Before any child can even attempt to read, they need various basic skills which will stay with them throughout their reading career! Some of these skills come naturally through every day life. They hear and use words themselves, they have seen books and heard teachers or parents read from them, they have enjoyed the thrill or comedy of a good book etc. But there are also things you can do as a parent or carer to help your child come even close to that magical day when they pick up a book, and read it for themselves!
1. Read, read and then pick up another book and read!
- Reading to your children is the best way to get them interested.
- Use silly voices, choose exciting and a varied selection of books, act them out, dress up, find books with great illustrations and make reading fun!
- Read in bed, under a tree, in the car... wherever you can, but make it fun.
- If ever they are too tired, just accept it and do it another day.
2. Practice rhyming words.
- This a great way to introduce new words, and show children that words rhyme.
- Sing nursery rhymes together.
- When singing songs, stop and see if your child can finish the rhyme. Then change the words and see if they can think of a new word to rhyme?
- Play I Spy With My Little Eye but use rhyming words: try I Hear With My Little Ear Something That Rhymes With Tree... etc
3. Recognition and Matching.
- Matching letters with their sounds is a vital part of reading.
- To help, try playing some matching games Play Snap! and Pairs.
- Try playing Dominoes.
- Do some puzzles, and even try tricky ones together.
- Match socks when doing the washing and sort the cutlery into drawers when doing the washing up.
- Letters are vital when reading, so learning to be comfortable using letters and confident talking about them is vital.
- When you go out, stress the first letter as you get ready. So, put on your s-s-socks, j-j-jacket, g-g-gloves. As you walk down the road, see the h-h-house, and the c-c-car.
- Spot letters as you walk about round your home. Shop signs, traffic signs, road names etc.
- Sound out and using your fingers trace the letters on road names if you can reach.
5. Use words.
- Having chats about things you see and do is a great way to develop language.
- Try to use new words, describe things in an exciting way and encourage them to talk to other children about their experiences.
An ice cream cone full of lovely swirly ice cream can be an expensive treat for little ones when you are out, so why not save the money, invest in some treats and serve unique ice creams at home instead!
Get some ice cream cones and simple vanilla ice cream. Invite the children to use a spoon to ease out some ice cream and mash it down into the cone.
Put a selection of the following in some little dishes and let the children create!
- Coloured or chocolate sprinkles
- Chocolate buttons
- Fruit drops
- Blueberries or raspberries or strawberries
- Fruity sauce
Invite your little ones to be creative... look into the dishes and describe the shape and colour of what they see. Pink and yellow strands, brown round buttons etc. You could let them taste each one too and ask what it tastes like? Then, let them loose to decorate their ice creams
This activity is learning new words (as well as enjoying a tasty treat!) so for each bowl use and encourage words to describe what you are doing. "Sprinkle" the coloured sprinkles; "pop in" the chocolate buttons; "dip" in the fruit drops; "place" the berries; "dollop" the sauce etc.
Talk about the texture of the ice cream and the taste of the toppings. Use lovely descriptive words that describe the what your doing in a new and fun way.
Many children stutter - it occurs when a child cannot articulate a word without repeating it over and over, or indeed repeating the first letter over and over before getting through the whole word. It is something they cannot appear to control or seem to overcome and is a common issue. Stutters may start young or seem to develop over time.
One form of stutter is known as Normal Disluency. This occurs around 2-6 years old. Most cases actually disappear by teenage years without any intervention at all. Sometimes it is just a stage or a trick the child is trying out to see what response they get. It is common and quite normal.
Why Does It Happen?
- The brain is unable to transmit the messages correctly.
- Genetics may play a role.
- Head injury or trauma in the early years.
- Environmental factors.
You may find that is stressful situations the stuttering gets worse, it be be worse after a big event such as the birth of a new sibling, moving house or school and is generally worse in boys. Children may have restricted vocabulary because they are nervous about trying new words so will keep to what they know.
If the stuttering last more than a 6 months or so, go to the doctor or health visitor for some advice. They may suggest a hearing and speech test. You may also be recommended to try speech therapy. This will help teach the child different ways to articulate and techniques to overcome any problems with word formation. Or counseling may be advised to help the child with any anxiety they may have or fears.
Help you can offer yourself:
- Try not to correct or interrupt your child when they talk. Ask family members not to correct or intervene either.
- Try not ask them to say it again "properly" or tell them to hurry up.
- Don't ask them to practice or draw attention to the issue.
- Make sure you speak slowly and carefully yourself.
- Talk a lot together and read lots of fun books.
- Try to reduce any stress or keep the child shielded from any problems there might be.
