Reading is one of the most important skills a child can acquire. Giving your child a head start in reading leads to myriad benefits later on in life – from improved writing and vocabulary skills, to better listening comprehension and speaking.
As Ms Karen Wong, Senior Learning Support Facilitator at KK Woman’s and Children’s Hospital’s Department of Child Development, says, "Reading is a fundamental skill which helps to stimulate children’s imagination in association with print, pictures and the real-life situations.
"It helps to foster listening, speaking and writing in print, and it brings about positive outcomes in reading comprehension and vocabulary in later years.” According to Ms Wong, “Reading helps children to understand print in the environmental context (such as logos, posters, advertisements, food labels).”
FIND THE TIME, AND CHOOSE AGE-APPROPRIATE BOOKS
Start by making reading part of daily life, no matter how young your child is. Ms Wong suggests establishing a daily routine that incorporates some reading time, setting aside a minimum of 10 minutes a day. Choose an optimum time with no distractions or interruptions – often before nap time or bedtime is ideal.
Choose age appropriate books – young babies enjoy cloth or felt books with pictures of animals or things related to their daily routine. Look for books with added sensory experiences – flaps they can lift, crinkly materials they can grip, textured surfaces they can touch and feel. Do not worry about words too much at this point – the main point is to get your child used to the act of reading by turning the pages of books from start to finish.
“For toddlers, try ABC books, counting books, shapes and colours books, wordless picture books, and early concept books,” says Ms Wong.
“Young children enjoy predictive books such as ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?’, ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’, ‘Monkey and Me’, or simple books of facts.”
Other books to introduce include graded readers and popular easy to read books (Dr Seuss, for example).
And don’t forget to model good reading behaviour – your child is a little mimic, and will want to do what you do. If he sees you reading, chances are, he will want to pick up a book and read too!
Ms Erin Lihou, a mother of two, says: “I try to read every night with my children. As they got older, I got them to read part of the story. Then, after a period of time, I would read a story then they would read a story. Plus, I am always reading so they seem to have picked up the habit, which makes me very happy!”
Start off with picture books with few words, suggests Ms Wong, so that your child can begin to associate print with pictures. Talk about the book cover to encourage the child to interact with the book. Look at the pictures inside the book together, and talk about what you see.
Ask your child questions about the pictures – make the reading experience as interactive as possible. Reading is so much more than just sounding out words, and asking questions about the book helps your child expand his vocabulary and increase his reading comprehension skills.
Read the book to your child, pointing to each word as you read it, and as your child learns, slowly encourage your child to participate by taking turns to read.
“Depending on the age range of your child, you can read aloud with your child, take turns to read a page in the book, or have your child echo each phrase or sentence after you read it,” says Ms Wong.
Once your child is a toddler, start asking even more questions when reading. Show him the cover of the book and ask him to predict what it is going to be about, ask him to infer character choices or emotions, and at the end, ask him to tell you what he remembers about the book.
LEARN ABOUT LETTERS
Once your child has moved on to ABC books and has begun to show an interest in learning the alphabet, you can start incorporating other methods to teach him letters. Other than charts and books, Ms Wong recommends using “a range of multisensory materials such as styrofoam letters, felt letters, embossed letter cards, or even a sand tray”.
Other fun ways to learn about letters is by using real objects or visual pictures to represent letters.
“For example, use a doughnut or orange to represent ‘O’,” explains Ms Wong.
Or the McDonald’s sign to represent “M”, or a toy snake to represent “S”".
“Remember, reading does not necessarily need to be a book – you can read the print on milk cartons, cereal boxes, sign boards and so on,” she says. In fact, looking for letters and words when you are out and about with your child is one way to make learning to read a daily experience – in technical terms, this is known as reading “environmental print”.
“Phonics help a child to identify the letters in a word and translate each letter or letter cluster into speech sound,” says Ms Wong. Take, for example, the word “cat”. Point and sound out “c” “a” “t” before blending the sounds together to read the word. This can get a little tedious, but you can mix things up by using finger puppets to point to the letters.
Once your child has learned a few simple words, start teaching him about word families. Word families are made out of words that rhyme – cat, bat, mat, hat and so on. This is a great phonemic awareness activity that helps your child spot patterns in words, and enables him to begin reading by grouping sets of letters together – once he can read cat, then reading bat, mat and hat become much easier, as only one letter changes!
KEEPING IT FUN
Throw away the flash cards and delete the mobile apps – there are plenty of other ways to introduce a love of letters in a fun and exciting way. Here’s a list of activities suggested by Ms Wong:
Other than the alphabet song, try “A, you’re Adorable” (made famous by Perry Como) or “ABC-DEF-GHI” (sung by Big Bird on Sesame Street) to get your child familiar with the letters A to Z.
Combine literacy and art with creative alphabet crafts. Surf on over to Pinterest for more ideas – think about using stamps, collages, glitter, stickers and more to create artwork with the alphabet.
Make reading a competitive sport by creating fun literacy games! Try ‘Spot The Alphabet’ (see who can spot each letter from A to Z first) or ‘I Spy (on road trips)’, ‘Hangman’ or ‘Word Search’ games.