Laying the Foundations

Children start their developmental process towards reading from the earliest age. There are many things parents can do to help lay the skills foundation that eventually leads to reading. Remember that the first step is cognitive and speech development.

Talk to Your Child

Parents should talk to their child at every opportunity. Even before the child can understand a word, she is learning speech patterns. Speak in natural sentences rather than baby talk. It does not matter if you are talking about rubbish, just talk. This is something that many parents feel awkward about to begin with but eventually they grow comfortable with nattering about nothing. Just describe what you are doing as you do it or talk about the weather. It might feel like you are wasting your breath but the child really is listening.

Read to Your Child

It is never too early to start reading to your child. It is the single biggest thing you can do to lay the basis for future reading skills development. You can read a book to your child at any time but making it a part of your bedtime routine is especially beneficial. As well as developing language skills, it will also help to settle your child down and let her know it is time to sleep. If your child is playing up or getting over-excited then reading a book is a good way to settle her down.

You should choose picture books with nice clear illustrations. You can choose storybooks or even just wordbooks with illustrations of every day objects that the child will recognise. You will be amazed at the pleasure the child takes from looking at pictures while you read to her. Involve her by asking her to point at objects on the page. "Where's the car?" Applaud her when she gets them right.

The benefits of reading books to children are well documented. It forges a closer bond between the child and parent. It increases the child's vocabulary. The child hears new words and sentence structures that the parent would not normally use. Stories introduce her to our cultural heritage and a world of make believe. Most of all, it instils a joy in reading that should serve the child well for the rest of her life.

Introduce the Concept of Reading

It is easy to forget that the concept of reading is alien to your child. Not only does your child not know how to read, she does not even know what reading is. She does not know that these funny patterns she sees everywhere are words. Before she can even start to learn to read, she has to learn the concept. As you read to her, point at the words on the page. When you go for a walk, point out the street signs. "Look, that sign says 'stop'." Introduce her to the idea that writing represents words.

It is easy to make assumptions about what the child should already know. We take it for granted that we read from left to right and top to bottom. The child does not know this until she learns it. You can introduce the concept by running your finger under the words as you read to her.

Surround the Child with Writing

Make sure your child has the opportunity to see writing. You should not only read to her but also leave books within easy reach. Your child will look at the books herself.

Try to create a home environment that surrounds the child with writing. Put up wall posters such as an ABC poster with illustrations for every letter of the alphabet. Try to choose things the child likes. If she loves animals then put up a poster with different animal names.

Buy toys that have writing on them such as building blocks with the letters of the alphabet or cars that say 'racing car' on the side. Choose bed sheets with colourful pictures and words.

Put a nameplate on her door or write her name on some of her toys. Give your child as many opportunities as possible to see writing and understand its meaning.

Let your child see you reading for pleasure. Read a book or newspaper. Your child likes to imitate you.


The television does not have to be the great no-no that some experts would have you believe. It can be a useful extra source for language learning. It is how your child watches that really matters.

The great problem with just dumping children in front of the television is that they tend to go into a passive trance state. They are not interacting with the action or associating the language they are hearing with the pictures they are watching. Leaving children in front of the television for long periods has little educational benefit and is associated with behavioural problems.

However, if you are willing to sit down with the child and watch television together, you can involve her with what she is watching. Select suitable viewing material and talk to your child about what you are watching. Ask the child what she sees, repeat some of the dialogue and get her involved. Once the child is interacting with the program, you can leave her for a while and she will continue to interact with the program.

In this way, the television can offer a good variation of language learning material. It is good for a child's language development to hear as many sources of language as possible. People have their own speech pattern and set of regular vocabulary. If your child only learns her language skills from one or two people, she will be learning from a limited vocabulary set. Reading books and watching TV are ways to add range to her language skills by learning vocabulary that the parents might not normally use.

Like most things, it is a matter of moderation. It is not good for your child to spend long periods of time watching television. However, short periods of TV viewing, especially with the parents, can be beneficial.


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