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The Preschool Key: Reading Aloud


Q. My son is 5, and shows no interest in books or reading yet. He'll go to kindergarten next year. I've already talked to the teachers there, and they say don't worry about it, that they don't really teach reading until the first grade. Somehow, I'm worried that he's going to be behind if he doesn't start now, get the hang of it, and start building a vocabulary. What can I do to help that process along, but not force him to do something he doesn't want to do?


No matter what your child's preschool or K-12 school officials and teachers may tell you, the process of teaching a child to read begins in the early months and years of life - not when your child first crosses over the threshold into "real" school.


The best tool in your arsenal to help your son become a reader is to use your tremendous influence on him - and read WITH him. Don't just do this occasionally, or a couple of times a week. Do it every single day. Don't just do it for a few minutes, either: read with your child for at least 30 minutes every day. A great time to do it is at bedtime, snuggling. Then your son will associate fun and warmth with books. That's what it's all about.


It is very adviseable to have your son sitting side by side with you, so that he can see the text as well as the illustrations. As he grows a little older and kindergarten draws near, you can run your forefinger under the text as you read, kind of slowly though still musically and naturally. That way, he will make the connection between the symbols on the page, and the sounds those symbols make. That's phonics! Giving him phonemic awareness sets him up beautifully to be a good reader.


Among the many other benefits of reading aloud with your child is that you develop him as a good listener. Teachers cite declining listening skills above all others as difficulties they are facing.


It's also great for giving your child a large working vocabulary. You just don't encounter all that many words in the typical preschool day, but you can build a huge "listening vocabulary" - words that you know the meaning of via the context, even if you couldn't spell them - just by listening to stories. A child's listening vocabulary should be quite a few grade levels above his reading or writing vocabulary, the words he is able to decode or write. So you are stretching him nicely when you read aloud and pack that brain with new vocabulary.


You're also stretching his powers of concentration and helping him practice paying attention, two more crucial learning skills that his teachers will appreciate your developing in his preschool years.


This may be hard to accept, but you also probably had better shut off the TV set. It is so hard for books to compete with the sensory extravaganza of the loud, moving picture machine. No wonder books seem "boring," by contrast. But think about it: how many words do they see on the TV screen during a cartoon or even a so-called "educational" show? Very, very few. You are delusional if you believe that a lot of TV watching will help your child learn to read. You're much smarter to break the addiction now, or prevent it from getting started, and not allow any TV in your home until your child is reading and writing very well in school.


The great thing about that is that then your child is free for active play, which is much, much better for his or her brain development than sitting passively in front of the idiot box.


Homework: A great guide to the reading-aloud process, Reading Magic, is available from beloved children's author Mem Fox:


By Susan Darst Williams Ages & Stages 103 2008


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