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Getting Ready to Read

As we approach the end of summer, families are getting ready to send their little ones off to school. If it’ll be your child’s first day of Kindergarten, check out our post about some great Kindergarten books. But if your child is younger, there are plenty of things you can do right now to get them ready for preschool, and ready to learn to read.

In my toddler story times I like to talk about the five elements of Every Child Ready to Read: talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. Each of these is a vital component of learning to read. Yes, even playing! Below are some books that I find particularly fun to use in story times for toddlers, and how you might use them at home to emphasize each way we can help kids get ready to learn to read.

ball for daisyTalk
Talking is our primary form of language. The more words a child is exposed to, the more he or she will find familiar when learning to read. Wordless picture books are a wonderful way to stimulate talking with your child. With nothing written on the pages, you and your child are invited to tell the story yourselves, using your own words. The Caldecott Award winning A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka is a beautiful book about a dog who loves, then loses, her ball. Young toddlers may enjoy pointing out the ball and the dog, and older ones can relate to the sadness of losing a ball (and the happiness of a new one, and a new friend). Learning to tell stories is part of getting ready to learn to read.

isadora treeSing
Singing and listening to songs helps children break down language into individual sounds, helping them get ready to learn to read. You can sing with your children all the time – in the car, in the bath, at bedtime. Books with songs are a great way to pair a visual with a song. Rachel Isadora’s beautiful new book, There Was a Tree, takes the familiar folk song “The Green Grass Grew All Around” and sets it in gorgeous Africa. The repetition in the cumulative structure also teaches children recall and story structure skills.

Reading to and with your children is the most direct and effective way to help them develop a love of language and books. Books tend to have more varied vocabulary than general conversations do, and the more words a child hears, the more that will be familiar when he or she starts to learn to read. You can also point out to your child that words are everywhere, like on stop signs, name tags, and storefronts. When you take a moment at the beginning of a book to look at the title and the name of the author, you’re showing that the symbols on the page represent the sounds and the words that you are reading. One fun book about reading is Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein. It’s bedtime and Papa is reading a fairy tale to Little Chicken. But Little Chicken can’t stand how the stories end and interrupts to “improve” the story every time. This is a laugh-out-loud book that shows the joy of reading together.

Not all toddlers are ready to recognize and write letters, but a great start is to focus on shapes. You must be able to tell the difference between a circle and a triangle before you can differentiate an O from an A. Take a look at Lots of Dots by Craig Frazier. This graphic and colorful book shows circles and dots everywhere – they are on wheels, on buttons, on traffic lights, even on ladybugs. Then draw some shapes. Scribbling and drawing are a toddler’s form of “writing,” and these activities improve the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills that they will need to learn to write words in Kindergarten.

We know that playing is how children learn about the world. When they knock down a tower of blocks, they are learning about gravity and cause and effect. When they play with a stick they are thinking symbolically, using the stick to stand in for a magic wand. When you play Peek-a-Boo they are learning about object permanence, that you are still there even if he or she can’t see you. Playing teaches children how to think and how to express themselves. One of my favorite books about imaginative play is Not a Box by Antoinette Portis. Little Rabbit has a box, but it’s not a box, it’s a race car or a mountain or a robot. Each page shows the rabbit imagining a different amazing adventure in his mind, using his “not-a-box.”

Read with your children every day, and if you’re bored by your old books, get some new ones! It’s supposed to be fun for both of you, after all. The books highlighted here are just a few that support the five ways children get ready to learn to read, but you can see how you can use just about any book to help your child get ready for preschool and kindergarten. School will be here before you know it!


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