Children raised with a wide variety of experiences and stimuli are more likely to begin reading at a younger age. By interacting with adults who use complex language to teach them about the world, infants and toddlers learn the intricacies of language. Very young children are exposed to the sounds of language and begin learning about phonics.
Most teachers and scientists agree that the majority of children should be able to read by the age of seven, meaning they have learned the basics of decoding and know a limited number of sight words. Children at this age are too young for complex comprehension and phonics skills, but they should be able to understand easy readers and early chapter books.
Many children do learn to read at an earlier age, some on their own, some with help from parents and care givers. Children as young as four can learn to read. However, parents must realize their child is not “slow” or doomed to academic failure if they are not reading by four. Reading requires very complex neurological processes and most children’s brains are not physically developed enough for such higher level thinking.
There are many things parents can do to encourage reading. The best way to promote reading is by the “lap method,” or taking your child on your lap and reading to them. Parents who use an enthusiastic voice, point out words, allow the child to ask questions about the story and ask comprehension-related questions are informally teaching learning to reading strategies.
Students with good reading skills do better throughout school than their peers who do not read as well. The Annenberg Institute for School Reform in 2010 reported that reading skills for third grade students are highly correlated to how well those students perform during the rest of their academic careers. Third graders who struggle with reading are still struggling in ninth grade. In addition, graduation success can be predicted by looking at the reading scores of third graders. The Child Trends Data Bank claims that children whose parents read to them during their preschool years had higher reading skills in elementary school.
Once children have mastered the basics of reading, parents need to continue encouraging their children to read. Showing interest in the books a child has selected from the library or classroom and asking the child to read to the parent are good ways to encourage continued reading. Older children can read to younger siblings. Help your child choose reading materials on new subjects. Encourage children to read books as well as magazines, comic books, ebooks and graphic novels. Public libraries often have special reading programs, such as Read to a Dog or Read to a Grandparent. These can be a good fit for reluctant readers.
Incorporating gamification techniques is another way to encourage reading. Gamification is simply the process of making something (reading) into a game and achieving an end result (minutes of reading). Children who play computer or video games are familiar with this concept as they achieve all sorts of rewards as they progress through a game. Gamification can be a good reading incentive when participants are randomly recognized for their progress.
Finding books for preschoolers and early readers is as simple as taking a trip to your local library. Any competent children’s librarian will have recommendations for great books to read. Nursery rhymes and other rhyming books are perfect for a young child. Through the singsong cadence and multiple repeating sounds, toddlers learn word sounds, sequencing and prediction skills. Books for beginning readers focus on controlled vocabulary and often incorporate rhyming words. Dr. Seuss books are perfect examples of this type of early reader.
Parents should continue to read more complex, engaging works to their children throughout elementary school and even later. Children have a much higher ability to comprehend books that are read aloud than books they read to themselves. Decoding words, recognizing sight words and trying to follow the story all at the same time requires a great deal of effort by a child. Taking away the physical work of actual reading frees a child to be able to understand much more complicated books. Reading aloud to a child continues developing their comprehension skills, engages their imagination and fosters an appreciation for good literature. Classic works of children’s literature are perfect for this higher level reading and include such authors as Jack London, Louisa May Alcott, Gary Paulsen, Roald Dahl and Lois Lenski.