrate together what actions the car is taking. This helps build vocabulary and connects concepts with action!
  • Discuss what you see outside! Playing I Spy or just pointing out fun things you see is a great way to develop vocabulary, creative thinking, and more.
  • Read signs! For someone who is just learning to read, understanding that there are words all around you can be a great way to connect sounds and letters and recognize the alphabet in context.
  • Have them "read" a book to you! Whether or not your child can actually read, having them describe what's on the page and telling you the story help them practice reading habits.

For more ideas, visit PBS Parent Resources or this guide from a WA library.

Here are some fun songs about vehicles and driving from the King County Library System.

Early literacy tip: Reading and writing

If you're snowed in, it may feel like there aren't enough things you can do with your preschooler or pre-preschooler to keep them entertained. Luckily, scribbling and drawing, which are fun and creative, also happen to build writing skills!

Writing and reading are bound together very closely - the skills support each other. When a child learns to write, they are learning about the shapes of letters and how they fit together, as well as developing skills in problem solving, creative thinking, and expressing their opinions and thoughts - and then translating that into symbols!  You can't expect your preschooler or toddler to be writing yet, but you can support them by developing pre-writing skills through drawing, scribbling, and more. (You can read some very thick academic research on it here)

Here are some tips and ideas:

  • Storytelling - have your child tell you a story while you dictate it and write it down. That shows that their words have corresponding symbols on a page that make sentences.
  • Play post office! Set up letter writing materials, glue, and some fun found materials for stamps.  Have them write a letter to you (even if it's just scribbles) and write a letter to them.  Put it in an envelope, glue the "stamp" on, and exchange letters, asking them what their letter said and reading your letter to them.
  • Try just setting out some art supplies and paper and see where it goes.  Spread out big sheets of paper for "giant drawing" on the floor.  Have fun!
  • Write your grocery list together! Write them simultaneously, letting your child copy your movements.  Talk about what you want to cook and eat, using rich vocabulary.
  • Be encouraging of all efforts. Treat their writing and drawing seriously!  Have them sign their artwork to practice writing their name.
  • Water painting - holding a brush or a pen is great hand-eye coordination practice.  Give your child a paintbrush and a bucket of water and let them "paint" the bathtub, the porch, etc.


Encouraging preschoolers’ early writing efforts: https://www.childcareexchange.com/library/5019684.pdf

Art of Writing: http://www.earlyliteracylearning.org/cellpract_parent/toddler/collections/CELL_Todd_Scrib_Draw.pdf

Making Reading and Writing Meaningful: http://projectenlightenment.wcpss.net/parent_resources/Make_Read_Write_Meaningful.pdf


Early literacy tip: The 3 Cs of Evaluating Early Literacy Apps!

This week's early literacy tip is all about evaluating children's apps. You may have heard the wide variety of recommendations about apps and small children, but it seems that the consensus is that apps and tablets can be used to help develop early literacy skills when used right, and when the right app is selected.  There is still no definitive research about the effect of "screen time" on young children's development, but there are some great guidelines out there.

One of them is the "3 Cs of Evaluating Early Literacy Apps", outlined in this Slate article by Lisa Guernsey (author of Screen TimeHow Electronic Media-from Baby Videos To Educational Software-affects Your Young Child).  If you want to use a tablet with your little one and are curious about what apps might be educational (because, according to a report by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, 72 percent of iTunes’ “education” apps are designed for preschoolers and elementary school children), a great guide is thinking about:

Content: "Be picky about the content of what children see on-screen, and when choosing interactive titles, seek out those that put children in control without so many dead-ends and distractions. (Common Sense Media, a nonprofit children’s advocacy organization, is making this a little easier with its just-released website that rates apps for their learning potential.)"

Context: "Focus on context by being aware of what is happening before, during, and after children play their games or watch their shows, taking time to talk about what they’ve seen, and play some games together."

Child: "...tune in to which games and shows really interest your kids, what piques their curiosity and helps them relate to people and things around them."

The best way to use apps is to use them together, and choose apps that make you and your child active, rather than passive consumers.  Make it a shared experience, play and explore, and you will be setting you child up for early literacy success.



Here are some other helpful resources:

Darien Library's current list of selected apps

Darien Library's post on What Makes a Great App

National Association for the Education of Young Children: Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8

American Association of Pediatrics: Media Use by Children Under 2 years of Age

Zero the Three: Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight

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