It's never too early to help your child become a reader. But between ages 2 and 4 – and when your child is more than likely at the pre-reader stage of reading – it's more important to teach your preschooler to love books and stories than it is to worry about teaching your child the mechanics of reading. In this article, you'll find 12 things you can do to help your pre-reader get off to a good start.
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Helping your child read: the basics
Pre-readers already have a curiosity about books and show their interest through playing with books as toys, diving into pages that have bright colors and illustrations, and generally enjoying leafing through the pages of magazines and books on their own. If you've been reading to your child, chances are you've started laying down the foundation that will lead to them understanding that the stories are coming from the books you're sharing and that the words and pictures in the books tell that story. Doubling down on exposing your child to the written word in all its forms will help your child to experience a joy in reading that will pay off for them - and for you.
Use books to bond
Make reading time special for you and your child. Set up a routine and pick a favorite "book nook" – a comfortable place to read. Bedtime stories are traditional, but think about other times of the day you and your child can share books, such as over breakfast, during bath time, or after preschool.
Talk about the pictures
Words aren't the main attraction for pre-readers. Pick out books with vibrant colors and beautiful pictures, and talk about the illustrations with your child. Ask your child to point to things in the pictures and repeat the words after you, but don't make it a test, make a game out of it. When you're reading the story aloud, stop once in a while to discuss the picture and how it relates to the story. This prepares your child for the early reading stage, when she'll use pictures for clues about what each page says.
Model good behavior
Your child wants to be like you. Read around your child. Don't wait until after bedtime to dive into your novel. When you're reading mail, shopping lists, notes, or catalogs, share what you're reading with your child.
When you read to your child, read with expression
Show her that books can come to life. Get silly. Make animal noises. Toot and make chug-chug noises when you read The Little Engine That Could. Be loud and soft and everything in between. Sing part of the book if you're in the mood. Ask her to do the same when reading books to you.
Point to the words as you read
Pre-readers are just beginning to learn the basics: That print runs left to right and top to bottom, for example, and that books have a cover and a back. Emphasize the parts of the book by showing your child the cover and following the words you read with your finger.
Find books that relate to your child's interests.
Introduce your child to books about a variety of subjects: dinosaurs, cars, fairy godmothers, movie stars and rock stars, magic tricks, and so on. Help your child find exciting books that appeal to her current interests. You might not want to read a Curious George or Barney book again and again, but your child will love it.
Talk about a book as you read it
Even before your child can read, you can start building comprehension skills. Talk with your child about a book: "What do you think this book is about?" "What's he doing in this picture?" "What do you think he'll do next?" This is especially fun when your child has a favorite book and can "predict" what's going to happen.
Read everything everywhere you go
You'll show your child that reading is an important part of everyday life. When you see a stop sign or other familiar sign, read it out loud: "S, T, O, P. That says stop!" Read store signs, menus, everything you see. Encourage your child to "read" familiar signs. This will reinforce her sense of mastering reading.
Make books part of everyday life, not a special treat
Don't tell your child she can listen to a story only if she finishes her dinner. When reading is associated with systems of reward and punishment, it loses its appeal. Instead, pick times to read that feel natural and fun for you and your child.
Get to know the librarian
Go to the library as often as you can or as often as your child wants to go. Show your child all the books that are out there – not just the ones designated for pre-readers, but all the books she'll learn to read in kindergarten. Encourage your child to get to know the librarian so she can help pick out interesting books or books that relate to your child's interests.
Go with the flow
Don't make your child sit through a book if she's restless. As your child gets older, her attention span will increase. In the meantime, approach reading as a treat for you and your child. It's not an assignment, it's a doorway to imagination, creativity, and together time that can have huge benefits for the both of you.
Make reading fun. See fun reading activities for pre-readers.
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