Did you know that there are more literate people in the world today than at any other time in history? As of 2016, it’s estimated that only one in eight persons over fifteen years is unable to read and write. Despite such an impressive boost in global literacy rates, reading for pleasure continues to decline in popularity.
Of thirty countries surveyed in 2011, the average amount of time individuals spent reading each week was just six to seven hours. Interestingly, nations with the most recent improvements in literacy, like India and China, reported reading the most. This begs the question: How can the entire world be more enabled to read while seeming to do less of it?
As a parent, you might be wondering what steps you can take to encourage a love of books early on that will follow your child into adulthood. Even before they’re reading on their own, children benefit from being in an environment that embraces language and the written word.
Here’s what you can do to encourage the development of literary skills in your child to promote a lifelong love of reading.
Exposure to Sounds
Before learning to read, toddlers develop simple vocabulary and comprehension primarily through exposure to speech and sounds.
1. Reading aloud: You can start reading to your child before they’re born to familiarise them with the basic sounds of language. They will hear tone of voice, inflection, and volume even before they understand what the words mean.
As they grow up, continuing to read to your child regularly helps them identify mood through conversational tone, and meaning through context. In this way, even toddlers understand that speech is a means of personal expression, and expression is a fundamental aspect of reading and writing.
2. Play music: As your child transitions from infant to toddler, they learn the initial steps in communication, including first sounds and words. Playing music for your child helps encourage an appreciation for language during this critical period of development.
In the same way you might have the lyrics to a favourite song stuck in your head for days, a catchy children’s tune can have a similar effect. Speech patterns, vocabulary, and comprehension are all reinforced through lyrical repetition.
3. Learn another language: When it comes to reading, you don’t have to teach your child to be fluent in Latin or Greek for them to benefit from a second language. Bilingualism is achievable at a very young age and may be easier to master than when we’re older.
Knowing a second language has two obvious benefits. First, they will never doubt their ability to be bilingual, which could give them confidence to learn a third or fourth language, should they choose. Second, your child can read books in any language they speak, opening up possibilities and interests they would not have had otherwise.
Recognition of Letters
As they move forward with learning to speak, the primary literary skill your child needs before beginning to read is recognising letters and their associated sounds.
4. Word based games and activities are one of the first ways you can introduce your child to how letters look and sound. Flash cards or matching style games like Alphabet Memory, are great for introducing letter sounds. Crossword board games like Scrabble will work well for practicing how to build letters into compound sounds and full words.
These activities cement the basics of phonics and spelling that are necessary for successful and enjoyable reading.
5. Encourage creative solo play with implements like wooden alphabet blocks, refrigerator letter magnets, and an abundance of different paper and writing utensils. Blocks and magnets encourage creative letter play without boundaries while also developing fine motor skills. Interactive colouring books and lined blank paper offer your child an outlet for writing and visual expression.
By showing how to express themselves through letters and words, your child will appreciate later on that their favourite book authors are doing the same.
Access & Appreciation for Print
It is much easier to discover how enjoyable reading can be when children are surrounded with print materials and can access them at will.
6. Offer an abundance of reading options and put up strategic visual aids. Even before they can read, offering books to toddlers is a good way to begin the habit of regularly reading. At this age, visual imagery around the nursery is a great way to make the appearance of letters familiar and recognisable
7. Ask for help with cooking from your preschooler. By this age, most children can identify basic letters and numbers and they can help you read recipes when helping in the kitchen. This offers a great opportunity for you to drill them on what you’ve taught. Ask them how many of a certain ingredient is needed and then follow up by asking if they remember what letter that ingredient starts with.
8. Provide access to reference materials like a dictionary and thesaurus. Show your child how to use a dictionary to look up the words they find in books, but don’t know the meaning of. By empowering them to seek out the information on their own, they’ll learn how to properly spell and understand the variations in language, including homophones and homonyms.
Offering a thesaurus alongside the dictionary gives your child a way to find synonyms of new words when the definitions are confusing or unclear, and they are a great tool for expanding vocabulary.
Lacking proficiency in any of these literary skills makes it extremely difficult for any child to love reading and as a result, they’re unlikely to pursue it as a hobby later in life. Children that fail to master these fundamentals early on usually have to catch up in primary school, at a time when they should be discovering how much fun books can be.
Incorporating these tactics for making phonics easy and reading fun will help your son or daughter pursue a passion for reading, and maybe even writing, which will hopefully last a lifetime.