raising readers

Healthy Routines for Preschool-age Children (Part 1 of 4)

How are books like food?

Children initially enjoy them just for the sake of using their hands, putting things in their mouth, and the close attention they get from loved ones. They may go through slumps during illness or as a normal active toddler. Some will go stretches being picky or liking the same thing over and over. Increasingly with age, they will want to do more on their own and proudly share with others just how much they can do. With reading or feeding, children associate the things caretakers do as part of their (healthy and not-so-healthy) routines. Your choices – acting as a role model, turning on or off the television, sharing a special time every day where everyone enjoys books or food together, providing variety and special treats, and creating or keeping family traditions all have an impact.

Both books and food nourish development, and both require active grown-up involvement to promote healthy habits. Research supports that regularly reading aloud with children helps kids of all ages learn how to read better. When does this start? It is never too early, but the basic skills that lead to successful readers in school certainly start well before kindergarten. “Reading” will change as your child grows – chewing books, turning pages, pointing out pictures, naming things they recognize, pretending to read, and the complex process of learning how to read words and sentences and eventually whole stories.

Interesting stories, more than mastering the mechanics early on, will encourage children to be lifelong readers. So do your part to make sure the books are enjoyable for your individual child. This can be finding a book with silly rhymes, fantastic illustrations, a special subject, pictures and pages made by your child, or a special trip to the library or bookstore (or your pediatrician!) Try to combine books your child selects with ones you may think your child may love. Most importantly, remember that your daily involvement will determine whether reading is fun – the snuggling next to you, the voices you give to the characters, the little games you play by changing words and stories, your undivided attention, and your overall attitude toward reading.

Summary: Three Simple Strategies to Start Raising a Reader

1. Make time every day to read to your child – Remove distractions and focus on your child
2. Go beyond the words on the page – Have fun, be creative, develop the art of storytelling
3. Set an example – Start with turning off the TV and picking up something enjoyable to read

Leading to Reading in Preschool-age Children (Part 2 of 4)

What Can I Expect My Child to Do?

Reading is one of the most amazing things a child learns to do. Book use is a great way to track your child’s development well before they achieve the complex decoding process of reading. Remember children progress at different paces, however most kids will take these steps toward “reading”.

6 months: excited by picture books; tries to touch, grab and put in mouth
9 months: enjoys finding-games, for example “Where is ..?”, then you point to a picture and say, “There it is!”
12 months: holds book with help, turns several pages at a time
15 months: moves around and may not sit long for a story
18 months: points to pictures and enjoys interactions during book time
24 months: carries book around house and “reads” to dolls and others
30 months: parent relates the actions in the book to a child’s life; child wants same story repeatedly
3 years: holds book without help; sits for 5-minutes story or longer; likes rhymes and nonsense words
4 years: turns pages one at a time; retells familiar story; pretends to read and write; makes up “tall tales”

A highly informative website is:

pbskids.org/lions/about – under “Curriculum” is an outstanding combination of research-based recommendations for helping kids to read and how this research is integrated in the popular and award-winning PBS television series Between the Lions, one of the rare examples of television’s beneficial educational potential. This goes into further detail about recommended preschool activities in four “building blocks” for reading: language and vocabulary, phonological awareness, book and print awareness, and letter knowledge

Succeeding at Reading – Early School-Age Children (Part 3 of 4)

Reading is one of the most amazing skills achieved by children in the first few years of school. While most children learn to read regardless of the teaching method, one out of every five children may need special help. Research supports a variety of methods, especially if matched to a child’s learning style, help almost all children learn to read and prevent problems in 90-95% of children who are at risk for reading difficulties if started before third grade. Complete programs to teach reading combine methods in five key areas:

Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words. This is different from phonics, but often taught in combination effectively. Fun ways to “tune” a child’s ear to the sounds in words include:

  • Wordplay in songs and poems pointing out how some words sound similar in the beginning or end. Progress to asking for words (including nonsense ones) that rhyme with a given word
  • Activities that break up words into separate sounds, for example “How many sounds are in sun? Let’s say each sound and clap….” or blend sounds together to form words, for example “What word is /b/ /i/ /g/?” (Saying just the sound of each letter)


    Phonics is the relationship between written letters and the sound parts (or phonemes) of spoken language. Children who are reading-challenged benefit when connections between letter combinations and sounds are clearly taught, especially along with phonemic awareness. Commercially available tools help with phonics instruction; however commonplace things also work with some imagination – wooden blocks with letters, cutouts from magazines, paper or play-dough or other arts and crafts materials, a good alphabet book with pictures triggering familiar words using the letters.

    Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately and quickly. Repeatedly reading out loud guided by teachers, peers or parents is the most effective way for children to master this area. The text should be appropriate to the reading level of the child, with 1 in 20 challenging words being a good level of difficulty.

    Vocabulary can be developed directly and indirectly. Children learn indirectly from conversing (and overhearing) daily, listening to adults read to them, and reading on their own. Children can also learn from direct teaching of new words, especially when the word is used repeatedly in many different contexts.

    Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading – gaining knowledge and understanding, discovering new ideas, enjoying stories, exploring new worlds. Many different ways achieve this, such as asking and answering questions. Also, active reading with a purpose helps, so follow your child’s interests.

Summary: Additional Strategies for Raising Readers

1. Have fun with phonemic awareness and phonics – Learning early builds self-confidence
2. Listen patiently, guide positively as your child reads – Practice counts more in your presence
3. Engage in regular conversations – Build your child’s vocabulary, comprehension and self-esteem

For book suggestions and further questions or concerns about reading and your child’s development, please talk with your pediatrician.

A Lifelong Love of Reading Starts in Childhood (Part 4 of 4)

How can I keep my child interested in reading?

The strategies that worked for your toddler will continue to be important as your child moves forward to reading independently. The increasing challenge will be the many alternatives to reading that will compete for your child’s attention and time. However, by establishing caring and consistent routines that include books and a love for learning, you can actively keep involved. Encourage your child to learn more about the things for which they seem interested or curious. Remain flexible, because children do learn in many ways beyond books and reading, and ultimately will absorb the most when they learn in many different ways and experiences. Most importantly, you can lead by example, since you are ultimately your child’s most influential teacher through the things you do regularly – taking time yourself to read, discussing something interesting you just read, sharing stories, going to the library, picking up the newspaper, watching less television. Please begin with the family enjoying A Book A Day!

Summary: Additional Strategies for Raising Readers
1. Establish a family reading time – Set simple routines and rules as during a family meal
2. Promote variety – Let your child choose some reading material while suggesting others
3. Lead by example – Make sure the grown-ups are doing what you are teaching
4. Balance your child’s need to read independently with your ongoing involvement
Other helpful websites are:

http://www.durangopubliclibrary.org Look at the Durango Library’s “Library Events” section for wonderful kid related activities

http://www.kcls.org The King County Library System is a phenomenal resource of books as well as information on reading. They publish lists of suggested books by age, areas of interest, and honors such as the Caldecott Medal for outstanding illustrations and the Newbery Medal for outstanding children’s literature. The librarians themselves can also be a wealth of information.

For more information on reading instruction, partner with your child’s teacher. For book suggestions and questions or concerns about reading and your child’s development, please talk with your pediatrician.

Written by James Chattra, MD, FAAP
Pediatric Associates, Redmond office