Reading readiness and pre-reading skills are topics that parents of preschoolers think about often.
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If you have a preschooler, you may be tempted to start teaching them to read, and wonder if it’s a good idea or not. You certainly don’t want to push your child too early and risk turning them off reading. You also don’t want to hold your preschooler back if they seem to be ready.
While I am a huge believer in a developmental approach to early childhood education, I think its fine to follow your child’s lead if they are showing you that they are ready to learn how read.
Signs of Reading Readiness
But how can you know? What are the signs of reading readiness, and what are the pre-reading skills that kids need to have before they learn how to read?
Before you start teaching your child to read, be sure they are showing these five signs of reading readiness.
Interest and Motivation
Kids who are ready to learn how to read are interested in looking at books and listening to stories read aloud. When the time is right and other reading readiness skills are in place, this interest expands into motivation to learn how to read.
You’ll know your child is interested in books and reading if they bring books to you and ask you to read to them. You may notice that your child falls in love with a particular book and wants to hear it over and over again.
Kids who are interested in books may sit and look at books by themselves. They may retell the story out loud as they look through the book, pretending to read it.
It’s fine if attention spans are short and reading sessions are brief, but a child who is ready to learn how to read is willing and hopefully eager to listen to an adult read books to them.
A child who is ready to learn how to read views books and reading as a wonderfully positive part of life.
Oral Language Skills and Vocabulary Development
Kids who are ready to learn how to read are able to listen to and understand stories, and then talk about them. These pre-reading skills support independent reading comprehension later on.
If you make casual comments about the story when you are reading books aloud, you may notice that your child begins to do the same thing.
Older preschoolers and Kindergartners who are ready to learn how to read can answer simple questions about the story you are sharing together. They may be able to answer your open-ended questions such “What do you think will happen next?” or “Why do you think she (the character) did that?”
A child who is ready to learn how to read understands stories and is able to talk about them with others.
Concepts About Print & Book Handling Skills
Concepts about Print include the understanding that the writing on a page is letters, and letters create words, which we can read in order to understand what they say.
Kids who are ready to read might point to the print (randomly) while they are looking through a book and telling themselves the story.
They have noticed that you run your finger under print from left to right, and start at the top of the page.
A child who is ready to learn how to read can recognize their name and other common words and symbols in their environment, such as “Target” or even just the Target bulls eye.
A child who has good book handling skills can hold a book the right way and turn the pages from right to left.
A child who is ready to learn how to read understands that print conveys meaning, and knows how books work.
The Two Most Important Pre-Reading Skills
The last two pre-reading skills your child needs are phonological and phonemic awareness and alphabet knowledge, and they are crucial.
The development of these two skills can also be supported in very natural ways, but these natural supports usually require more direction from an adult.
I’ll summarize and discuss phonological and phonemic awareness and alphabet knowledge here, but they are subjects that deserve much more coverage than this brief mention in a single blog post. Look for links to my other blog posts for more in depth discussion about these topics.
Phonological and Phonemic Awareness
Phonological awareness is the understanding that language is made up of words, parts of words, and individual sounds. This understanding helps kids recognize and work with the parts of spoken language. Phonological awareness is completely oral – it doesn’t have anything to do with matching sounds to printed letters.
I recently heard someone describe the oral nature of phonological awareness in this way: If you wanted to, you and your child could work on it in the dark. This was so direct and clear – I loved it!
Phonological awareness can seem like a mish-mash of related skills that are easy to get mixed up. I find it helpful to think of phonological awareness in four parts. These four parts are word awareness, rhyme awareness, syllable awareness and phonemic awareness.
Word awareness is the ability to recognize individual words in spoken language. Rhyme awareness is the ability to recognize and then produce rhyming words. Syllable awareness is the ability to break words into syllables orally, or to blend syllables into words orally.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate (play with) the individual sounds in spoken words. Phonemes are the very smallest units of sound in a language. (The English language has 44 phonemes, which we use to create all the words we use to communicate with each other.)
Phonemic awareness is the most complex part of phonological awareness, and it is also the most important. Strong phonemic awareness in your child is the biggest contributing factor leading to later success in learning to read.
It’s worth repeating here that phonemic awareness is an oral skill rather than a written skill. As soon as written print comes into play, we’ve crossed into phonics and “learning to read,” instead of “reading readiness.” When we add letters in print, phonemic awareness morphs into phonics, which is a different (and very important) set of skills used for a different purpose.
The last main reading readiness skill is alphabet knowledge.
Before a child is ready to learn to read, they need to be able to recognize and name most letters. They need to be able to match most letters to their sounds, and vice versa.
Alphabet knowledge does not have to be perfectly in place before reading instruction starts, but your child should have a strong understanding of letters and sounds.
These five areas of reading readiness are not sequential, and they do not develop in isolation. Given the right conditions, these pre-reading skills develop simultaneously during the early years of childhood, and each supports the development of the others.
Before your child receives formal reading instruction, be sure that they have developed these five areas of reading readiness.
To learn everything you need to know about cultivating your child’s reading readiness and pre-reading skills, take my online course for parents, “How to Raise a Reader – Reading Readiness Edition.”
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