Providing positive, enjoyable literacy experiences give young children opportunities to gain the knowledge, awareness, skills, and love of learning that they need to later learn to read independently. Here are 8 ways you can provide those experiences:
CHOOSE THE RIGHT BOOKS
Choose books that have large colorful pictures or photos; a few words on a page; rich language; and relate to concepts, people, or things in children's lives. With this exposure, young children learn that books and reading explain the world they live in and ultimately help them better understand themselves. Sound like a tall order for a toddler? Not really when you consider perennial favorites such as The Hungry Caterpillar. This book does not contain many words but teaches counting and science concepts.
READ OUT LOUD
Read to children regularly and often. Pick a regular reading time, but also watch for opportunities to read books, signs, letters, or other print spontaneously. The experience of reading as a typical, everyday occurrence helps children gain confidence that they can learn to read themselves. Stories influence children's learning for life. Some research suggests that the more stories children hear before entering school, the more likely they will be successful academically. Listening to books benefits their vocabulary and comprehension. Spending just 15 minutes a day on this worthwhile activity can reap tremendous benefits!
MAKE READING FUN
Use a variety of expressions, tones, and voices to make a book even more fun. Allow a child to listen at her own pace. If a baby fusses or a toddler wanders away, don't worry. Set the book aside and try again later. A baby may only listen for a minute or two at a time. Toddlers may want to wander around while you read, or listen to a few pages, move on to something else, and then return for a few more pages. Encourage a child to join in on repeating phrases or rhymes, and honor requests to read the same book over and over.
MAKE BOOKS AVAILABLE
Make books available to babies and toddlers every day. Babies don't distinguish books from other toys and may pull, toss, or chew books. This tactile, physical exploration of books and how they work is important to literacy development. Show how books work. Point out the cover, show which is the top and bottom, front and back of the book, and talk about how words are read from left to right on the page. Use your finger to point to a word and the corresponding picture on the page.
TALK TO YOUR CHILD
Remember literacy is about more than reading the printed word, it is about communication and understanding. According to the National Research Council in Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Reading Success, "Talk is essential - the more meaningful and substantive the better." Babies and toddlers learn about the sounds, meanings, and ideas in language when adults talk with them. Preschoolers expand their vocabulary and learn sentence structure. Conversations with your children about what they are reading are critical to children's learning. Discussing books helps them understand how stories work, and how language works. When reading, stop and talk about the pictures and words on the page.
LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD
As much as babies, toddlers, and preschoolers need to hear language, they also need to practice and imitate sounds and words with interested listeners. Respond to your child's conversation and repeat their words back to them. Ask questions to show you are listening and that encourage a child to talk. Listen carefully and acknowledge answers. Listen to children's questions and take time to answer.
SING WITH YOUR CHILD
Children love to sing and can learn a great deal about stories and language from many popular children's songs. Songs also often teach through their content (alphabet, counting, etc.) Many nursery rhymes can also be learned through song and knowledge of nursery rhymes is an important part of overall literacy. Pull out old favorites like "This Old Man" or "Where is Thumbkin?" and make up your own songs, too.
LET YOUR CHILD WRITE
When children write, they naturally begin to pay attention to the sounds words make and the letters that form words. And it doesn't matter how they spell! Recent research shows that young children who are allowed to write often with invented spelling, develop the ability to become good readers.