How a Child Becomes a Reader: Birth through Preschool
When does a child learn to read? Many people might say, "in kindergarten or first grade." But researchers have told us something very important. Learning to read and write can start at home, long before children go to school. Children can start down the road to becoming readers from the day they are born.
Very early, children begin to learn about spoken language when they hear their family members talking, laughing, and singing, and when they respond to all of the sounds that fill their world. They begin to understand written language when they hear adults read stories to them and see adults reading newspapers, magazines, and books for themselves. These early experiences with spoken and written language set the stage for children to become successful readers and writers.
Mothers, fathers, grandparents, and caregivers, this booklet is for you. It gives ideas for playing, talking, and reading with your child that will help him* become a good reader and writer later in life. You don't need special training or expensive materials. For your baby or toddler, you can just include some simple, fun language games and activities into the things you already do together every day. For your preschooler, you can keep in touch with your child's teachers so that you know what he is learning in school and support that learning at home.
The building blocks of reading and writing
From several decades of research, we have learned a lot about how children learn to read and write. This research tells us that to become skilled and confident readers over time, young children need lots of opportunities to:
- build spoken language by talking and listening
- learn about print and books
- learn about the sounds of spoken language (this is called phonological awareness)
- learn about the letters of the alphabet
- listen to books read aloud
Talking and listening
Remember the old saying "children should be seen and not heard"? Research tells us that for children to become readers, they should listen and talk a lot.
By the time children are one year old, they already know a lot about spoken language--talking and listening. They recognize some speech sounds. They know which sounds make the words that are important to them. They begin to imitate those sounds. Children learn all of this by listening to family members talk. Even "baby talk," which exaggerates the sounds and rhythms of words, makes a contribution to children's ability to understand language. Children who do not hear a lot of talk and who are not encouraged to talk themselves often have problems learning to read.
The information in this booklet comes from many research studies that examined early literacy development. The reports and books listed at the back of this booklet offer more research-based information about how children learn to read and write.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Institute for Literacy.
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