|Written by Pat Blackwell, Ph.D.|
Instill the joy first, and the reading will follow
All parents want their children to become good readers and to develop a joy in reading. Some youngsters seem to be naturally drawn to books, while others may resist sitting still long enough for a good story. What are the keys for advancing a child’s literacy in the preschool period? It all begins with relationships.
Creating an ideal reading relationship
Think of these scenarios. Two-year-old Meghan crawls onto her Daddy’s lap. With her favorite book, he cuddles her as he reads the story. He lets her turn the pages and embellish the story in her own way. He asks her questions about what she sees. This ritual is repeated every night before bedtime. Over time, the joy Meghan feels with her father becomes associated with books and reading.
Eighteen-month-old Jason is an active boy who will not sit still long enough for a book. In order to stimulate his interest in stories, his mom plays games like “London Bridge” and “Ring-Around the Rosy”. She keeps books available that he can “activate” such as flip/flap books and sensory books (like Pat the Bunny). Jason’s mom knows that his inborn temperament makes him active and she wisely adapts her teaching to his style of learning.
In each of these examples, parents make the child feel good and secure in the process of reading or rhymes. In turn, this helps children develop positive feelings about reading. Drilling and pressure are usually unpleasant for preschool children and may turn children off to reading.
While Meghan and her dad have a regular reading time each day, many opportunities exist in typical daily activities to advance literacy. For example, when a preschooler sees the McDonald’s logo and identifies it, he is reading. Likewise, understanding that a stop sign means stop is also related to literacy. It is good for parents to read things like signs and labels aloud so the child understands the value of reading. It is also advisable for parents to turn off the T.V. and model reading in the home. Regular trips to the library and bookstore are pleasant activities and cost-free opportunities for story times.
The Right Book for the Right Time
Children enjoy books in different ways based on their age and stage of development. At first babies like to explore books with their mouths. So heavy cardboard pages or cloth books are best for the youngest readers. Later, children will enjoy sensory books and flap books where they can find pictures. The idea is for the preschooler to enjoy the “total” experience, not to learn to read (that will come in first grade).
Older preschoolers will enjoy selecting their own books from a low bookshelf. Parents should make books available, but not overdo the number of choices. By the way, parents should not be surprised if their child wants to read the same book over and over. Variety is not important at this age. There is comfort in the familiar; and this is good.
The foundation of literacy is feeling good about reading. The way this is accomplished is by making the occasion of reading pleasant and playful. Children’s literacy skills will naturally mature with time and formal education. For preschoolers the objective is not to teach the child to read but to lay the foundation for the formal instruction to come. In fact, there is no benefit of early reading (before first grade). So, it is best to put the flash cards away and encourage fun.