In the last post, we discussed the importance of reading to your child (beginning at infancy), asking questions during reading, and being an example by reading in front of your child. This week we’ll focus on a few more specific strategies to implement with your child. As I emphasized in my last post, make sure your child is ready, is exhibiting interest in these reading-related activities, and remember to never force it. Your child will become resentful of reading if he gets frustrated, so try to stay positive and make reading enjoyable and exciting!
Identify letters in natural settings
Before our boys were born, we painted and hung large wooden letters spelling their name above the cribs as a decorative accent in their rooms. I would have never guessed that those wooden letters would have such a learning incentive for Big Brother! Around age 2.5, he began asking what letters were above his name. That’s honestly how he learned to spell his name…and he can spell his brother’s name too because he has taken an interest in his letters as well. In technical terms, this is called “environmental print” and includes all of the print we are surrounded by–fast food signs, labels, traffic signs, clothing, magazines, etc.
Often times, we want to force our children to learn letter names by a certain age. We buy flashcards or DVDs claiming to teach our children their letters. We drill our 2-year old over and over for minutes on end. Don’t buy into this…allow your kid to be a kid and take advantage of the “teachable moments” as they come along! Children’s minds are like sponges and are certainly capable of memorizing the alphabet from drilling, but that’s not the most effective method that will produce the best long-term results. Your child will be curious about the print he sees around him and will ask questions. That’s your chance to jump in with a practical application that actually has real meaning and significance to your child.
Don’t misunderstand me and think that I don’t think learning the alphabet is important. It is certainly important…but the method in which we teach them is even more important! Always keep in mind that our ultimate goal is to foster a lifelong learner who loves to read, not a child who has simply memorized without any significance.
Incorporate multiple domains of development
Children learn best when multiple senses or areas of development are included. That’s why hands-on learning produces longer retention and more meaningful application. Once your child has shown an interest in letters and you have already begun to utilize natural settings for identifying those letters, begin implementing activities that incorporate as many senses as possible. Keep in mind that learning letter names isn’t nearly as important as learning their sounds!
There are a plethora of ways to incorporate multiple domains of development in regards to letter recognition and early-reading skills. Alphabet crafts allow your child to learn the shape of a letter along with an association of the sound it makes all the while utilizing fine motor skills in the process of cutting, gluing, and creating! Playing games that involve gross motor skills (like tossing beanbags on the appropriate letter) are also wonderful ways to include movement. Of course, every child loves songs and rhymes! Take an inventory of your child’s strengths and areas of interest and target activities to fit them!
Classify the Genre
Once your child is around 5 and can recognize the difference between real and make-believe, I would suggest starting to help your child understand various genres of books during your reading time together. This might seem complicated, but it’s really not. There are around 5 different genres of children’s books that I would encourage you to point out to your little one. Of course you can use the term “type” rather than “genre” if that is easier to remember.
- Nonfiction (real stories or facts about animals, places, people, etc)
- Fantasy (make-believe, can’t happen in real life because of magic, talking animals, etc)
- Realistic Fiction (a made-up story, but it could technically happen in real life because the characters and situations are believable)
- Alphabet Books
- Song Books
The reason for this relates right back to our discussion on comprehension in Part 1. When children classify a book into a certain genre, they have to first summarize the book in their head and recall details. Then they have to use that information to decide which type of genre that particular books fits into. Finally, your child will be recalling details from other books in the same genre, making connections between the two. This simple activity that might take 5-10 seconds of your time after reading a book but it certainly packs a punch of thought and processing in that young brain!
Also, it’s important to note that not all books will fit into one of these genres, especially books that are considered “phonics readers.” I would suggest that you do this exercise only with high-quality children’s literature, not with books that are attempting to get your child to “sound-out” on their own. Most picture books found in children’s libraries will fit into one of these genres.
Remember, our goal is for our children to learn to comprehend what they’re reading…otherwise reading will honestly do them little good. When we encourage our children to think about and process the book we’ve just read together, we are inadvertently modeling what we hope they’ll one day do independently!