Most children will begin learning essential reading skills when they enter kindergarten at 5 or 6 years of age. However, they should be engaging in pre-reading activities long before then. The more exposure children have to literacy prior to their first day of kindergarten, the better their chance of being successful readers. Whether in child care, preschool, or at home, all children benefit from participating in pre-reading activities.
Pre-reading is a critical skill for children, and it can be fun. Here are some exciting ways to put your children on the path to becoming a reader.
When do children learn to read?
As an educator, it's important to remember that all children learn to read at their own pace. You might have a preschooler reading short sentences and another who can't identify their letters. Just because a child is learning at a different rate than others, doesn't mean they won't gain the skills they need to thrive.
While there are general guidelines to propose when reading starts, there are no hard and fast rules.
- Toddler: Between 2-3 years old, children begin to say words from their favorite books by memory, pretend to read books, and turn pages. They may also start to ask and answer questions about what others read to them.
- Preschooler: Between 3-5 years old, children can retell a familiar story, sing the alphabet song, try writing words, recognize approximately half of their letters and start to understand rhyming.
- Kindergarten: Children in kindergarten begin matching letters to the sound they make. They also start to recognize simple sight words in isolation and text.
- Second grade: By this time, children can sound out words, read familiar words, and read with comprehension. At this point, most will consider that children have learned how to read.
For children to be able to read by 2nd grade, they need to engage in quality and consistent pre-reading activities from birth.
The more exposure they have to quality literacy activities and pre-reading skills, the more prepared they'll be to learn to read when the time comes.
What are pre-reading skills?
Pre-reading skills prepare children to read. With consistent exposure to these skills, you're helping them build a foundation for reading success.
Here are the core emergent literacy skills you'll want to focus on:
Oral language skills help children understand spoken language and communicate verbally with others. As they develop their oral language skills, they'll also improve their vocabulary, which makes reading easier to comprehend and enjoy.
Knowing letters means children can recognize and name letters and their corresponding sounds. Once a child has mastered this skill, they're well on their way to reading and writing.
Phonological awareness requires children to identify, produce and manipulate sounds within a word. For example, a core requirement for reading is learning to blend sounds, such as knowing that /b/ /a/ /t/ makes the word bat.
It may be surprising that writing is a pre-reading skill, but it's for a good reason. Reading and writing are complementary skills because they require similar knowledge of letters, sounds, phonics, phonemic awareness, and more.
Knowing how to hold a book, how to turn the pages, and that the letters on the pages are words that have meaning are all part of print awareness. This skill allows children to understand the text better, even before they're ready to read.
While these aren't all the pre-reading skills children need to learn, they are some of the core skills that provide a strong foundation.
Here are some additional skills that will help children become readers:
- Listening comprehension
- Vocabulary development
- Blending sounds
- Motivation to read
- Concept of print
Pre-reading strategies you can implement in your classroom
Many children will learn some pre-reading skills independently, but most benefit from direct instruction. Studies show that without explicit instruction from teachers or parents, up to 40% of children won't learn basic phonemic awareness skills.
Before we get into the fun reading readiness activities you can incorporate in your classroom, let's discuss best practices for teaching these skills.
The more you read to children, the better. Reading is a simple activity, but the impact is significant. In your classroom, you can read to children during downtime, choose a fun book as a treat, or build a structured lesson around reading.
Either way, the more you read—and show your love for reading—the more likely children will develop a positive attitude toward literacy and build upon their pre-reading skills.
Blend and decode sounds
Blending and decoding sounds is crucial for building strong reading skills. There are many ways to practice:
- Say a word and have your children practice saying the sounds they hear. For example, you can say the word dog, and they'd identify the sounds /d/ /o/ /g/.
- Practice reading word families. For example, you can practice the -at word family by writing -at on the board and changing the first letter to create different words. -at can turn into the words hat, bat, cat, and sat.
Incorporate poetry and song
The great thing about incorporating poetry and songs into your instruction is that it can be fun yet allow you to practice several skills simultaneously. One of the primary skills to practice is rhyming. You can have children point out words that rhyme within a poem or song. They can also practice finding sight words and even identifying letters within the words.
5 engaging reading readiness activities
Now, here comes the fun part. It's time to add fun pre-reading activities to your lesson plan. Here are some interesting activities that will allow children to practice the essential reading readiness skills they need to be successful readers.
Targeted skills: Oral language, vocabulary development, listening comprehension
How to play: Choose several items and place them in front of the children. Begin to describe one object using as many adjectives and hints about its purpose as possible. Once a child guesses the item, it's their turn to pick an object and describe it.
Rhyme and clap
Targeted skills: Phonological awareness
How to play: Start the activity by reviewing the concept of rhyming words. You can do this by reading a fun book or poem and pointing out the words that rhyme.
Have children sit or stand in a circle and teach them a sound pattern they'll make with their hands.
Once they know the pattern, let them know that you're going to say a word, and you want the next person to say a word that rhymes.
The activity would go like this…
You: CLAP-CLAP-PAT - Mat
Child 1: CLAP-CLAP-PAT - Hat
Chid 2: CLAP-CLAP-PAT - Rat
Child 3: CLAP-CLAP-PAT - Sat
When no one can come up with another rhyming word, the round is over. You can either play again with the same word family to reinforce it or choose a different one.
Targeted skills: Letter knowledge
How to play: Print a set of capital letters and lowercase letters on cardstock to play a traditional game of memory. The goal is for children to match the capital and lowercase letters. You might want to start with five letters at a time, so they'll play with 10 cards total. Increase the number of cards the children play with as they gain more confidence in their letter skills.
Words all around
Targeted skill: Letter awareness
How to play: Cut out letters from magazines or newspapers. Hand out the letters and help the children glue them on a separate piece of paper. They don't have to be able to read what they put on their paper. It's just important that they develop an awareness that text is all around them and serves a purpose.
Build a story
Targeted skill: Oral language, reading comprehension
How to play: Take images from a picture book and mix them up. Then allow your children to put them in order and retell the story independently. They don't have to retell the actual story. Allow them to use their imagination and get creative.
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. A tool like brightwheel's lesson plan feature brings quality early childhood curriculum right to you. Create custom lesson plans and curriculum per your state's standards, share progress with parents, and so much more!
Prepare your children for reading success
Pre-reading skills provide the children in your classroom with the foundation they need to become strong readers. There's no shortage of ways you can teach and practice these skills. Whether you’re adding rhyming, songs, writing, or a combination of many skills to your lessons, your children will benefit from the impact your pre-reading instruction has on their future.