This is the first of a three-part series on the process of learning to read.
As different as children are, they still go through the same basic steps to learn their first skills. Think of a child who learns to walk. First, they have to learn to sit. No one jumps out of their bassinet and walks without first learning how to sit. Then they become mobile, in whatever form that takes. The next step is to stand. Somehow, they figure out how to stand on their feet. Finally, they start taking steps and toddle before they become proficient walkers.
I think reading has similar steps to it. This series of posts is abouat the steps I’ve observed kids go through as they learn to read. I’m not an expert – this is simply based on the observations of a mom who also happens to be a children’s book author, so I pay attention to this stuff.
Part I: Sit
The common advice is that to prepare a child for reading, you should read to the child. Among other things, this communicates to the child that books are fun, those little squiggles on the page represent words and it increases the vocabulary the child is exposed to. Some say you should start reading to your child during infancy. Some say you should read 15, 20, or 30 minutes a day to your child. We weren’t very regimented about it, and the main reason I read to my son was not to create a great reader but just because it was fun! That, and he was always on the go so it was often the only time I could get him to sit next to me and snuggle. We didn’t really do the bedtime story thing – we read when it was convenient or when I needed something for us to do.
I never gave much credence to the advice that you should introduce books at infancy, but we were given a couple chewable books as baby shower gifts and I let my son have them when he was still in the bassinet. The books included a little board book with black and white pictures in the style that babies are supposed to be able to see. One day I set the book in front of him upside down. My husband noticed, and so I said, “What difference does it make? He’ll think it’s something new.” In response, our infant bawled his cute little head off until I turned the book right side up. Hmmm.
From books-to-chew-on we progressed to little board books. These are great because they are mostly indestructible and are small enough for little hands to hold and turn pages. Some board books teach colors, some teach numbers, some are good for bedtime, vocabulary or just plain fun. The library has them by the hundreds, but you’ll probably want to buy your own because the ones from the library often come pre-chewed. When you feel your child has outgrown this stage, put the books away, but don’t get rid of them, yet. You’ll find out why in Part 2: Stand. I’m going to write a separate post about some of our favorite board books soon.
At the board book stage, I also introduced reading newspaper inserts, specifically the fliers from large hardware stores. My son would point to the pictures of various tools and want to know the names of each one. One day I got tired of saying, “Saw. Saw. Saw,” and I told him the full names. “Reciprocating saw. Table saw. Compound miter saw.” (I knew what they were because I read the description in the flyer.) After that, he really impressed people with his vocabulary.
From the little board book stage, children move on to picture books. These stages overlap a lot. Picture books have thinner pages which are hard for little hands to turn, and they have more text. Now there is time for a longer story to develop. These are the books that children want to hear over and over and over and over and… If this drives you crazy, check out picture books from the library and return them when you’re done.
We found some absolutely delightful picture books and I’m going to write a separate post about those, too. Besides traditional picture books, we read some early readers and chapter books. My preschooler was happy to play with his toys while I read and so I even read chapter books with few pictures. We read both volumes of the original Winnie-the-Pooh. Each chapter in these books stands alone and I was frequently begged to read his favorite chapters. We read children’s story Bibles from cover to cover (not all at once) multiple times. We read early readers (1st-2nd grade reading level) and these were often his favorites. We also read numerous alphabet books and these reinforced the concept of the names of the letters and the sounds they make. Find alphabet books with good rhyme and meter that include your child’s interests and they will want to hear them over and over until they are memorized.
I’m calling exposure to books, vocabulary and the alphabet, SIT. All this experience sets the stage for the next step: STAND!