Toddlers may be too young to be able to play word games, but as soon as they start talking, you can play sound games based on word games that older children enjoy! Here are some fun ideas:-
- I-Spy: Rather than playing I-Spy for words beginning with letters, play I-Spy for things beginning with sounds. For example, I-Spy with my little eye, something beginning with 'TR' (for 'tree'), 'K' (for car) or 'Sh' (for sheep)
- Alphabet Animals: Go through the alphabet giving the sound for each letter and ask your little one to name an animal beginning with that sound. Couple this with a trip to a petting farm or zoo where they can learn new animal names!
- Word Chains: Look around and say the name of something that you see. Then have your little one say a word that begins with the sound of the last letter. For example, you might start with Table, then your toddler must offer a word beginning with 'L', perhaps Lamp. Then you say a word beginning with 'P' and so on...
- Sounding Words: Take words and sound them out with your toddler so that they begin to understand sounds and syllables. This will give them a head start when they start to learn spelling phonetically at school! Trak-ter, spag-ett-ee, okt-o-puss, tel-er-vish-un and so on. Have your little one sound out words for objects they see in the room.
These games are great to play when you have to pass time, perhaps when you are waiting at the doctor's or dentist's, on a car journey, or queuing at the supermarket.
Parents, grandparents, celebrities and people from all walks of life have chosen to adopt a word in order to support the charity I CAN the children’s communication charity.
Some celebrity choices are shown below:
- Sara Cox: blossom
- HRH The Duchess of Cornwall: grandmother
- Sir Paul McCartney: gift
- Stephen Fry: wordy
- Graham Norton: frolic
- Dr Tanya Byron: mummy
I CAN promotes and supports parents and teachers, and indeed children, with communication. They claim that one in ten children has a communication difficulty and they try to help. Communication is so important because it impacts on all aspects of a child’s life. Apart from academic issues (reading and writing, passing exams etc.) there is also the fundamental issues like making friends, playing, reading etc. where communication is vital.
Why not adopt a word too and lay claim to a piece of our language for a whole year?! Go to the Adopt a Word website for more information.
There are lots of ways to liven up story time, both for you and your little one! Try some of these tips!
- Do the voices! You may think you sound silly, but children LOVE it when you do the funny voices for different characters in the story you are reading! Make them laugh, and they will enjoy reading, words, communicating and the story itself even more!
- Have a special time of day for stories. This means you won't forget to have stories and you'll both get used to the time slot as part of your routine.
- Read in different places as a treat. Hide in the shed and read a story or go out to the park with warm coats and some warm milk and read there!
- Theme your stories. If you know your little one likes farms, then get some farm or animal books and read them one day at a local farm! Go look for pigs as you read about them in the book etc. Bring it all to life!
- Keep them alert! Ask questions as you go along: how many sheep in the field; What colour is the ball? etc.
- Recap at the end of the story. Go over the story together to make sure they have understood.
- At the end, go back through the book together and find out which bits were best, which pictures were most fun, what happened next?
- Don't force them. Encourage them to want to hear a story, but don't force them if they are overly reluctant otherwise they won't enjoy stories!
- Let them make choices! Get them to choose the book themselves. Look at it together and make sure its a good one etc!
- And, most importantly... have fun!
It has been proven, by a study carried out in Canada, that children can understand the concept of irony by the age of four - even if they don't know the word and probably struggle to say it! Previously it had been suggested that the children needed to be aged ten before they could understand the idea of sarcasm and irony but this new study published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology contradicts this.
The study looked at different types of language that is described as "non-literal". Here are a few examples:
- Metaphor: "It's raining cats and dogs!"
- Irony: "It's raining, oh brilliant, my washing is still out!"
- Sarcasm: "It's raining. We are getting wet. Could you walk any slower?"
- Rhetoric: "Why is it still raining?"
The researchers at Montreal University studied 39 children in a home environment and found that irony was understood by children aged 4 and that by the age of 6 the children had a complete grasp of non-literal language. Previous studies had focused primarily on sarcasm, and had been carried out in a test environment rather than a home environment so this partly explains why the findings were different to other tests.
Babbling is not just a load of nonsensical rubbish that babies produce, it is actually an important part of verbal development and without it talking would just never happen. Most baby's develop at a similar rate and you can spot the changes as follows:-
- Month 3 - this is the month when babbling and cooing and gurgling usually starts. It becomes apparent to the baby that everyone likes it (because we all laugh and encourage it) so they do it more and more!
- Month 6 - they will babble in conversation like a grown-up might. They watch and copy and imitate as much as they can.
