Ahhh Fall…. The cooler temps, crisp winds and falling leaves always remind me of the start of the school year. I loved this time of year when I was teaching. I have to admit, I mainly loved it because it marked the start of the buying of all things school supplies. I have a major soft spot for colorful notebooks, character shaped erasers and pencil cases with lots of
useless cool compartments. I grew up in the Lisa Frank and Trapper Keeper era, so it’s hardly my fault.
As a Kindergarten teacher, this time of year also signaled the start of parents questioning me about their child’s reading readiness.
“When do you think little Johnny will start reading?”
That was my most popular question. That and, “Will you heat up my child’s lunch?” No. Or, “Can you make sure my child eats all his lunch?” Also, no. I only wish I had the “make children actually eat things” magical powers. In looking back, reading and eating seemed to be the two biggest areas of concern for my parents. I have kids of my own now, so I get it…
Anyways, if you are a parent that is wondering about your child’s reading readiness, I have advice for you. Ask not whether your child is ready to read, ask first if he or she is pre-reading.
Instead of fretting over how and when the magical skill (it really does seem magical when it all comes together) of reading will blossom within your child, take a few steps back and look at your child’s pre-reading skills. As a teacher, I loved pointing these skills out to parents who complained that their child was not yet reading.
“OH but little Johnny is beginning to read! Look and listen to how he is using this book. He has some great pre-reading skills that are going to really launch him into reading!”
What are those skills, you ask?
There are many! Pre-reading abilities deal largely with book-handling skills and an understanding of the concepts of print. To break down what I mean, take a look at the list of questions below. Use these questions to help you get a sense of your child’s pre-reading skills.
Do you notice that your child:
- Turns the pages of the book in the correct way?
- Holds the book the right side up?
- Notices print on the pages of a book?
- Understands that print carries a message related to the pictures in the book?
- Knows which direction to read text?
- Understands the difference between a letter and word?
- Knows that words have beginning and ending letters, with more letters in the middle?
- Notices that spaces separate words?
- Knows that at the end of a sentence, you look down and to the left (aka the “return sweep”)?
- Understands that books, and the print and words within them, have a beginning, middle and end?
If your child is beginning to catch onto some of these concepts then fantastic! They are exercising some great pre-reading skills and are on a solid path to reading readiness. Don’t worry if they are not yet doing every single thing on this list. Some of the skills on here are more advanced and your child is still on a great path if they’re demonstrating a few of these skills.
Another great pre-reading skill that is often dismissed by parents is reciting a story from memory. My students’ parents would frequently say, “Ahhh, but he’s not really reading, he’s just saying that story from memory!” My response to this type of statement was “First of all, how wonderful is it that your son loves reading so much that he has memorized a story?! Second of all, nice memory and recall skills, son. These are key skills for learning to read.”
Memory and recall skills are used to help grow your bank of sight words (which are words that you read from memory). The more you read, the larger your bank of sight words becomes and the more fluently you’ll be able to read text. Eventually, when you become a more advanced reader, you will read most of your words from memory. Think about it. How often do you actually decode the sounds in individual words in order to read a word? If you’re reading a text full of unknown vocabulary, perhaps you would have to spend time putting together letter sounds to read a word. Otherwise, you mostly read by recognizing words you remember.
So don’t be quick to dismiss a child using memory to accomplish any form of reading! This is a key ingredient to their reading success.
I know it can be stressful waiting, watching and wondering when your child is going to start reading, but the best thing to do to help them on their way is to read. When you read to them, try to be mindful about how you hold the book and turn the pages. Point to the words and return sweep as you read as well as discuss the words and letters that you see.
It is also important to be a reader yourself. Let them see you enjoying a novel, flipping through a magazine or skimming the morning newspaper. That’s not so bad, right?