Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Please welcome Magdalena Ball

Teaching Preschoolers to Read - Five Steps to Literacy

Some children begin school reading, while others seem to have no idea what a book is or how to recognize letters of the alphabet. While Kindergarten is a great opportunity for young children to develop their reading skills, it is difficult for even the best teachers to give the children the kind of one-on-one time that parents can. Also, by the time children reach Kindergarten, their attitudes to reading are already ingrained. For children to grow up loving reading, books need to be a part of their lives almost from the day they are born. It is never too early to begin "teaching" children to read. This isn't about "hot housing," formal lessons, or gimmicky videos. The key to raising book lovers is making books a part of children's lives. In other words, read! Read to your children from the day they are born, read yourself, point out words, talk to your children clearly, enunciating your syllables, take delight in language and in the pleasures of the written word, and the chances are that your children will naturally want to learn. The following five points are for parents whose children are around 4-5 years old and who want to prepare their children for reading at big school.

1. Read. Your child is never too old to be read to. Cuddle up, put on your corniest acting voice, and have fun together. And let your child see you reading for fun. Read signs, magazines, the back of cereal boxes, the TV guide, and of course, read good books (see my website The Compulsive Reader at http://www.compulsivereader.com/html if you want help choosing adult books!).

2. Know your child. Children learn in different ways. Some children learn to read instinctively through whole word recognition. These children just slide from memorizing and reciting the text to making the connection between the words they say and the words on the page. For a child like this, let them pretend to read as much as possible. Let them fill in missing words for you, "read" to parents and grandparents, and always have lots of books around. For most other children, you will probably need to do some phonics (teaching the sounds of words). There are many phonic resources on the market, but the best one I've found is a free website: http://www.starfall.com. It begins with letter sounds and builds up slowly with games, varied activities and printouts. You can do as much or as little as you and your child want, but since it is interactive, colourful and presented as play, you may find that even reluctant readers will be keen.

3. Play. Word recognition games like "I Spy" using letters, finding road signs, letter memory, word and letter puzzles and even junior scrabble are all great ways of teaching, as are posters you can point to, friezes, and other bright resources.

4. Write. Writing helps children understand how letters build to words, words build to sentences and sentences to ideas and books. Write little notes to your children and then help them read them (I like to put notes in my children's lunch boxes -- keep them simple, with smiley faces or love hearts). Help children write a book by stapling pages together. Cut out and paste pictures onto a sheet of paper and then write about them. Have your children write a simple letter to a favorite relative and post it. There are lots of ways to play with writing.

5. Keep up the work. The year before starting school is the perfect time to begin teaching your child to read and if you have a short reading activity of the kind listed above every day, the chances are very good that they will start school with, at the very least, a readiness to begin reading. This is a wonderful head start to literacy, a love of reading, and a positive school experience.

Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks.  Find out more about Magdalena at http://www.magdalenaball.com

 Magdalena, Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing that great article with us.


  1. I've been working with Maggie on our Clelebratin Series of poetry chapbooks for a couple of years and haven't seen this side of her. Yay! Great advice.

    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Blogging writers resources at Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites pick at www.sharingwithwriters.blogspot.com

  2. Maggie, Great advice and tips. I have a 2 yr old and a 5 yr old grandsons and it's so true that each child has his/her own learning style.

    I'll be linking to this post, and tweeting and FBing it.

  3. Thanks Martha for hosting me, and thanks too for the comments. I've got a few hats :-) and one of them (maybe the largest) is parent, which leads very naturally to writing about parenting. My 3 children all started school reading (and now I can't stop them - have to beg them to take a break to eat, clean their rooms, go outside, etc) and it makes such a difference to their perceptions of themselves as students, their world, their overall literacy, etc. Of course as a writer, I have a natural incentive to make sure that children grow up as voracious readers.

  4. Wow, I love to hear your children are avid readers. It will help them throughout their lives. My daughter was reading at two as well. It is the best age for learning languages.

  5. Magdalena, I liked what you said about letting your children see you read. They learn by example!

  6. We just cuddled up and read a book on dolphins. I'll start, then turn the reading over to them. Its a lot of fun and helps get the gets in the mood to go to sleep as they dream about dolphins.

  7. Good suggestions. My parents read to us when we were kids and I couldn't wait to start reading on my own! And we had teachers in our one-room country school who read to us.


About Me

My photo
Virginia Beach, Virginia, United States