- Month 9 - they can actually imitate the noises they hear and copy the adults and children around.
How to get your little one talking
By interacting with your baby, you can encourage your baby to learn to talk and to learn words and their meanings:-
- Make your voice and facial expression seem encouraging. Lots of smiles and praise to show you are happy with them and give them more confidence to do it again.
- Try making baby babble back to your child and see whether they enter into a "conversation" with you.
- Do some proper talking with them too: point to things and name them.
- Use different voices as well as your normal voice to get their attention.
- Sing songs, do rhymes and read books together - no matter how young the children are.
- Use props too if you can when signing (animals for Old MacDonald's Farm etc.)
- Use tools when chatting: baby microphone, toy telephone etc.
For many children, speech comes naturally - they babble sounds and copy words spoken to them, then they start saying a few words on their own and before you know it they are speaking in sentences and chatting to anyone who will listen.
However, sometimes they stumble over consonants and make errors especially if they get excited or are constructing a long sentence. They ask for some "ninner" rather than "dinner" or say "wellow" rather than "yellow". But this is perfectly normal. There is nothing to worry about .
For many, it is simply that they don't have the muscle co-ordination to enunciate properly. Or it may be a new word that they need to practice. Or they are just trying out a new sound. In each case, try not to make an issue of it. Just repeat the word back to the correctly. Do you want some Dinner? The ball is Yellow, isn't it.
Between 18 months and about 3, it is natural that toddlers will make mistakes. They are exploring new word sounds and beginning to remember which letter sounds make up which words. They may even correct themselves if a word doesn't sound right.
Once they hit three, most of their words should be perfectly understandable, with a few errors here and there.
If however your child seems not to talk much, or even never,then you should consult a GP just to ensure everything is OK.
If they are still making frequent errors by age six, you may wish to ask you GP about it, just to be sure. Speech problems, may hide a hearing problem or indeed a learning issue that a doctor can help with. A speech therapist can offer exercises and game sto help with muscle control and speech formation.
Rhyming words can be great fun for children - they make the words they say, and new words they learn, sound happy and sing-song! The easiest words to rhyme are short words of one syllable, words like pig, dig; fat, cat, far car, see, me.
How to introduce rhyming games:
Nursery Rhymes - Get hold of some nursery rhyme books and have some fun learning and acting them out. Dress up as the characters and act the words.
Make up your own rhymes - Change the words to existing rhymes to make them your own. Add in the name of your child if you can as that will be very exciting for them!
Find a Rhyme - Find things that rhyme. So, hold a block and go find a clock. Hold a pen and find a picture of a hen!
Word Catch - Think of a word: 'go' for example. Throw or roll a ball to each other and as you get the ball, you have to say a word that rhymes with the first word. Go, so, throw, row, tow, bow etc. See how far you can go,then change the word.
Word swap - purposely swap words around that rhyme and try to guess the proper word. So, say something like, I am hungry; I need my 'bunch'. And, try and get your little one to guess you mean 'lunch'!
Once pre-schoolers get interested in letters and sounds and writing, there is so much you can do to encourage them and inspire them to really enjoy the idea of writing and learning about words. Here are a few easy ideas to introduce words into their everyday life.
- Menu: Write a list of what's for breakfast; a choice of cereals, toast and spreads etc. Ask them to match the words on the menu with the words on the milk carton, jam jar etc. Look at the letters together and make a match.
- Name cards: If you have some friends or family over to dinner, write out some name cards. Write each person's name on a piece of card and place it around the table. Ask you little one to help with this and decide who sits where.
- Tea party: Get some tea things ready (sandwich, cake, tomato, cucumber) and write on some paper what each thing is. Stick the labels onto some cocktail sticks and ask your child to poke the labels into the appropriate food.
- Headed paper: Take some paper and write or print your child's name at the top in fancy writing. This can be used for thank you notes or letters. Get them to decorate it or colour in the letters of their name.
- Labels: Write some labels for items round the house: television, door, window, sink etc and ask your child to attach the labels with tape or blue tack to the right things. Take the labels off after a day or so and see if they can re-attach them on their own. They will eventually recognise the words and match them on their own.
- Letter spot: If you are reading a newspaper or magazine, see if your child can recognise some of the letters in the headlines. Show them and look at the letters and easy words together. Cut some out and make a sign or send a message made of letters cut from a newspaper.
Reading to your little ones is such an important activity, but the youngest children will only pick out sounds that they are beginning to understand as words. The act of reading to them allows them to hear words over and over and slowly they will begin to distinguish the different words. In time, they will learn their meaning. In no time at all you'll have a preschooler who has a broad vocabulary, understanding thousands of words.
