How does talking with children help them get ready to read?
The more words children hear in conversations during their early childhoods, the larger their vocabulary when they go to school. That big vocabulary helps them recognize words when they see them for the first time in print. They will understand more of what they read and be less frustrated as beginning readers.
The more books children read, and the more adults talk to children about the story, characters, and ideas in books, the more children can make connections between the books they read and their own lives. Children enjoy recognizing themselves in print and that pleasure motivates them to read more and discover more connections.
When adults tell stories to children, either familiar folktales, or family stories, it helps children learn that stories have a specific structure: they have a beginning, middle, and end, they have characters who take action and encounter conflict before resolving a problem. When children understand how stories work, they can carry that framework to their reading, where it can support them as they try to determine the meaning of the text.
Comprehension is such a critical part of successful reading. If you don’t understand what you read, you won’t be motivated to read more. The more children know about the world before they start to read, the more this background knowledge can inform their attempt to decipher what’s on the page. Parents who discuss new information about how and why and when things happen with their children are giving their children an excellent foundation they will build on every day as readers.
We’re used to thinking about Singing as the main practice that books phonological awareness, due to the ways songs stretch out syllables, slow down language, and provide lots of practice with rhyming sounds. But studies show that kids who are immersed in a lot of verbal conversations and a rich oral language environment show gains in their phonological awareness skills, as well. There’s just so much to learn about the sounds of our language, that the more information the brain receives, the better it can start to sort, classify, and understand the way those sounds work.
We know that children need to know three things about letters: the names of the letters, the shapes of the letters, and the sound or sounds that are associated with those letters. Although some children may seem like they absorb this information on their own, most children build what they know about the letters through conversations with their parents and caregivers. Naming letters on signs and billboards, pointing out letter shapes in sidewalk cracks or buildings, and voicing letter sounds while reading alphabet books or playing with blocks are all ways these conversations help make these connections.
A recent study showed that early childhood teachers can make a measurable impact on their childrens’ reading readiness just by adding a few simple activities to their shared reading every week. Teachers were trained to draw their children’s attention to print by simple activities such as pointing to the words in the title of a book, or underlining the words with their fingers as they read, or noticing the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters on the page. Children who received this type of guided reading showed greater achievements than children who didn’t in phonological awareness and letter knowledge skills up to two years later. Simple conversations can make a big difference!