Learning to read begins long before the day when the child tries, for the first time, to decode the words in a book. In the first weeks of life, and even before they are born, babies are already skillfully processing crucial information about the sounds that reach them. They adjust their reactions to the tones and structures of the language and know how to distinguish the voices of adults from their familiar surroundings . Making sense of sounds, words and sentences are important skills that will help the child progress later in reading.
These early reading mechanisms are present in the daily life of children under 3 years old. They involve many activities of listening, communicating and expressing themselves, and not just exchanges around books .
As their language skills develop and their vocabulary grows, children learn to use pictures, words, sounds, tell or repeat stories, recite nursery rhymes. And in turn, these activities give them landmarks to better orient themselves in relation to the signs they encounter on the page. Here are five tips for encouraging those early reads with children under 3 years old.
Create an environment conducive to conversation
Encourage conversations and keep them going. Research shows that talking to babies and toddlers helps them expand their vocabulary, which is not the case when they only passively listen to a conversation.
Comment on the day’s activities and rituals. This can be when getting dressed, playing, changing a diaper, or going for a walk in the park. This will allow toddlers to begin to develop receptive language – the ability to understand others. They will thus establish links between situations and expressions, react, take an interest in the sounds and images of their environment, all of which are important skills for learning to read.
Play with rhythms and music
Play with rhymes, sing nursery rhymes, comment on song sounds and make lots of music. Repetitions help children memorize new words.
In poems and rhymes, alliteration and assonance draw attention to the particularity of sounds and word structures;
Share images that make sense
Use images, such as photos of familiar places, objects or people, to share meaningful moments. Create photo albums to encourage dialogue around the cultural environment of the child and his family. Encourage the children to point out the details they notice in these visuals.
Deciphering images and following sequences helps children learn to read because it encourages them to establish connections, to identify the stages of a story and therefore to develop comprehension skills. Even very young, children are already able to interpret stories in pictures and to be sensitive to meaningful details.
Draw attention to the written word in everyday life
Whether it’s the home, the nursery or another place, the everyday environment offers multiple opportunities to encounter new words, printed on cereal boxes, signs or even logos. The fact of confronting daily with printed characters helps children under 3 to recognize letters, sounds and images that have meaning.
Encourage interactions with books
Evening reading between parents and children or story time are valuable opportunities for social interaction. When the accompanying adults support the exploration of the images, draw attention to the text and its presentation, while talking about the characters, the story comes to life and arouses the wonder of the children.
Choose from a variety of book styles – fabric books, object books, picture books or online story apps. Make sure toddlers have independent access , so they can make choices, turn pages or manipulate technology.
Puppets, props and role play help make books interactive and help children recreate stories through imaginative play. Children under 3 need to make the connection between the images, sounds and words collected over the course of their experiences. So make sure that the accessories used are related to their culture and daily life.
Author Bio: Karen Boardman is Head of Department, Early Years Education, Chair of TACTYC at Edge Hill University