Your child’s potty trained, sleeps through the night, and can catch a ball. But now you’re worried about the next big thing to teach them: learning to read. You wonder, is it time? And, what are you supposed to do anyway? These sorts of things require professionals, training, expertise … right?
Well, yes and no.
Consider this your five-minute cram session for reading activities you can do at home with your 5-year-old to help them become a reader. (That you can reread anytime. With no test at the end.)
When Is My Child Ready to Read?
No matter what your neighbors say (you know, the ones with the 4-year-old genius), your child will develop an interest in reading at their own pace — sometime between age five and seven. When this happens, so does the magic. Meaning, when your child is really ready to learn to read, they will. (Unless there is a learning issue.) Pushing your child before they’re ready won’t work and may actually backfire, resulting in a child who resists reading with all their might. (Among other consequences.)
What Should I Do To Help My Child Be Ready to Read?
Reading is the product of decoding and comprehending printed language (Gough et al., 1981). It’s complex, so there are a lot of activities you can do with your child to help them become a reader.
- Read to your child every day.
- When you read, show your child how you “track” the words on the page by using your finger to point to each word left to right that you read.
- Read a variety of types of books including nonfiction, fiction, comics, and poetry. Let your child pick the books since choice makes everything more interesting to kids.
- Before you read, look at the cover, title, and pictures to help you make a prediction of what the book might be about.
- Talk about what you read including the parts of the story, new words, and connections to the book:
- “What part or character did you like the best or the least?”
- “What do you think will happen next?”
- “Does the part you just read connect to anything in your own life or anything that you’ve read before?”
- “Do you know anything already about this topic?”
- “Can you get a movie in your head while you listen to this story?”
- Have your child pretend-read the story to you using the pictures for help.
- Act out the story. Or, if it’s a nonfiction book, use the information and vocabulary in a pretend play scenario.
- “Let’s play fireman!”
- Practice identifying and writing both uppercase and lowercase letters.
- Play with letter blocks: “Let’s build a fence with letters that have a stick in them.”
- Cut out letters in magazines: “Cut out all the letter ‘F’s you find.”
- Make letters out of Wikki-Stix, play-dough, pipe cleaners, pretzels, LEGOs, or shaving cream.
- Match uppercase to their lowercase magnetic letter counterparts.
- Write letters on paper with pencil, crayon, marker, or glue.
- Connect letters with letter sounds.
- Using favorite toys, talk about what they are (“doll”) and what letter and sound the word starts with (“Doll starts with d which makes the sound /d/.”). Practice this throughout the day with food, furniture, clothes … anything. (Add ending sounds once beginning sounds seem solid.)
- Sing Dr. Jean’s “Action Alphabet” while reading the accompanying book.
- Play with Leap Frog’s Fridge Phonics Magnetic Set.
- Play “I Spy” with letter sounds. “I spy something blue that starts with an /m/ sound.”
- When reading picture books, practice noticing beginning and ending letters and sounds. Try for one or two per book. Don’t stop so much that it interferes with the story.
- Become rhyming experts.
- Sing rhyming songs such as “Down by the Bay”; “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe”; and “Miss Mary Mack”.
- Read rhyming books such as nursery rhymes, Silly Sally; Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site; Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?; and Seuss.
- Play with rhymes. Say a word and take turns making up nonsense words that rhyme with it. (“What rhymes with cloud? Bloud and zloud.”) Be prepared to laugh hysterically.
Your Child’s Ready to Read. Now What?
- Keep reading to your child every day.
- Keep working on letters, letter sounds, and rhyming. (See above activities.)
- Begin to learn the sight words for kindergarten.
- Sight words are words your child should know at a glance. Download a printable list of the first 100 Fry Sight Words.
- Work on learning one sight word at a time. Show your child the word and say it. Have your child repeat it, write it, color it, paint it, look for it in a book, stamp it, and spell it with magnetic letters. Each new word learned can go into a “don’t forget” flashcard pile for review and up on a “I-know-these” sight word wall in your house.
- Start with the easiest of easy books called “Emergent Readers.” Now your child reads to YOU!
- Start with books that have only a few words per page (“fat cat”) or a repetitive sentence on each page that only changes by one word. (“I see the cat. I see the mat.”) Try Bob Books Set 1: Beginning Readers, Scholastic’s First Little Readers, Now I’m Reading Level 1, or any free emergent reader printable books.
- Track the words.
Does this seem like a lot? It is, I know it. But, think of how much your child will benefit from your time and patience. And before you know it, he’ll be a great reader and you’ll be teaching him how to drive a car.