Understanding Beginning Reading Development in Preschoolers

By Kristin Stanberry

It’s easy to track your preschooler’s growth by measuring his or her height with a yardstick. But how can you measure your child’s development in other areas, such as beginning reading? Do you know if he or she is learning and mastering age-appropriate early reading skills?

As your child’s parent and first teacher, you are the ideal person to observe and gather information about whether your child is developing skills appropriate for a 3- to 4-year-olds. The questions and tips that follow will help you understand what early reading skills your child should be learning — and what you can do to help them on their journey to becoming a competent reader.

Is your child developing age-appropriate reading skills?

The most important thing for you to remember is that “reading” is much more that sounding out words! While it may seem obvious to adults, reading is the result of many small skills that build one upon the other. Knowing what these emerging reading skills are and helping your child learning and practice these skills should be part of your daily routine. Review the following questions about early reading skills expected of 3- and 4-year-old children, and note how your child is doing in each area. Can my child:

  • Make simple predictions and comments about a story being read?
  • Repeat a simple story after hearing it?
  • Hold and look at books right side up, turning the pages one at a time from front to back?
  • Name the letters in his first name, and can recognize her first name in print?
  • Say and point to at least 10 letters of the alphabet?
  • Match a letter with the beginning sound of a word (such as the letter “B” with a picture of a banana)?
  • Recognize words or signs he sees often?

Encouraging reading at home

Now that you understand some of the beginning reading skills your child should have, you can reinforce those skills and help him make further progress. It’s easy (and fun!) to practice early reading skills with your child throughout the day. Here are a few activities to try:

  • Create a name card for your child, printing his first name in clear, colorful letters. Display the card in a special place, and teach him to recognize the letters and sounds that make up his name.
  • Let your child play with — and name — alphabet magnets on the refrigerator door or a cookie sheet.
  • Using familiar objects (or pictures of them), help your child match the names of the objects to their beginning letter sounds.
  • Read aloud to your child every day. And be sure to pause along the way to talk about the pictures, characters and story.
  • Have him “read” his favorite books back to you. (Don’t worry about correcting mistakes — it’s OK to point out corrections, but the most important thing is to have fun!)
  • Point out the cover, title, and author of a book. Explain to your child that these are part of every book, and talk about what each of those features tells the reader.
  • Create a special reading area for your child at home. Offer a variety of books and magazines, both fiction and non-fiction.
  • Take your child to the public library or bookstore. Explore the children’s book section and let him choose books that interest him. Attend the storytelling hour at your local library to “bring books to life” for your child.
  • Help your child learn to recognize letters, words and names on local street signs, stores, service trucks, and license plates.

Note: If your child has a regular babysitter or daycare provider, be sure to pass these tips along to the caregiver.

Promoting beginning reading skills at preschool

In preschool your child transitions to the world of structured learning. While there is still plenty of play time, preschools today follow a more rigorous curriculum than in the past. To keep track of your child’s progress in reading, you’ll want to:

  • Ask the teacher what reading skills your child is learning and practicing at school and how well he’s progressing.
  • Find out what reading skills your child will need to master in order to start kindergarten.
  • Look for evidence of reading in the work and projects your child brings home from school, and discuss them together.
  • Encourage your child to tell you how he feels about reading.

Cause for concern? Where to turn for advice and assistance

Are you concerned because your child is behind in some of the early reading skills listed above? Rest assured that “normal” learning doesn’t progress in exactly the same way for all preschoolers. However, you may want to seek help if your child:

  • Confuses letters and numbers that look alike.
  • Has trouble naming letters.
  • Has difficulty associating letters and sounds, understanding the difference between sounds in words, or blending sounds to make words.
  • Dislikes and avoids reading, or reads reluctantly.

Discuss your concerns with your child’s preschool teacher or other personnel at your local school district. Your child’s pediatrician might also be able to provide guidance, and, be sure that your child has undergone vision and hearing screenings. If you’re concerned that your child may have a learning disability or delay, you should contact your public school system and request (in writing) that a diagnostic screening — at no cost to you — be conducted (available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, topics which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.


Suggested Tip!

Read Books New Ways

Does it feel like you’ve read the same story 100 times? Read it a new way: Ask the child questions about what they think will happen next and encourage them to tell you what they see in the illustrations.
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