You may have heard that Kindergarten is harder these days, and let me tell you, IT IS! When I started teaching 25 years ago, Kindergarten was all about reading readiness, NOT learning to read.
Today, we expect Kindergartners to come in with reading readiness skills solidly in process, so that actual reading instruction can start as soon as possible. By the end of the school year, these little guys are expected to be early readers!
Fortunately, reading readiness in preschoolers is easy and fun to develop. There tons of wonderful reading readiness activities and games for preschoolers that you can enjoy with your child as part of your family’s everyday life.
Here is a quick overview of the ten reading readiness skills your child needs in order to learn how to read. I’ve also included a few tips and activities to help you nurture those skills in a fun, natural way.
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Book Handling Skills and Concepts About Print
These two skills are your child’s ability to understand and recognize the way books and print “work.” Take a look at the list below. Before Kindergarten, we hope that the first four are fully mastered, and the remaining three are solidly in process.
The easiest, most natural way for you to help your child develop book handling skills and concepts about print is to make reading aloud a regular part of your daily routine, pointing out the following concepts in a low-key manner as you go along.
*Books have parts such a front and back cover and title page.
*Pages are turned from left to right.
*Text is read from left to right and top to bottom.
*Letters and words on the page have meaning and are providing a message.
*A cluster of letters can create a word.
*Words are separated by spaces.
*Several words strung together can create a sentence.
Learning the Alphabet – Recognizing and Identifying Letters
Hang an alphabet chart in a handy place and a few times a day, help your child practice touching underneath each letter and saying its name. Alphabet flash cards are great for matching and memory games. Point out letters in your child’s environment or play “I Spy.”
Learning to Write the Letters of the Alphabet
Your child should be learning to form uppercase and lowercase letters, starting at the top of each letter.
Writing the letters of the alphabet can be practiced in so many ways – try letting your child make letters in shaving cream on the side of the bathtub, or in pudding on a tray, and provide plenty of paper and crayons, markers and pencils. One of my favorite alphabet writing activities is to use the app “Letter School,” and have your child use both an index finger and a stylus.
When the name of a letter is said out loud, your child needs to be able to provide the matching sound.
You can work on this very casually, pointing out letters in your child’s environment and saying the sound for your child to repeat back to you, or you can use games and flashcards to address this more directly.
Matching Sounds to Letters
This is a little trickier. When you child hears a letter sound, or “phoneme,” they need to be able to say the letter for that sound.
Again, you can work on this directly with alphabet games and flashcards or in a more casual way by commenting on the sounds as they come up. For example, when cutting up an apple for lunch, you might say, “Apple, apple, I hear the /a/ sound. That’s the sound for the letter ‘a’.”
Word Awareness/Word Counting
Word awareness is the knowledge that sentences are made up of separate words in a particular order, and that this conveys meaning.
Most young children do know this intuitively, but bringing it to a higher level of awareness is important in the development of reading and writing. Try saying short sentences with your child and counting the number of words on your fingers. Use sentences from everyday life “We-will-go-to-the-park-today,” or favorite books, “In-the-great-green-room…”
Hearing Syllables/Counting Syllables
Your child needs to be able to hear how words break into syllables.
This is easy to teach and fun to practice. The most common way to teach this is to clap as you say each syllable in a word, and then count the claps. Start with two syllable words and three syllable words and then double back to one syllable words once your child understands the skill.
Onset & Rime
In almost all cases, a syllable can be divided into two parts. The onset is the first part of a syllable, and it is the initial sound. Notice that I didn’t say initial letter there – the onset is the initial sound. So it could be the /k/ sound or the /m/ sound, with one letter, but it could just as commonly be the /sh/ sound or the /pr/ sound, with two letters. The “rime” is the remainder of the syllable, usually a vowel and any remaining consonants.
Your child needs to be able to hear the individual sound at the beginning of a single syllable word, and then hear the remainder of the word as one piece.
This sounds tricky, and it does take some practice. You might say to your child, “I am going to say a word in pieces or parts. You listen and put the parts together and tell me what word I said.” This would sound like you saying “/c/ – /at/” and then your child providing the word, “cat.”
Exposure to rhyming helps children notice and work with the sounds within words. Heading into Kindergarten, your child should be able to identify words that rhyme, and produce words that rhyme.
There are so many fun rhyming activities for preschoolers out there! Reading nursery rhymes and poems and of course rhyming books is a great way to develop this skill. You can also play oral rhyming games with your child – “Let’s say all the words we can think of that rhyme with ‘cat’.”
Hearing Beginning and Ending Sounds
Your child needs to be able to hear the sounds within words, and the place to start is with beginning and ending sounds. Encouraging children to hear beginning sounds comes more naturally. We all seem to say to our children, “What sound do you hear at the beginning of the word ‘ball’?”
However, being able to isolate and hear ending sounds is also important. Use words that have a clear consonant at the end and say “What sound do you hear at the end of the word ______?” Be sure to provide plenty of modeling before expecting your child to do this on their own.
Children enter school with different levels of reading readiness, and all of these skills are embedded in the Kindergarten curriculum, even as direct reading instruction begins. As a parent, you have tremendous power and a precious opportunity to set your child up for easier success in phonics and reading by reinforcing these skills at home.
Use daily read alouds to casually draw attention to these skills, in a low-key way, and look for opportunities to play oral games with rhyming and letters and sounds throughout your day -in the car, while waiting for an appointment, or during mealtimes. If you want to provide more formal instruction with commercial teaching materials, keep it light-hearted, enjoyable and brief. Before you know it, your child will be ready to read!
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