The reading process begins long before children ever walk into a classroom. As soon as parents and caregivers pick up a cooing baby and coo back, the reading process begins! Developing language and literacy skills begins at birth through everyday loving interactions, reciting nursery rhymes, telling stories, singing songs and talking to one another. Your child’s ability to speak and understand language will help him understand and think about what he reads later on. Parents and caregivers play a very important role in preparing young children to become great readers.
Knowing the letter names and their sounds isn’t very helpful if a child doesn’t understand the meaning of a word. Just as children learn to understand words before they speak them, they must also understand words before they read them. Vocabulary skills are therefore critical for learning to read. By the time a child is 2 years old their world is an explosion of language, understanding, on average, about 8 new words every day. By the time children enter primary school, it’s estimated, they know the meaning of about 5,000 to 6,000 words when they hear them. This is important because the more words a child knows, the easier it is for him to learn new ones, and to understand the sentences and stories he reads. Adults can support this language development with their babies, toddlers, and preschoolers by talking, playing and reading with them.
Sharing books helps too, of course, and while it may seem too early to read to a baby, literacy is helped by a love of, and interest in, books. So if young children have enjoyable and positive experiences with books they will want to keep learning about them as they grow. Sharing books with babies, toddlers and preschoolers also ensures that they know what books are for and how they work. Babies begin to identify the front and back of a book and work out that they must turn pages. Toddlers begin to understand where you start reading on a page and that they need to hold the book the right way up and turn pages in a certain way. By preschool age your child will be aware that print gives us information, that we read from left to right, and that print can be found in many places (including signs, books, magazines, package labels).
So parents and caregivers can prepare a child to be a great reader through everyday conversations, sharing books, saying rhymes, and playing with language. Providing children with many opportunities to listen to and understand words, conversations and stories will make it easier for a child to learn to read. So before we get reading, we need to get talking.