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Maryanne Wolf, head of Tufts University’s Center for Reading and Language Research, says that most children aren’t ready to read until about age five because the visual, auditory, linguistic and conceptual brain functions required for reading aren’t fully integrated until then (this doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t those who are early bloomers, such as the little girl mentioned above). Plus, studies show that an early advantage these kids have on their peers tends to disappear a few years later.
So, what is the best predictor of how a child will do in school if it’s not reading ability? Well, Ms. Wolf states that it’s the “size and richness of a child’s vocabulary.” But, how do we as parents build our child’s vocabulary, you may wonder? Well, for starters, reading books out loud and making connections between what is on the page and in the child’s own world is the most effective way.
Plus, phonological awareness must be in place before a child will be able to crack the code of reading. This awareness relates to sounds of spoken words. It is the ability to notice, hear, and work with the discrete sounds that make up our spoken language. And, it is the prerequisite to understanding phonics, which relate to the sound and spelling associated with printed words.
Now, for all of us who have been out of school for ages, here’s a phonics refresher: there are 44 phonemes, or individual sounds, in the English language. Some sounds are made from two letters, such as sh and ng. A child who can recognize that the word mat has three sounds (/m/a/t/), or who can change the /m/ sound at the beginning of mat to the /r/ sound and know that the word is rat is demonstrating “phonological awareness.” Resultingly, pre-readers who learn to identify the beginning sound of a word, segments in words such as syllables, and clusters of words that make up rhymes have phonological awareness.
So, what are some activities that you can do with your child to help develop phonological awareness? I recommend the following:
And, remember, by doing this, you’re not teaching reading per se, but you’re focusing on pre-literacy skills. At bedtime (or anytime) when you’re reading, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” for the hundredth time (or reciting it with your eyes closed at that point!), you’re nonetheless helping your child build his vocabulary, while acquiring the ability to retell a story that was read to him, while also helping him understand that words are made of discrete sounds and helping him acquire the ability to work with those sounds (phonological awareness), along with learning print awareness (what text is), as well as knowing names of letters and their sounds and so much more! Whew, that’s a lot…..and it’s so worth it!
This is why experts recommend that you spend time with your child building these pre-literacy skills rather than attempting to teach a child to read who isn’t ready. This is because a strong pre-literacy foundation will help your child learn to read when the time is right. I mean, the last thing you want is for him to start kindergarten lagging in these abilities because research shows that children who start school behind their classmates in language and early literacy skills are unlikely to catch up and are at high risk for reading failure…..scary, right?
So, as a parent, here are some signs to look out for that your child may be at risk for a reading or writing delay:
If you notice any of these signs within your child, monitor his progress as he learns to read, and, if he’s struggling, seek out help as soon as possible.
Now, when it comes to vocabulary, your child should be speaking at least 300 words by the age of three, while understanding at least 2,000 words. By age four, this increases to a speaking ability of roughly 1,000 to 1,500 words, while understanding up to 4,000 words, and by age five, your child should be able to speak 1,500 words or more while understanding roughly 5,000 to 8,000 words! Seems like a lot, but our children our sponges for knowledge, so the more you speak and read to them, the more they will learn and absorb.
And, as Dr. Seuss said, so rhymingly eloquently, in “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,”
“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
You have the knowledge, you have the power, now help steer your child into a love of reading and a lifetime of learning by joining Testing Mom as a Fast Track Member today.
Your partner in learning!
Karen Quinn, The Testing Mom