Becoming a Reader
"Rattle, shake, screech, roar - who's knockin' at
my door?" Matthew tears through the house, a sheet over his
head. "Boom, boom, in my room!" he yells. "A witch
is flyin' on her broom!"
For the past month, Matthew has immersed himself in a world of
Halloween books. Although he does not yet know how to read text, he
spends time every day looking at books with spooky ghosts, goblins,
and skeletons. He recites lines he has memorized from the many
times his parents have read them aloud. And he makes up his own,
like the ones above. All this adds up to one thing: Matthew is
becoming a reader.
Moving Toward School - and Reading
Your preschooler knows a lot of things he or she didn't as a
baby. Preschoolers don't read independently, but if they've
been read to a lot, they know a thing or two about reading.
- They know books are read from front to back.
- Pictures should be right-side up.
- Reading is done from left to right.
- The language of books is different from spoken language.
- Words have different sounds in them.
- There are familiar and unfamiliar words.
All of these are emergent literacy skills - important building
blocks toward the day when your child will read independently. How
can you encourage your child to further develop these skills? Just
keep reading aloud.
Choose lots of different books to read aloud to help your
preschooler increase his or her vocabulary, acquire knowledge about
many different topics, and understand how stories are structured
and what characters do in them. Your child also will learn
- Text is words written down.
- Letters in a specific order form a word.
- There are spaces between words.
Understanding these basic concepts will help when your child
starts formal reading instruction in school.
When and How to Read
Many children this age have moved beyond the small world of your
household to child care or preschool. They may even be enrolled in
lessons or classes. Read-aloud time can be a chance to slow down
and spend time together.
Try to have set times to read together. Before bed works well,
as do other "down" times in the day - when your child
first gets up in the morning, or after meals. Your child will enjoy
cuddling with you, hearing your voice, feeling nurtured, and
receiving your undivided attention.
Children between the ages of 3 and 5 are eager to show off what
they know and love to be praised. Continue to choose some books
with simple plots and repetitive text that your child can learn and
retell. Encourage your child to "read" to you and praise
Here are some additional tips:
- Yes, you should read that book for the millionth time - and
try not to sound bored. Your child is mastering many skills with
- When you are looking at a new book, introduce it. Look at the
cover and talk about what it might be about. Mention the author
- Ask your child why a character may have taken a specific
- Ask what part of the story your child liked best and
- Talk to your child about the parts of the story - how did it
begin? What happened in the middle? What did he or she think of
- Move your fingers under the words as you read to demonstrate
the connection between what you are saying and the text.
- When you come to familiar or repetitive lines, let your child
finish them. ("I do not like green eggs and....I do not like
- Ask your child to point out letters or words he or she might
recognize. You might also occasionally point to words and sound
them out slowly while your child watches.
But even as you ask your child more complicated questions, your
top goal should be to enjoy reading and have fun. Don't make
reading a book like a test your child needs to pass. Look at the
pictures, make up alternative words together, and be playful and
Also, remember that reading comes to different kids at different
times. Some children fall in love with books earlier than others.
So if your child is one who doesn't seem as interested right
away, just keep reading and showing how wonderful it can be.
The Best Books for Busy Minds
Preschoolers like books that tell stories; they are also
increasingly able to turn paper pages and sit still, so longer
picture books are a good choice for this age group. Continue to
read your child books with predictable texts and familiar
vocabulary, but include those that have a richer vocabulary and
more complicated plots. Consider reading chapter books that take
more than one session to finish.
Your child is curious and likes reading books about kids who
look and act like him or her, but also will want stories with kids
who live in different places and do different things. Expose your
child to many characters and talk about how they act and what
decisions they make. Make sure that there are talking animals,
monsters, and fairies in the mix to stimulate your little one's
Reinforce your child's positive feelings about something he
or she has learned to do (kick a soccer ball, paint a picture) by
reading books about children who have done the same thing. And pick
books that will challenge your child and help further developing
skills. Alphabet books, counting books, or books with lots of new
vocabulary are all good choices.
Books about going to school - especially when your child is
about to start preschool or kindergarten - are a great choice for
kids this age. So are books about making friends.
Pick nonfiction books that talk about a single subject of
interest to your child - owls, the ocean, the moon, Borneo -
especially if they have great illustrations. And don't forget
poetry - preschoolers still love rhymes. This age group is starting
to enjoy jokes, so silly poems or songs will be a huge hit.
Wordless picture books that convey meaning through the
illustrations are also a good choice. Once the two of you have been
through a wordless book a couple of times, your child will most
likely begin telling you the story - and may even be found
"reading" the story to favorite stuffed animals or
Try homemade books too - photo albums with captions and
scrapbooks captivate preschoolers. When your child makes drawings,
ask him or her what they are, label them, then assemble them into a
"book" that you and your child read together. You can
even laminate the pages and have fun creating book covers so that
they will last for years to come.
Books aren't the only things your preschooler will love to
read - magazines with lots of pictures and catalogues also are
appealing. And ask people your child loves to send letters or
postcards. Read these together and keep them in a special box where
your child can look at them.
Other Ways to Encourage Book Time
Read-aloud time isn't the only opportunity your child should
have to spend time with books - preschoolers love to choose and
look at books on their own. Keep books in a basket on the floor or
on a low shelf where your child can reach them easily and look at
them independently. Keep some books in the car and always have a
few handy in your bag for long visits to the doctor or lines at the
At this age you might choose to foster independent reading by
putting a reading lamp by your child's bed and letting him or
her look at books for a set period of time before going to sleep.
And kids who have just given up naps can be encouraged to spend
"quiet time" looking at books on their own.
Most important of all: Remember to let your child catch you
reading for enjoyment. Turn off the TV, pull out a book, and curl
up on the couch where your child can see you - and join you with
his or her own favorite book.
Barbara P. Homeier, MD
Date reviewed: October 2005
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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