The importance of reading to our children is well known, but as toddlers become preschoolers we need to adopt more interactive reading techniques to foster literacy skills in readiness for big school. Interactive reading encourages children to think about and discuss the text rather than simply being a passive listener.
Examples of interactive reading include looking at the book’s cover first to predict what the story might be about. Children can also discuss what they already know about the objects on the cover to help make connections within the story.
Throughout the story, encourage children to predict what might happen next, and ask purposeful questions such as ‘I wonder why the (character) did that?’ to assist comprehension. At the end, help your child summarise the story, and ask them to share their thoughts about why they did/didn’t like the story.
Another key component of early literacy is phonics instruction, and preschoolers are the perfect age to begin learning basic phonics (letter-sound association). School based phonics instruction is a method of teaching reading which first teaches the letter names and sounds and then builds up to blending these sounds together to achieve full pronunciation of whole words.
Australia’s National Inquiry into Teaching Reading (2005) recommended that young children should be provided with systematic, explicit and direct phonics instruction, and that teachers be trained to ensure its provision. Interestingly, the US National Reading Panel research and the UK Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading reached the same conclusion.
While some parents are happy for their preschooler to wait until Kindergarten to begin phonics instruction, the fact is that many children are not being taught this way in schools, as few teachers are trained at university to teach phonics. Rather, their teacher training may focus on whole-language approaches, which encourages children to read books which may contain long words that require them to guess the word from first letters and pictures. And while the phonics tide may be turning, much is dependent on your child’s teacher in those first few years of school.
Even though your preschooler may be able to recite the alphabet song, knowing the name of each letter and the sound it makes requires consistent, overt instruction. While some day care centres and preschools do include basic phonics as part of their curriculum, many do not. If your preschooler is going to big school next year and you’d like to give them a kick-start to reading, it’s time to consider how well they know their letter-sound association.