Literacy - the ability to read and write - is essential to fully developing a sense of well-being and citizenship. Children who are solid readers perform better in school, have a healthy self-image, and become lifelong learners, adding to their viability in a competitive world.
Experts estimate that nearly 40 percent of U.S. fourth-graders do not achieve basic levels of reading proficiency. The number is higher among low-income families, certain minority groups and English language learners.
The tragedy is that these children may never fully participate in American society.
It's never too soon to begin reading to your child.
Babies enjoy hearing a parent's voice, and even if they can't understand the words, they soak up language and attention.
Toddlers can listen longer and follow a simple story. They focus on pictures, but also are learning some of "the basics" about reading, such as how to hold a book and turn the pages. They are learning to love it.
It's okay if your child:
• Teethes on books or handles them roughly at first. Babies treat books like toys.
• Quickly loses interest or is easily distracted when you read. Just skip to a favorite page.
• Wants to read the same story over and over again. Children learn through repetition.
• Shows little interest in reading. Put the book down and try again later.
Read aloud to a young baby for only a few minutes at a time. Read a little longer as your older baby or toddler is willing to listen.
Point to things in picture books and name them. As your children learn to talk, ask them to point at and say what they're looking at.
Set aside at least one regularly-scheduled time each day for reading and make it a part of your toddler's routine.
Also, take toddlers to the library or book store for story hour, recite nursery rhymes and sing songs. Rhymes help develop a young child's ear for language.
You should have cloth, vinyl and board books that are durable for babies and books with familiar objects for naming.
These books should offer simple stories about a toddler's everyday experiences - a collection of Mother Goose or other nursery rhymes is another great choice.
Preschoolers, ages three to five years
Preschoolers are aware of print in the world around them and on the page.
They may pretend to read favorite books. This "pretend reading" helps set the stage for real reading and helps children think of themselves as readers.
It's okay if your child:
• Asks a lot of questions while you read. Children learn through talking about books.
• Can't sit still for a story. Some children listen better while drawing or playing with a toy.
• Writes letters or words backwards. Preschoolers are still getting oriented.
• Prefers information to storybooks. Some children do.
Encourage your children to join in while you read. Pause to let them fill in a rhyming word or repeating line, such as "I'll huff and I'll puff..."
Ask open-ended questions, such as, "What do you think is going to happen next?" or "Why do you think he did that?"
Also, move your finger under the words as you read aloud - this helps preschoolers connect printed words to spoken words.
Begin teaching the letters of the alphabet, starting with the ones in your child's own name. You can also make letter learning fun with markers, magnets, glue and glitter.
For children of this age you should have concept books, such as counting books and A-B-C books; "Pattern books" with rhymes and repetition; simple stories with predictable plots and informative picture books.
- Kids First provides information and funding for early childhood programs and families in Pitkin County. For information, contact Shirley Ritter at 920-5363 or firstname.lastname@example.org