Raising a reader takes more than teaching how to decode and blend sounds and letters. Between ages two and five, your little one may not be reading, but you can certainly be thinking about the first steps. Learning to read starts with building a foundational love of reading, which comes from reading books that make a child light up, reading them often and together. Here are six of our favourite strategies to help build a love of books in your little reader.
- Describe the pictures together
Before even opening the book, try studying the cover art together. Discuss what is happening, what it means to be an author, illustrator, or an adaptation. Ask them what they think might happen in the story or what they can figure out just from reading the title. Using the pictures as conversation starters will help to develop critical-thinking skills and confidence.
2. Ask questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer
Early readers love to listen to stories read aloud. It is also a wonderful opportunity for them to talk about their thoughts on life, ask questions and be silly. Every time you ask your little one a question, challenge yourself to look for more than a “yes” or “no” answer. For example, try asking, “What colours do you see?” “Where are they in the picture?” or “How do you think this character is feeling?” This will get them talking and allow you to get to know them better as little humans.
3. Repeat what the child says and expand on it
More than likely your child chooses the book that you are going to read at story time. Like that, consider letting your child lead the conversation, too. This means that whatever stands out to them during a reading —whether it be an expression, a word, or phrase — repeat it, explain it (or research it together) and let your child take the conversation where it needs to go. So, something like this, “I think you’re right. The dog is digging under the fence to find his friend. How long do you think it will take him?” This encourages curiosity and deeper learning.
4. Point to the words as you read
Finger-pointing or having children point to the words as you read helps children learn to look at the printed word as they are learning about directional movement (left to right and one line to the next). They begin to understand the one-to-one match between speech and printed language. As they begin to read on their own, this habit will help them to make text-to-word connections.
5. Read the same book repeatedly
Experts agree that reading the same book repeatedly is good for children. Not only will your child find comfort in the familiarity, but reading the same book helps children with word recognition, laying a solid phonics foundation and improves comprehension. As they connect the idea that writing represents words, they will also recognise these oft-repeated letters and words much quicker, as well as how words join to make grammatical phrases and sentences.
6. Let them interrupt, ask questions, and start conversation
Consider making story time more than a listening exercise and have fun! Let it be a time for stopping, starting, and restarting. Encourage your little readers to ask questions and make comments.
Allowing room for conversation will create a love for books, story time and reinforce your relationship. It is one thing to learn vocabulary but even better to have the space to put it into practice. Leaving a book unfinished is a great indication that you have used all our favourite strategies in building a foundational love of reading.
When love is at the heart of literacy, a love of literacy forms. Interested in more strategies and opportunities for building a love of books in your 3–5-year-old? Join us at our next BEN Book Club meet.
Kristen Scott Ndiaye is a mother of two, an entrepreneur, the daughter of teachers, and an advocate for change. She has worked in publishing, literacy, and education.