Young Minds

Thoughts of an early childhood teacher…

“Reading” for 3-5 year olds

on August 9, 2012

I love books! And I try to instil in the children I teach that same love of literacy. In a world where iPads and Kindles are the new softback novel and most houses have 2-3 televisions, it is important that we introduce to children that feeling of opening up a book, feeling the pages in our fingers and admiring the illustrator’s work.

I believe that children should be experiencing books from very early on in their lives. Before they know how to hold a book they should be having one read to them. My sister has an eleven month old and since six months, possibly earlier, she was incorporating literacy into his bedtime routine, reading to him before bed at night during ‘quiet time’.

I am also a firm believer that children should be taught how to treat books. Unlike a Nintendo DS, it is made of paper, relatively fragile, and many children I have taught recently don’t seem to understand their value. We may know that they tear easily and can be quite pricey but a 4 year old may not.

So what do kindergarten teachers look for in terms of reading-readiness in 3-5 year olds? The number one issue is ‘directional tracking’, that is, opening a book at the front and turning the pages in the correct direction. This concept also incorporates “reading” a book starting with the left hand page and moving on to the right hand page.

Secondly we are not interested in whether or not your child can read a word, although if they can recognise any word then of course they are well on their way. We are more interested in how they use the pictures as cues for the words. Do they see a picture of a cat and know that somewhere in the text something involving a cat is happening?

Another common query is about the most appropriate books for 3-5 year olds. Of course any picture book is ideal, especially when it has underlying themes of values, friendships and individual differences. But from a ‘learning to read’ perspective, the best books will have the two R’s: rhyme and repetition.

Repetition, where text is the same on many, if not all of the pages, allows your child to join in reading with you. For example, “I have a dog. I have a cat. I have a horse.”  They will quickly notice that the first part of the sentence is repeated, so they’ll  know they’ve got that part right, whilst the second part of the sentence is (in a reputable children’s book) given away by the picture. So again if they are using the picture cue strategy I mentioned earlier they will also get that part of the sentence correct. This means that although they are not actually “reading”, they are still able to “read” along with you.

Great children’s books often have rhyme. It doesn’t have to be the whole way through, but if there are parts where you can have your child finish the sentence – the rhyming word – they will feel a great sense of accomplishment. Just please make sure you read the text so as to make the rhyming obvious! I can’t tell you how irritating it is when rhyming text is read but the rhyming words don’t match up! Emphasis should be placed on the rhyming words, as rhyming is a very important pre-cursor to formal reading. I always make sure a child can give me rhyming words, even if they are made up, before they are taught to read.

Lastly, books should have pictures that relate well to the text and make sense.  Try picking up a child’s picture book in a foreign language and have a “read”. They have them at your local library. You will soon see how important the pictures are for beginning readers!

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