How can I make reading to my four-year-old a more educational experience (not just fun)?

Children pick up many foundational skills when someone reads to them frequently.  In fact, reading to children is probably the single most important way to prepare them to read by themselves.  But you could monitor your child to be sure he is learning more subtle concepts about reading in English.  Most schools expect these skills to be mastered by the end of kindergarten:

  • Knowing that in English words are read from left to right.  (You could point to words with your finger as you read to reinforce this idea, especially if you come from another language in which words are read from right to left or top to bottom.  If you read to your child in both languages, remind the child that you are reading in English.)
  • Knowing that words are read from top to bottom.  (Occasionally, ask your child where you should begin reading on a page.  Or turn the book up-side-down to see if the child recognizes the mistake.)

    child telling grandpa he is holding the book upside down.

    Click on the picture to enlarge it.

  • Knowing that pages are turned from right to left.  (Ask your child to turn the pages for you.)
  • Knowing that words are shown in print by a grouping of letters with a space before and after.  The space before indicates a new word is to begin; the space after indicates that a word has ended.  (Point to tiny words like “a” or “I” and to big words like “dinosaur,” and comment on the size of the word.  Or ask the child to count how many words are on a particular line.)
  • Knowing that words are formed from specific sequences of letters.  (Write a “word” like xxxxxxx or abcdefg and ask your child if that is a word.  Even though a child cannot read, he begins to figure out that not every grouping of letters makes a word.)
  • Knowing that words are made from combinations of 26 letters, upper and lower case.  (Make sure your child can name the upper and lower case letters.)
  • Since understanding word families helps with reading (pig, wig, big), children need to identify words that rhyme.  (Play rhyming games with your child.  Recite nursery rhymes with your child.)
  • Since English words are made of syllables, understanding the number of syllables in a word is important.  (When you are reading, stop and say “ty-ran-a-saur-us” with a pause between each syllable.  Have your child clap the syllables and count the syllables with you.  Ask your child if you should pronounce the word “ty-ran-a-saur-us” with pauses between the parts, or “tyranasaurus.”  If your child is learning English as a second language, distinguishing syllables from words can be difficult, so for bilingual children you might want to slow down a bit until the child is more fluent in English.)
  • Knowing that rhyming words are the same at the end, but different at the beginning.  (Help a child to sound out the rhyming part and the sound beginnings for words such as bed, red and sled.)
  • Knowing that words are composed of sounds which correspond to letters.  (As you read, help the child to isolate the sounds in some three-letter words, such as sad, hop or fig.  The child doesn’t need to know the letter names that correspond to the sounds at this point, but she should gain experience reproducing the sounds.)
  • Knowing that changing a letter sound creates a new word.  (Say a word like “bag” and ask what would happen if you changed the first sound to the “r” sound or if you changed the last sound to a “t” sound.  Help the child to manipulate letter sounds to form new words.  Using letter tiles helps with this skill.)
  • Knowing that each letter usually corresponds to a sound.  (Help the child to learn the most common consonant letter sounds.)
  • Recognizing that there are long and short vowel sounds, and that adding certain letters, such as an e at the end of a three-letter word, changes the sound and the word.  (This is a more advanced skill, so if your child finds it hard, ignore it for a few months and then try again.)
  • Knowing sight words.  (Help the child to recognize more and more words by sight, and sometimes, let the child read those words when you come to them in a story.  Don’t do it every time or reading to your child won’t be fun.  But as a child gains sight word knowledge, point to the words as you read, so the child can recognize words he knows and can pick up new words.)
  • Knowing that many words are spelled almost the same, but slight differences do change the word.  (Point out “rat” and “rate” or “ball” and “bell” to show what a difference one letter can make.)

    child retelling story of Goldilocks

    Click on the picture to enlarge it.

  • Hearing sentences read fluently, with pauses at commas and periods.  Children should recognize a change in an emotional tone, or a change of voice when the big, bad wolf speaks compared to when Little Red Riding Hood speaks.  They should learn that there is meaning in stories and in nonfiction.  (Ask your child what is happening on a given page, or what the story is about.  Ask the child to predict what might happen next.  Ask the child what happened first, in the middle, and at the end.)

These ideas come from the Common Core State Standards Initiative (the suggestions in parentheses are from Mrs. K), and are intended as a standard for measuring the foundational reading skills of kindergarteners.  Most states are now using Common Core Standards.  For more information, go to http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RF/K.

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