This post is the first in my Preschool Series. Check out #2.
Preliteracy skills are an often overlooked on the journey to literacy.I focus on these skills from the moment my children are born. Children start developing these skills as soon as they are born, and I love how it reminds me homeschooling is about seeing every moment as a way to teach.
Before I go on, let me remind you that I have not yet officially started Cayden in school. This weekend (June 29-July 1), we will be in Memphis for his Jurassic Quest birthday trip/start school celebration (watch for a YouTube video coming soon). When we get back, he will start short lessons in reading, writing, and math (15 minutes each) spread throughout the day. Leave me a comment if you are interested in seeing more of my basic preschool schedule and plans! I can’t wait to hear from you.
Before I start teaching him to read, there are certain skills he needs, the aforementioned preliteracy skills. Preliteracy is the stage before a child first starts decoding short, simple words. This is always a fun stage because you see your ability to teach your child, their confidence gets a boost, you start to see what piques their interest, and their personalities start to come out. This is the stage that sets your child up for a love of books and a thirst for knowledge. So what are the preliteracy skills and how can you teach them to your child?
Talk. Talk. Talk. Indulge your child in conversation. Play with them. Be an active participant in making up narratives. Use proper language with pronouns. Don’t use words like “Let’s go bye-bye.” “Time to leave” communicates the same message and it’s how real people talk. Changing your language for kids does both of you a great disservice, and may even make it harder for them to communicate with others and may even make it difficult for them to comprehend when you read to them.
Hearing proper sounds is the basis of phenomic awareness (awareness of sounds) which is the foundation of reading. Enunciate clearly so your child will learn the sounds correctly. I have met adults who have poor phenomic awareness, and it’s obvious. In Arkansas, people often pronounce “want” and “won’t” the same. It’s very confusing for a child to read an O where they expect an A. This causes problems in reading and spelling, crushes a kid’s self esteem, and makes kids reluctant readers.
Read as often as your kid wants. Sometimes mine want me to read while they play. Sometimes not. Reading is an important part of nap/bedtime. You can read whatever they request, but don’t limit yourself to kids’ books. I read mine encyclopedia articles on dinosaurs, babies, toys, paleontological studies, parenting advice, story books, juvenile nonfiction, and even romance novels. Let them get use to hearing complicated sentence structure, diverse vocabulary, and intricate thoughts. Kids who participate in conversations and hear a vast vocabulary do better in school.
Reading Kids’ Books
Reading kids’ books does several things. First, it accustoms kids to the idea of narrative. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. They have a protagonist and an antagonist. This is the foundation of comprehension. Good comprehension skills can be the difference between a lukewarm response and a ferocious response to school. While reading is the most important tool for this, don’t overlook real life experiences and TV, both of which can reinforce this skill. Talk about the happenings of the day or their favorite show, asking “which happened first?”, “why did they do that?” kind of questions to get your child thinking order of events.
Use kids books to study pictures, too. While you read, take the time to look deeply at the pictures. Identify objects. Try to predict what is going to happen on the next page. Look for hidden clues to the character’s feelings and motivations. Realizing that art, and words, often portray real life objects and events is a big “AHA” moment for many kids.
Read the same book as many times as your kid requests it. While this is tedious and boring to us, it’s how young minds digest things and really come to understand them.
Like I said before, this is the knowledge of sounds. It’s arguably the most important preliteracy skills. If you can’t break the word down into parts, you can’t recognize the word when you sound it out.
Like stories, words have beginnings, middles, and ends. Point out the letter their name begins with, exaggerate the sound while saying their name. Do the same with another word that starts with the same letter. Rhymes develops phenomic awareness of the end of words.
This is where songs, games, poems, and tongue twisters come in handy. These are all activities for teaching phenomic awareness! Let me know if you want to see some of my phenomic awareness activities.
This is the awareness of letters and the alphabet. So, before a kid starts to read, most think we read the pictures. I have been pointing out letters on packages, signs, in books, on my phone, in restaurants, everywhere I can for the last several months. Cayden can now recognize letters as letters, even though he can’t recognize but a couple specific ones, but that’s half the battle. I talk about how letters make sounds then sounds make words. I’m giving him the blueprint for decoding so that he already knows. See how phenomic awareness is crucial?
Alphabet knowledge includes reciting the song. So I have been singing it to him at every opportunity (although he usually requests me to stop singing and just count numbers instead). He can’t recite it; that’s reserved for learning once he starts school. But I have plenty of other activities lined up to reinforce the alphabet sequence like matching games and scavenger hunts.
I use a multiprong approach to teaching the alphabet. I make letters out of salt dough and bake them so the kids can pick them up, feel their shape, and create an experience to go along with the letter. We will also use salt dough to let the kids form and bake their own letters!
I also teach writing before reading. Practicing handwriting is a great way to help kids remember the shapes of each letter. Paper not required. You can put salt, sugar, flour, or glitter on a cookie tray and let the child draw the letter over and over with their finger.
So we all know to start on page 1, to hold the book so the spine is on the left, read from left to right, and that spaces separate words, right? Wrong. All of these concepts must be learned. Most of these can be absorbed through the experience of being read to, though so don’t think you have to teach this lecture style.
The left to right directionality will be picked up naturally as the start writing and reading. Spaces may have to be taught. My kids often bring me a book, a pen, and request I write or draw them something (usually a T. rex). When I do write words, I make sure to include spaces and point it out that words are separated by spaces.
Preliteracy skills are the foundation of good reading. These lessons need not be learned sitting at a table. Your lap will do much better as you read, write, and play your way through preschool.