If you are anxious to provide your preschool-aged child with opportunities leading to later academic success, you are in good company! Opportunities certainly exist; however, as well-meaning parents we may be vulnerable to thinking “inside information” or alternative fast tracks are the key.
In reality, current research and expert advice on emerging literacy are far more reliable than the latest hype. The advice often won’t have a sexy ring to it, but the foundation for success–those steps that lead your child to the point she is ready to read—comes from daily experiences at home.
8 Opportunities to Seize Right Now…
In Carl Dunst’s Children’s Learning Opportunities Report (2000), he conceptualizes the opportunities for language development and early literacy in terms of incidental and intentional opportunities.
Incidental opportunities might include watching leaves blow while on a walk, blowing on food when it’s too hot, or talking about body parts during bath time. Intentional activities might include story hour at the library or a trip to the zoo. Dunst says children need activity settings matched to their interests and competencies to practice existing skills and learn new abilities. Here are 8 opportunities Dunst suggests seizing:
Identify your young child’s INTERESTS:
- What makes your child smile or laugh?
- What makes your child happy and feel good?
- What are your child’s favorite things?
- What is enjoyable to your child?
- What does your child work hard at doing?
Identify your young child’s COMPETENCIES:
- What gets and keeps your child’s attention?
- What is your child good at doing?
- What “brings out the best” in your child?
- What does your child like to do a lot?
- What gets your child to try new things?
Everyday Repetition and Rituals.
It’s the everyday stuff! Repetition during meal time, bath time, diaper changes, and bedtime story routines primes young children for later school success. Sound lazy or too simple? It’s huge. Rosenkoetter and Barton’s Bridges to Literacy (2002) encourages parents to think of building bridges to literacy by providing experiences that include print, responsiveness, repetition, modeling and motivation, and oral language.
Reading time may be brief but must occur every day. Listening to stories helps kids explore new worlds, laugh across generations, and learn about amazing and ordinary things. Sharing stories can be a balm for irritable or fussy children. Rosenkoetter and Barton indicate “Shared reading also provides security and calms children’s restlessness.” Reading together should be relaxing and fun. It is not just about the exposure to language, it’s about creating happy reading memories which set the stage for a love of reading.
For early literacy, you want your child to learn: language is fun, she can do it well, and get results from using it. When your child speaks, help her feel successful by giving her attention and lots of positive affirmation.
Repeat Key Phrases.
Provide routine schedules that use familiar phrases (such as “let’s have some lunch” or “scrub-a-dub-dub”) and cues at key times during the day. Nap and bedtime routines should be kept the same, and reading the same book over and over helps strengthen the foundation for later academic success.
Be a consistent MODEL and MOTIVATOR.
It’s important your child sees you reading. “Such routines demonstrate that reading is important in the lives of older people and draws attention to the value of reading for coping with everyday life.” At home, point out that you are reading the newspaper or a recipe. On car rides, be intentional as you point out signs on the road or the names on store fronts. It’s also important to write and draw with your child. “When children draw pictures, their verbal comments should regularly be written on the page and read aloud.”
Use ORAL LANGUAGE.
Quantity matters so talk a lot. You want to expose your child to as many words an hour as possible. Talk to your child during work and play. Chitchat has a big payoff and translates into broader vocabularies and higher levels of reading later.
In Learning to Read the World (Zero to Three, 2004) Rosenkoetter and Knapp-Philo write “From this foundation of basic learning and subsequent daily explorations with everyday people and objects, the young child builds many other understandings of self and others…young children begin to ‘read their world’ and to have wider and greater impact upon it.”
Michele Ranard is a former preschool teacher with a master’s of education degree in counseling.