Support Your Preschooler’s Language Development - Part 2-1/2 - Emergent Reading

14 February 2018

preschool language development stages emergent reading

If reading is defined as the interpretation of symbols, then your child began reading the day she was born. Literacy in its most general sense is a mastery of language-- speaking, listening, writing, and reading. Literacy learning begins in infancy and continues throughout your child’s life. It’s present when her Mother enters the room, smiles and she stops crying. Literacy emerges when a baby gets excited when she sees her bottle. These are examples of emerging literacy.

Emergent Reading

Emerging literacy precedes understanding the printed word, which is formal reading. Emergent reading is a child’s knowledge of reading and writing skills before they actually learn how to formally read and write. It shows that, in a culture that has ability to read or write, even children of 1 and 2 years old are in the process of becoming literate. An example of emergent reading is when young children begin reading pictures, such as cows, dogs, houses ... and take great delight in recognizing familiar objects. As you read to children, you are also exposing them to words in the book they read. Doing so, your child begins to understand that printed words say something. This is why it is so important for you to read to your little one from birth.

Another example of emergent reading is a preschooler’s “pretend reading” of favorite books. This is an activity familiar to many parents and preschool teachers. During pretend reading children practice reading-like behaviors that build their confidence in themselves as readers.  

In pretend reading, children are imitating adult reading. That is, they pick up reading-like behaviors and story language after you read aloud to them. You can see the beginnings of emergent reading when your child participates by “reading along” with you-- mumbling, echoing phrases, and completing sentences and phrases when you pause in your reading. Your child combines many sources of information to pretend read: the pictures and print in the book, input from adults, their own memory from hearing and discussing the book before; their personal experiences such as their knowledge about the world, language, and how stories sound.

In emergent reading experiences, very young children enjoy and actively participate in reading long before they are “readers” in the conventional sense of the word. By giving your preschooler opportunities to interact with books by reading aloud to her, you are helping her grow as a competent and confident reader.

Conventional reading  

Learning to read in the conventional sense involves your child’s total development-- emotional, social, physical, and intellectual readiness. This means that some children are not interested in or physically ready to read until they are 6, 7, or even 8 years of age. When children are forced to engage in reading activities before they are physically, intellectually, or emotionally ready, reading can seem like an impossible task. It’s like expecting your little one to learn to roller skate before learning to walk. And motivation is a primary factor for success.

For example, if your child has not yet mastered their large muscle control, it’s not time to emphasize more refined, small motor skills, such as matching shapes and recognizing patterns needed for learning to read. Small muscle development, especially in the eyes which is essential to reading, cannot be rushed. Also, speaking skills are needed for success in reading. Our article, The Promise of your Child’s Early Development - Make the Most of It and our Child Development Guide can help you understand more about the specifics of how your child’s small motor skills follow large motor skill development.

In addition to reading aloud, there are here are 4 simple things you can do to encourage your preschooler’s emerging literacy development:

  1. Work with “sight words”. These are words that your little one can learn to recognize by sight and doesn’t have to “sound out” the word to get its meaning.  An example would be knowing that the red octagonal sign says, “stop.” Thus, “stop” becomes a sight word. Another one could be the exit sign you see on the door when you are leaving a store. This could be another sight word for your preschooler’s vocabulary. Make it into a game when you are out and about. For example, “Let’s see if you know what that red sign says.” Your little one will learn lots more sight words in this relaxed, fun way than if you approach it like a lesson to be learned.
  2. Point out words with your finger as you read. This may seem like a silly thing to do, but it’s an easy way to reinforce the concept that each word has its own meaning. It also reinforces the left to right eye tracking that is necessary in reading English. When you read a story together, take time and point out specific words to your preschooler. For example, when the story says, “caterpillars crawl,” point out the word “caterpillar” and point to the picture of it crawling. This way you are correlating the picture with the word, showing that the specific words goes with the picture, a basic reading fact. Check out our Skilly-do Book Reviews for recommendations for preschool books and our Left To Right Eye Tracking activities for more fun ways to practice your pointing.
  3. Start talking about word sounds. This is another easy, no-pressure way to work on your child’s emerging reading skills. Start with your little one’s name and talk about the first letter of her name. For example, “This is a book, book starts with the letter “b” sound just like your name, Bobby.” Casually pointing out other letter sounds that are relevant in your preschooler’s life will continue to reinforce the idea that letters have individual sounds. This can be turned into a fun game, but never should be done in a lesson-like way, such as asking your little one to repeat after you a series of words and letters. Again motivation is key here, so reinforce your child’s interest with a bit of fun.
  4. Read rhymes. Reading nursery rhymes and poems can be entertaining, but it’s also a very effective pre-reading exercise for your little one. Learning that words rhyme is a key pre-reading skill for 2 reasons. First, it encourages active listening skills, which are essential in learning to read. Second, hearing that a word’s meaning can be changed by with a different a letter is another early skill that will be part of the reading process. For example, children learn how “cat” can become “bat” and “mat” and so on. Here are 3 recommendations for nursery rhyme collections:  a classic collection, originally published in 1915 with 300 rhymes, The Real Mother Goose by Blanche Fisher Wright, a modern collection with a more diverse representation of cultures, Favorite Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose by Scott Gustafson, and a collection of worldwide nursery rhymes and lullabies, Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes by Elizabeth Hammill. For more about active listening, check out Part 2 of my Support your Preschooler's Language Development series - Listening.

I hope that you enjoy helping your little ones build their emergent reading skills-- they are becoming to be a literate members of society!  And you can get more specific tips for reading with your emergent reader in my article, Tips for Reading with Your Preschooler.

Next up in the final part in this series, I’ll share how writing skills develop in very young children plus easy, entertaining ways to support them. And feel free to share your thoughts on this article right here.   

+ Inspiration/photo credit goes to the USDA's image of Holstein-Friesian milk cow.