Great focus is placed on reading skills once students hit school age. In reality, the foundational skills for reading are laid when children are much younger: in preschool and even earlier. Several pre-literacy skills have been identified as predictors of later reading ability: vocabulary, narrative skills, phonological awareness, print awareness, print motivation, and letter knowledge. When children build skills in these areas, they are preparing to become readers, and parents can help them!
Below, the first three pre-literacy skills are explained, with several activities parents can easily do to encourage development every day.
What it means: Understanding (and using) the meanings of words
How to practice: Talk to your child all the time, even as a baby! The more she hears, the more language she will learn, even before she is able to use it herself. Point out, label, and talk about things in her environment: at home (“Daddy’s home! Hi, Daddy. He’s taking off his coat. How was his day? Let’s ask.”), at the grocery store (“Let’s find some red apples. Ooh, here are some red apples. One, two, three apples. Don’t they look yummy?”), through the car window (“Look at all the snow falling. Lots of snow. Brrr! It’s cold!”), etc. Reading to your child and talking about the pictures in books, even when she’s a baby, are activities that also help introduce vocabulary she wouldn’t necessarily encounter in her daily environment. (“The little bear looks hungry.” “Look at that tall mountain!” “This farmer is riding on his horse.”)
Skill: Narrative Skills
What it means: The ability to tell a story in a logical sequence with a beginning, middle, and end
How to practice: In addition to reading to your child, tell him stories and give him opportunities to tell his own. Talk about your day. Help your child to narrate his day with an emphasis on sequence. (“We had a busy afternoon! First we had lunch. Then went to the park and got messy in the sandbox! Next we came home and took a bath, and now it is time for dinner.”) As your child begins to tell stories, encourage him to expand by asking simple questions like, “And then what?” or “What happened next?” You can also incorporate this activity when reading stories by asking your child, “What do you think is going to happen next?” Whether or not he answers correctly is less important than the process of him thinking about what might come next in a story.
Skill: Phonological Awareness
What it means: The understanding of smaller parts of words, and how to manipulate them
How to practice: This is where your nursery rhymes come in handy! Children build phonological awareness as they learn that words can be broken down into different syllables and sounds. In addition to nursery rhymes, which help practice these concepts, there are children’s songs that engage in word play; some songs even use children’s own names, which can be fun and motivating. For a few ideas, look up “Willoughby Wallaby” by Raffi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOOZQZlxxC4 or “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeF7jqf0GU4. Try singing these songs with your kids, using their names and the names of people they know! This kind of sound play helps children begin to develop the understanding that words are made of smaller components.
In our next article we will look at the last three pre-literacy skills: print awareness, print motivation, and letter knowledge.
Anna Fredman, M.S., CCC-SLP
Certified Speech Language Pathologist
Anna Fredman is a licensed, certified Speech Language Pathologist. She received her Master of Science in speech language pathology from the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA and previously worked at the Monarch Center for Autism. She currently sees school-aged children and has also worked with toddlers through students 21 years old. Anna has specialized in therapy for individuals on the autism spectrum, with a special interest in high-functioning students focusing on social pragmatics and young children learning basic communication and social skills. She also addresses reading, expressive language skills, written expression, and articulation with her students.