Getting a head start on reading: Some tips from an expert

We tend to think of reading as a skill learned once a child starts school. These days, it seems that pre-schools are also preparing children for reading to give them a head start.  The truth is that babies are amassing skills needed for reading from their early weeks of life and it is within the family circle that they truly get the help they need for ease of later reading.

During infancy, babies are processing voice tones, learning to recognise the voices of family members, picking up patterns of language and gradually making sense of sounds.  Babies need lots of listening, encouragement to communicate and speech and language activities to start their journey towards reading – not just sharing books.

Karen Boardman, writing for The Conversation, reminds us that as toddlers develop their language and communication skills and build vocabulary, they learn to use pictures, words and sounds, tell and retell familiar stories, and sing songs and rhymes. In turn, these activities help them navigate pictures, words and sentences they then see in the pages of books.

Here are five tips from Karen to support early reading for children aged under three. 

1: Create a “chatty” environment

Encourage and support lots of communication. Talking to babies and toddlers helps them build vocabulary, while conversation a child simply overhears does not always contribute to their vocabulary development. 

Take turns in conversations and comment on their activities and the routines of the day. This could be when getting dressed, during play, nappy changing or taking a walk through the park. This will enable under-threes to begin to develop receptive language — the ability to understand others.

  1. Have fun with rhythm and music making

Play lots of rhyming games, sing nursery rhymes, comment on rhyming patterns in songs and make lots of music. Repetition and predictable rhyme helps children remember new words.

Alliteration and assonance in poetry and nursery rhymes draws attention to the individual sounds and patterns in words.

  1. Share familiar images

Use images, such as pictures and photographs of familiar places, objects, families and communities, to create meaningful shared experiences for children under three. Make books with photographs or apps to encourage talk and interaction about children’s home cultures and families. Encourage children to point out the details they encounter in pictures.  ‘Reading’ pictures helps children learn to read as they begin to make connections, understand sequences of stories and further develop their comprehension skills. Very young children are adept at interpreting visual texts and noticing details.

  1. Draw attention to print in daily life

Use your environment and local community to point out words at home, or out and about. This could be print on cereal boxes, signs or logos. Encountering print in their environment helps under-threes recognise letters, sounds and images that have meaning. 

  1. Engage with books frequently

Shared book reading, story time and retelling stories together are valuable points of connection and social interaction for under-threes. When supportive adults encourage the exploration of pictures, draw attention to the text and the conventions of print, and talk about the characters or the sequence of the story, the story comes alive to create awe and wonder for children. 

Choose a range of books—cloth, sensory, picture books and story books or online story apps. Ensure that under-threes also have access to these, so they are able to choose books or apps themselves, turn pages or handle interactive technology.

Puppets, props and role-play help to make books or stories and rhymes interactive and help children recreate stories through imaginative play. Under-threes need to relate images, sounds and words to their own experiences, so ensure that the props you use link to the child’s culture and daily life.



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