The ability to read opens up a door to a whole other world for children and by reading to your child you are giving them a window into that world. Before they can read on their own they need to develop a set of skills known as emergent literacy skills. They are:
- having & using a large vocabulary
- knowing the sounds of the 43 (roughly) phonemes alphabet
- understanding that marks on the page represent words and those words are made of letter sounds (phonemes).
At this point in their lives little toddlers don’t have the capacity to learn letter formation and differentiate between letters. There are all sorts of gimmicks and tricks out there that will try to tell you otherwise but toddlers are far too busy for such things!
By reading to them and creating an interest in books your are laying the foundations for a future love of reading. You can help them understand the concept of words by writing familiar words (such a their name, kitty, milk, etc.) on a white board or piece of paper, use large clear lower case printing & capitalize only when appropriate as it would appear in a book. Show them each letter and try to find the same letters in the world around you on signs, in magazines & books. Some children will delight in this game, others may not be interested quite yet.
You can help develop their literacy skills by singing & rhyming, talking about the world around them using the 5 topics known as naming, describing, comparing, explaining, and giving direction. These topics provide you with a wide range of vocabulary that you can use when talking to your toddler about their new world. When you increase their vocabulary they will be more likely to know and understand the words that they come across in their books.
As your child approaches kindergarten age you will find all sorts of pressure around whether or not your child can read. Ignore this!
If you have been reading to your child they will possess all the foundational skills they need to become successful readers by grade 2. The foundational skill they will need in order to accomplish this is the mental association that the marks on the page represent meaning (words). That’s it! Seriously.
But my daughter wants to learn to read…
Should your child show an interest in reading and learning how to decipher those markings on the page you can begin to teach your child the different letter sounds as you teach them different letters in the order of how often they occur in the English language or what is known as a frequency table :
t e s a n o h i r d l u.
Isolating the letter proved to be the most difficult thing for me, I found using a white board worked but was boring, the best thing was to make my own books with large red print and cover the rest of the word with my fingers and whispering the sound into her ear. If you do happen to find books with clear, lowercase and large enough printing that you can point to a letter in a word easily then by all means use them.
When you make the letter sound try as hard as you can to omit extra ih, uh, ah sounds ‘t’ not ‘tuh’ or ‘tih’. You don’t need to say the name of the letter at all only the sound. It is hard enough for little toddlers to remember the sounds without trying to figure out if the letter says it’s sound or it’s name so skip it. Learning their alphabet doesn’t help them read so don’t worry about ABC’s or Seasame Street, they will learn it eventually no big deal. Consonants first and then move onto vowels.
Only teach one sound for each letter to start with, you can worry about long vowels after you teach short vowels. For each vowel, the “short” sound is as follows:
“a” is the sound it makes in the word “tan”
“e” is the sound it makes in the word “net”
“i” is the sound it makes in the word “hit”
“o” is the sound it makes in the word “on”
“u” is the sound it makes in the word “sun”
There are two other letters that make vowel sounds, w & y but you don’t need to worry about those until much later on.
Point to the letter and make it’s sound, start with ‘t’ & go through the list as the letters occur. Doing each letter quickly but thoroughly will keep their attention. Have them repeat the sound and then find all the other letters on the page or in the book that are like the one that you are learning. Move onto the big wide world, how many of the letters can you find when you are out and about, don’t forget to use only the SOUND not the name. Keep it quick & light and your child will always want more, just quit before they want to quit.
Do each letter for a few days until they know it thoroughly, you be the judge of how well they can recognize a letter. Odds are that once they have learned 5 or more letters they will learn each new one quickly and you can add one a day.
When you have enough letters learned you can start making words, and sounding them out very slowly. This is the crucial step toward reading and the hardest leap for your child’s brain to make so DON’T RUSH IT!!
If you have read to your child and made the mental connection between the letters, their sounds and the marks on the page reading will develop naturally. Forcing will only create anxiety and stress in your child that has the potential to haunt them for their entire life.
Reference Teach a Preschooler to Read
Some great links on phonics & phonemes are:
- Phonemes & their Sounds – there are only 40 here and I believe there are 43.
- A nice chart of Phonemes & spellings – if you scale it to 70% it fits nicely on one page.
- Phoneme lessons, songs and ideas There is a lot of content here.
- The best resource for teaching English correctly – take a look around and visit the forums, lots to learn and do.