When teachers are asked what they wish parents would do to jump-start their young children before entering school, they almost universally have one answer: Get your kid reading.
Now, we live in an era when ‘school’ commonly starts with early-admission preschool, at about age 3. That’s early to expect any child to be reading, and varying skill levels might mean your kid isn’t jumping into the pages until six or even older. That’s all fine. What we mean here is more a comfort with reading and a familiarity with the written word.
First step: Read to your child. There is no such thing as too early to start this. Read to your baby the day you bring them home. Find time, as often as you can, to read. This is together time, time you’re speaking to your baby and expanding their vocabulary, and time they are learning from you, even if you don’t think they can understand. For infants, lullabies and board books with pictures and textures. As they get a little older, rhyming books and short stories, graduating to alphabet books when they begin to show an interest in the words on the page.
Second step: Ask them questions. This too needs to start in infancy. This is about reading comprehension. Ask them questions about the pictures, about the story, about what they think will happen and what they think about what just happened. When they’re old enough to follow the whole story, ask them why they think characters acted the way they did. Get them thinking early about the structure of stories and the way characters are written.
Third step: Show them reading everywhere. Read signs aloud to them. Use captions on your TV. Every time they ask you to read something for them, do it. They’ll be trying to learn. Be there to help.
Sounding letters out will be a stage in all of this, and an important one, but keep in mind that that is not the most important part of learning to read. It helps to think of it as decoding. With the above steps, and with you as a good example as an active reader, your child will have a big jump start in the reading confidence they’ll need to excel.