To encourage hearing and learning words, you can make reading fun by asking questions at the end of each page as you read to them. Read each page to your children and then ask them questions specific to what is happening in the pictures or the story. If you are reading to several children then make sure they all get a turn, and ask questions appropriate to their age and understanding. Your children will begin to widen their vocabulary, hearing the words repeated in a similar context. Make sure that even the youngest are asked their own question, even if it is as simple as 'Where is the sky?', 'Point to something that is red', or 'What animal goes [suitable animal noise]?!'.
Reading to your little ones is one of the most valuable exercises you can undertake during their first few years. Encourage a passion for reading and books and their learning will become so much easier later on. The more you can create an interest in books by making stories interesting and fun, then the better in the longer term for your little ones!
We all know how important reading is for children and that reading to even the tiniest toddler will help them in so many ways, but it can be frustrating if you find that your child loses interest after a little while or simply won't settle when you are ready to read a book.
The first thing to remember, is that this is not unusual. Every child is different and while some love the idea of a book, the pictures, the page turning the flaps etc, others are not interested. They don't want to lift flaps or look at the pictures. They consider reading a book as something passive, they sit back and listen and perhaps fall asleep rather than get involved. Or, they will just lose interest and walk away. The answer is not to force them to sit, be still and listen. It is our job to inspire them.
- Find something they are interested in. Have a chat with your child and find out what they like. They may not like train books, but love books about animals. Then, focus on their interest and keep feeding them more of the same.
- Find books that reflect what they have done or recall a recent event. If they have just been a bridesmaid or been to a castle, find books that relate to this experience. Start by not even opening the book, but look at the front cover and talk about it. Then, talk about their own experience.
- Don't assume that children only want stories(ie. fiction). Some are not interested in wizards or fairies but will be more excited by facts. A book about the body, nature, how cars are made etc may inspire them.
- Don't be too demanding. Don't expect to read pages of words and finish the book each time. You may not even complete each book you start. Read a few pages then if you feel it's time to stop, then do!
- You don't even need to read a single word! Just look at the pictures, talk about the colours and the illustrations. Compare the pictures to real life or imagine how you would draw the pictures.
- Read at different times. While routine can be great for some children and a book before bed can be an ideal time to set aside. Don't think that's the only time you can read with your child. Read before breakfast, or after lunch or take a book out and about to the coffee shop, in a car journey or to the doctor's and read together.
- Make it fun! In winter snuggle under a blanket and have a warm drink together. In summer take a book to the park and sit on a rug under a tree.
- Don't forget the voices... children adore the funny voices that parents and carers put on when reading a book. Try to make the book as animated and as compelling as possible.
- Ask your child to choose the book. Try not to dictate which book you read, give them the choice and don't feel aggrieved if they choose the same one they had yesterday. Children love repetition and familiarity so just read it again or focus on something different this time when you read the book.
- Book activities: A book is more than words: one day how about focusing on the pictures only: count how many sheep in the field or clouds in the sky. Ask your child to find the carrot in the picture or ask what colour the door is. Make the pictures come alive by asking interesting questions that they can answer and feel involved and inspired by what they find in the book.
There are lots of activities you can do with your child to introduce them to reading, that don't necessarily involve learning to read in the traditional sense. Here are some tips to make learning to read an easy, fun and inspiring time for both you and your children!
- Look at the pictures: Look at the cover, the pictures throughout the book. Discuss the style, colour scheme, characters depicted.
- Look carefully at the title of the book. Explain to your child what the title is.
- Look at the characters throughout the book. What are they doing? What do they look like? Do they remind you of anyone you know?
- Talk about the sequence of pictures in the book. Look for differences and talk about why may be happening.
- Chat about what might happen in the book. Predict a story together and what the ending might be.
- Make up a story with a different ending and describe what the picture might be if your ending was used instead of that actually in the book.
- Start looking at the words together. Follow the words with your finger and then with your child's finger. Chat about what letters begin each word and sound out the words together.
- Look at the pictures for clues of what's going on in the story. Show your child how the pictures can be a great help when learning to read.
- Focus on the easy words and brush over the hard words or those that are not easily read by new readers (the, said, giraffe).
- Chat about the book the day after and see how much you can remember together.
Most importantly, have fun when reading with your child. Don't get annoyed if they don't understand immediately or struggle on words they knew yesterday. Certainly don't force them to read or make them do it if they're tired or not in the right mood.
Enjoy... learning to read can be so much fun and they will make you so proud when they try hard and make progress.