Your child may not learn to read until they have entered school, but there is a lot that caregivers can do to help develop pre-reading skills of the children in their lives, so that these little ones will be ready for reading when the time comes. Librarians all over utilize the five practices of Every Child Ready to Read when preparing programming for their youngest patrons to nurture these skills, and you can too! The five practices of Every Child Ready to Read are Reading, Talking, Singing, Playing, and Writing.
Today we are going to focus on talking. You may have heard about the 30 million word gap, or even why maybe it has been blown out of proportion (1), but Every Child Ready to Read believes in the power of talking with our children when it comes to developing early literacy skills. Talking with children may encourage them to develop their own speaking skills, and it will expand their vocabulary and background knowledge of the world, which will help them understand what is read to them or what they read when they are older. While reading, or just spending time with the children in your life, you can:
- Talk and ask questions about what you are seeing (color; shape; size; texture; special relationships, like over and under; weather and seasons).
- Talk about and ask about sounds you are hearing, and make animal sounds.
- Compare and contrast.
- Encourage children to tell you what they know, then add your own thoughts or knowledge.
- Avoid using only familiar words only or “dumbing down” what you say, we want to build vocabulary! Challenge yourself to use synonyms, and explain new words.
- Point out words that start with the same sound or that rhyme.
- Point to text as you read words.
- Talk about letters; you can start with the letters in the child’s name.
- Share knowledge, and then let the child know how you learned the information.
- Remember the babies; you can and should read and talk to them from the beginning - narrate your activities, even everyday tasks. Try speaking in “parentese” (2) from birth to nine months, as it holds their attention better and allows them to hear smaller sounds within words.
Don’t forget that when you are reading, you can always feel free to add to the text as you go; make observations about the illustrations or connect what you are reading to your own lives! Books for babies often have very few words per page, maybe only one, so add your thoughts as you read. For example, a page may have a picture of an apple and say “apple,” add to that by taking about different kinds of apples, where they come from, how you eat them, etc. Challenge yourself and the children in your life by “reading” a wordless book!
For more information on Every Child Ready to read, check out this earlier blog post: https://www.elpl.org/blogs/post/lets-get-ready-to-read/
(1) Anya Kamenetz, "Let’s Stop Talking about the ’30 Million Word Gap,’" National Public Radio. Accessed March 25, 2020, https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/06/01/615188051/lets-stop-talking-about-the-30-million-word-gap.
(2) Sandee LaMotte, "‘Parentese,’ Not Traditional Baby Talk, Boosts a Baby’s Language Development," CNN. Accessed March 26, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/03/health/baby-talk-boosts-infant-brain-wellness/index.html.