When you read a book, you are not only reading that book. You are reading every book you have ever read – and not only that you are re-reading all the narratives of your own life. Experts refer to this as inter-textuality, to you and me it is simply experience – whether real or imagined. What does all this have to do with the pre-schooler you ask?
We can teach strategies to young children that will enable them to read, this is necessary but it does not necessarily produce readers for life or indeed life long learners. Young kids need a rich, diverse range of experiences to draw on when they approach books. It makes sense then, that before introducing kids to books they already possess the narratives they need in order to make sense of books.
1. Talk And Listen!
Talking with and listening to your child is the most important pre-reading experience you can provide your child with. They will pick up on the rhythms of your voice, they will learn vocabulary and meaning simultaneously, and they will learn about what is important within their culture and communities. Listening to your child is equally, if not more important than talking with your child. By listening you are telling them that they matter and that what they have to say is valued.
2. Read, read and then do some reading!
Read to your child from day one. This is a lovely way for parents (and indeed grandparents!) to bond with a child. From earliest infancy the child will recognize the cadences and rhythms of your voice, they are already becoming experts in language. Always do this in a relaxed and informal setting, and simply enjoy stories with your child. As they get older you will point to pictures and eventually words as you read. You may find that very young children will pick up their favourite books and recite the whole story as they turn the pages. They will have already made the connection between print and making meaning.
3. Mark Making
Mark making of any kind is the pre-cursor to writing and understanding that meaning is represented through the use of marks, including symbols such as letters. As A.A Milne famously said, ‘An A is just three sticks to somebody who can’t read!’ Young children experiment with mark making from a very early age, watch a baby play with spilt food on a tray, see how they trace their fingers through it, making patterns and experimenting perhaps with index fingers. Provide opportunities for mark making everyday through finger painting, potato printing, scribbling etc.
4. Song and Rhyme
Find opportunities for your child to join in with other children at toddler groups. This will benefit youngsters in many ways, but sharing and joining in with song and rhyme sessions reinforces the positive social values of language and communication for the as yet inexperienced and self-centred child. They should find this fun and will experience a sense of achievement every time they master a new set of words and actions.
The Broader Picture
Make sure your child is engaged in a variety of activities throughout the week and that they have a broad range of experiences. Visiting the local park, doing the weekly shopping or even watching a TV program are all valuable experiences if you help your child to make links between these and other experiences. Encouraging children to use role play to explore their worlds is invaluable in creating the narratives they will use to make sense of life and books. Don’t be afraid to mix things up, if a child makes a bridge with a construction toy use it as an opportunity to act out the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. If they like playing with plastic animals, introduce a tray of sand, with pebbles and greenery to make animal habitats. This is about creating narratives in order to understand narrative.