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Early Literacy Basics

Fun pre-reading activities get babies and toddlers ready to read.

As the youngest of five, Erin Bitman was read to infrequently as a child. Feeling she missed out, the Cherry Hill, NJ mom was determined to make an effort to read to her own children. Since the births of Sam, 10, Jack, 7, and Luke, 3, Erin and husband Michael have enjoyed a nightly family ritual of reading with their children.

“We started when they were babies with board books and nursery rhymes,” she recalls. “It was important to us that they enjoy books.” Lucky for the Bitman boys, their parents’ efforts eased their own paths to reading.

Read to babies early and often

Experts insist that the path to becoming a good reader in Kindergarten begins with a lifelong experience with books. “Read to them, read to them, read to them,” says Lynne Rednik, director of Cherry Hill’s M’Kor Shalom Preschool and Kindergarten. “Start as soon as a baby is able to sit in your lap with an open book.”

Read three books a day, including one favorite, one familiar story and one new piece of text, suggests Jonni Wolskee, reading specialist at East Dover Elementary School in Dover, DE and coauthor of Making the Most of Your Core Reading Program. “A child’s brain is only 25 percent developed at birth, and from that moment on, whenever he is played with, talked to or read to, the other 75 percent of his brain begins to develop.”

Use grownup vocabulary when you talk to your children, so they learn multisyllabic words in context. To show that the spoken word can be written, at two or three years old, encourage your child to tell you a story and write it down and read it back to her. Show her that spoken words can be written down and read.

And don’t forget to take time to read for yourself. “It’s wonderful to model the enjoyment of reading, to show your child that reading time is quality, special, protected time,” says Dr. Katy Giovanisci, language arts curriculum supervisor for the Colonial School District in Plymouth Meeting, PA.

Never push your child to read

Kids learn to read in different ways — some are auditory learners while others take in information visually — so let your child dictate when and how he’s ready.

“There are many little pieces to the puzzle that have to fit in before a child starts to read,” explains Rednik. Those include following directions, rhyming, recognizing shapes, sequencing and the ability to follow words from left to right.

To unlock the world of reading, kids must have a baseline of general knowledge and the ability to understand both print and language. “Most parents assume, with some logic, that they should start with letters first, then words, then stories,” Wolskee says. “But the method of going from stories to words to letters is far more effective.”

While it’s important not to push your child to read before she’s ready, it’s equally important to lay a foundation of skills that must be learned prior to reading. “Children who have not been regularly talked to, sung to or read aloud to from birth find that learning to read becomes a major stumbling block,” continues Wolskee.

Though educators recognize that every child comes into school at his own level, it becomes much more challenging when they must start with a blank slate. “We have to teach students from where they are,” says Giovanisci. “But you want to provide them the best background you can.”

Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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