One of the cornerstones of early literacy — what your little one knows about reading before actually learning to read — is talking. This starts at birth with the very first words you said to your baby, and continues throughout their lives with every conversation you have. It includes the language your baby hears and later, what he or she speaks.
Research has shown that children of low-income families hear as many as 30,000 fewer words before age 3, leaving them much less prepared to enter kindergarten. Earlier this month, the White House hosted a Summit on Working Families, which in part addressed this “word gap.” There, a study was unveiled that showed it’s the quality of verbal interaction, rather than the sheer number of words, that best predicts a child’s verbal abilities. Simple conversations with children, even those too young to verbally respond, have a significant impact on their language skills and brain development.
What can you do to help your child be read to learn to read?
- You can narrate your day using shared symbols (“look, a bus!”), rituals (“let’s read a book before bedtime”) and conversational fluency (“yes, that’s a hat!”).
- You can ask them questions to encourage their thinking and speaking, making sure to give them plenty of time (about 20 seconds) to respond.
- You can point out the sounds that things make (a car goes vroooom, a cat says meow). This isn’t necessarily to teach what an animal really sounds like but instead what sounds our words contain.
Any and all of these easy activities can greatly impact your child’s kindergarten readiness. The more sounds and rhymes a child hears and internalizes, the more they will be able to decode those sounds when it comes time to learn to read. The greater vocabulary they have heard in their lives, the easier it will be to sound out those familiar words in kindergarten.
Here are some new book suggestions that are particularly good for promoting talking with your children:
- Wordless books encourage little ones to tell a story in their own words. Try Flashlight by Lizi Boyd, about a little boy who explores the forest outside his tent.
- Books with plenty of questions in the text are great for promoting dialog. Try a lift-the-flap book like Who’s in the Tree? by Craig Shuttlewood.
- Some books are actually about language. Norman, Speak, by Caroline Anderson and Qin Lang, is about a dog who previously had a Mandarin-speaking owner.
- Books about sound words introduce animal or other sounds to children in our language. A new favorite of mine is Say Hello Like This! by Mary Murphy, in which six different animals greet one another. It also encourages vocabulary development, with sentences like, “A cat hello is prissy and proud…like this! purrrrrr… meow.”
Above all, talk talk talk to your children. Tell stories, ask questions, narrate your day. They’ll love it, and you’ll be helping them get ready to learn to read.