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Help your kids learn their letters before kindergarten

Create a special place at home for your child's books, whether it's a bookshelf or a cardboard box you decorate together. © iStockphoto.com/Ekaterina Monakhova Create a special place at home for your child's books, whether it's a bookshelf or a cardboard box you decorate together. © iStockphoto.com/Ekaterina Monakhova
By Vanessa Voltolina
 

When it comes to reading, your child's first -- and most important -- teacher is you. "Children who have been read to since birth have a distinct advantage when it comes to learning to read," says Kathy Barclay, Ed. D., professor of early childhood education and reading at Western Illinois University. "They've had thousands of hours of what we might call 'literacy instruction' before even beginning kindergarten."

Studies show that reading to your toddler regularly and having him see you reading for pleasure make a big difference. Here are some simple, fun ways to turn baby into a bookworm:

Ages 2-3: Introducing Books

  • Snuggle up with your toddler and a good, easy read -- preferably one with brightly colored pictures of simple concepts (shapes, colors, animals and household objects) and few words. Children are captivated by bright images and enjoy identifying pictures of things they see every day.
  • Nursery rhymes and books with repeating lines are great for this age because they teach about spoken sounds and words. Rhymes also build excitement about what comes next, which heightens the fun.
  • Point to each word as you read it to demonstrate that reading goes from left to right and to help your child grasp that the word he's hearing goes with the image he's seeing.
  • Sing the "Alphabet Song" early and often. Pause now and then to give your toddler a chance to fill in the letter that comes next.

Ages 3-4: Starting a Home Library

  • Create a special place at home for your child's books, whether it's a bookshelf or a cardboard box you decorate together. Help her arrange the books in some order -- by size or category or color -- so she can find her favorites easily. 
  • Head to the library or a bookstore and spend some time selecting books to take home and put in the bookcase. Steer your child toward titles with longer stories and more words on each page -- and let her see you choose a book, too, so she knows that you value reading, as well.
  • Get her involved by asking her to choose a few books to read. Stop now and then during reading to ask questions: Do you know what a yard sale is? Do you think Charlie really wanted to sell his bear?
  • Teach her to recognize her name by printing it on paper and saying each letter as you write it. Post a name sign on her bookshelf and her door, and label her drinking cups with her initials so she begins to recognize them.

Ages 4-5: Creating Your Own Books

  • Writing letters goes hand in hand with reading them. Help your preschooler create his own ABC book: Have him choose a word that begins with each letter of the alphabet and draw a picture of that word. Paste it on a page and help him write the letter next to it.
  • Create more books -- about your camping weekend, a baseball game, or even a trip to the supermarket. Ask your child to narrate the story, and write it down over numerous pieces paper. Have him draw or cut out pictures to illustrate the words.
  • Around the house, name objects and prompt your child for words that rhyme (even nonsense words): Hat rhymes with bat, sat, gnat, flat and splat. It will help him learn to recognize and anticipate rhymes when he reads them in books.

When reading, pause now and then and ask your child to identify individual letters -- where are the "B's" in this sentence? Then, move on to simple words. Where does it say "ball?"

TIP: Look for Letters Everywhere

When you're walking, driving or even shopping with your child, be sure to point out the different letters on the signs that you see. With older toddlers, ask them to find as many of a certain letter as possible and say them out loud.

Aviva Patz has written for numerous national publications including Parents, Parenting, Health, Self, Redbook and Marie Claire.

*DISCLAIMER*: The information contained in or provided through this site section is intended for general consumer understanding and education only and is not intended to be and is not a substitute for professional advice. Use of this site section and any information contained on or provided through this site section is at your own risk and any information contained on or provided through this site section is provided on an "as is" basis without any representations or warranties.
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