My daughter reads very well. Today, she was reading the rules on the game “Plants vs. Zombies” that my wife plays. She is able to read the kids menu when we go to restaurants and order her own meal. When she is supposed to be sleeping, we find her reading to her stuffed toys instead. Seeing her read so well is just incredible, and the best thing is that my daughter finds reading fun. She reads several books a day, even though she is exposed to TV, smart phones, tablets and the like. Trips to the library to check out new books is always an exciting adventure and one of her favorite things to do.
But Rob, who cares that your daughter can read? What’s in it for me?
One major benefit to having a child with a strong grasp on reading early is that it greatly benefits them in school. The American Psychological Association found that children who enter kindergarten with elementary reading skills perform better in school throughout the years. According to the Anne E. Casey Foundation, not having proficient reading skills by third grade can lead to trouble throughout all of school, including high school graduation. So what do we parents do to get our kids better at reading? One of the key differences between a strong reader and weak reader is the amount of time that they read, according to the National Reading Panel.
Where did my daughter’s ability to read come from? I’m not a literary expert, but what I can show you is a couple of methods that we personally used so that the ability to grasp reading and enjoy it was instilled since birth. Now by four, she knows that reading is awesome.
STEP ONE: THREE BOOKS PER NIGHT
When my daughter was first born, we started reading her a bedtime story every single night. Early on, my wife had the idea to make it a habit of reading three books per night. Usually the go-to was two short baby books followed by the children’s classic Goodnight Moon.
Yes, she was a baby. Babies don’t understand what you’re saying. But, by making this habit of reading stories and showing pictures in books from the very start, she was exposed to the spoken and written word so early that it became second nature. I still remember the moment when she realized that those funny symbols meant the words you were saying.
This is still a habit that we do together, although she is doing most of the reading nowadays and with much longer books.
STEP TWO: LABELING
Later down the line, at about a year or so, we wanted her to be able to identify the words for major things in her life. We labeled some key words on index cards and taped them around the house.
Pretty soon, when I was reading books to her, she would spot the familiar words. “That says books! B-O-O-K-S!” This soon dominoed into memorizing other words and spelling. Because we focused a lot on labeling and word memorization, there wasn’t a whole lot of phonics in this house. We use phonics to assist, like a point guard executing a well-timed alley-oop pass to the center.
STEP THREE: EDUCATIONAL TELEVISION
Yes, TV. Recent studies have shown that education programing such as Sesame Street help children learn. Besides Sesame Street, we really enjoyed Super Why on PBS, because it is based strictly on early childhood reading development. The show uses classic fairy tale characters and demonstrates how changing different words in stories changes their meaning. Plus, it shows words visually on the screen to help word memorization as well. There were several words that she learned by watching these programs.
IT ALL COMES TOGETHER
I remember the first time that my daughter identified a word she learned. We were parking our car next to a store that had a large ice machine. “Ice,” she said from her car seat. She pointed at the machine and said “that says ice.” I was so happy and so proud, and in about a year it kept escalating to where she is today.
Without a doubt, the single biggest contributor to my daughter’s ability to read was reading to her a lot, and making it fun. And don’t stop with books. If you switch the TV over to sports center, read off the ticker story. At a restaurant, read off the menu. Anything really. You may feel like some kind of lunatic, reading a lot of things to a baby. But who knows. You might end up with a kid who uses “however” and “otherwise” conversationally and reads at a first grade level by four years old. But be forewarned, a 4 year old who can read can be a dangerous thing, especially when they are able to figure out what desserts are on a menu by themselves.