1. Teaching literacy shouldn’t be different than any other skill.
We inherently teach our kids new things every day just from our own example of daily living. Whether it is teaching your little one how to hold a spoon, how to use the potty, how to brush their teeth, you teach your kids everyday tasks, well, every day. Reading should be no different. Making it an unpleasant and stressful situation is not a helpful environment for learning. If you show your 19-month-old a book and she shows no interest, then put it away and come back to it later. If your child tries to write his name and ends up with a backwards “R,” no problem. No pressure. Don’t worry about it. You should enjoy the process, and so should your child.
2. Talk to your kids (a crazy amount).
Your speech is the basis of what your kids learn first about language. Talk about everything, from the earliest moments when they are cross-eyed with wonder. Talk about the sky, their nose, the color of the walls. Talk to those kiddos until you think that you might be going a little crazy. But reading is a language activity, and if you want to learn language, you’d better hear it, and eventually, speak it. Too many moms and dads feel a bit dopey talking to a baby or young child, but studies have shown that exposing your child to a variety of words helps in her development of literacy skills. Don’t worry about it. You are a parent, you are allowed to have your own crazy flag to wave from time to time. It’s part of the gig.
3. Read to your kids.
Read to your kids everyday, if you can. I know that everyone says it, but it truly is a stepping stone to instilling a love of reading into your kids. Even if you don’t “like” to read, try to enjoy a book a day with your kids. And don’t stop once they can read by themselves. Reading with your children is proven to strengthen bonds between parent and child and will continue to encourage them to come to you in the future.
4. Have them tell you a “story.”
One great way to introduce kids to literacy is to take their dictation. Have them recount an experience or make up a story. We’re not talking “Moby Dick” here. A typical first story may be something like, “I like fish. I like my sister. I like grandpa.” Write it as it is being told, and then read it aloud. Point at the words when you read them, or point at them when your child is trying to read the story. Over time, with lots of rereading, don’t be surprised if your child starts to recognize words such as “I” or “like.” (As children learn some of the words, you can write them on cards and keep them in a “word bank” for your child, using them to review later.)
5. Teach phonemic awareness.
Young children don’t hear the sounds within words. Thus, they hear “dog,” but not the “duh”-“aw”- “guh.” To become readers, they have to learn to hear these sounds (or phonemes). Play language games with your child. For instance, say a word, perhaps her name, and then change it by one phoneme: Jen-Pen, Jen-Hen, Jen-Men. Or, just break a word apart: chair… ch-ch-ch-air.
6. Teach phonics (letter names and their sounds).
You can’t sound out words or write them without knowing the letter sounds. Most kindergartens teach the letters, and parents can teach them, too. There are so many different tools out there that help to teach the sounds that letters make, from simple letter shaped refrigerator magnets to complicated computer toys that teach letter sounds. Make it a fun game and make it an everyday task and it will become second nature for your kids to “see” the sounds.
7. Listen to your child read.
When your child starts bringing books home from school, have her read to you. If it doesn’t sound good (mistakes, choppy reading), have her read it again. Or read it to her, and then have her try to read it herself. Studies show that this kind of repeated oral reading makes students better readers, even when it is done at home.
8. Promote writing.
Literacy involves reading and writing. Having books and magazines available for your child is a good idea, but it’s also helpful to have pencils, crayons, markers, and paper. Encourage your child to write. Offer them laminated sheets and a dry erase marker with words they can copy and erase and try again. Or write notes or short letters to him. It won’t be long before he is trying to write back to you.
9. Ask questions.
Reading is more than just seeing the words on the page. Ask questions about what you read. Teach simple reading comprehension from the earliest point. It will engage your child further into what the subject is talking about and also will encourage creativity as they try and use those skills to extrapolate on what they are seeing and reading. When your child reads, get her to retell the story or information. If it’s a story, ask who it was about and what happened.
10. Make reading a regular activity in your home.
Make reading a part of your daily life, and kids will learn to love it. Show them by example and make it an encouraging and relaxing activity. Set aside some time when everyone turns off the TV and the web and does nothing but read. Make it fun, too. When your kids finish reading a book that has been made into a film, make popcorn and watch the movie together. The point is to make reading a regular enjoyable part of your family routine.
May your kids continue to beg “Please Read With Me”!