Preparing Your Child To Read

This post is part of a series on Preparing For School. The aim of this series is to provide tips on how you can get organised and support a smooth transition into school for your kids.

Today’s instalment is also a fantastic guest post from Jackie at My Little Bookcase. Jackie has just launched her website which aims to provide parents with reading tips, beautiful books and reading activities to share with their children. To celebrate the launch of what will become a comprehensive resource for parents, My Little Bookcase has a number of give-aways taking place before Christmas. Head on over to check the latest which is for a gorgeous tee-pee. It would be a perfect addition to the Christmas stocking!


Starting a child at school can be an anxious time for parents who might question whether their child is ready, whether they have acquired the necessary skills or whether they will cope. One skill that parents commonly worry about is their child’s reading ability.

Learning to read does not happen overnight and it can’t happen before a child is developmentally ready. Pressuring a child to read before they are capable can affect their attitude to reading.

It’s true that some children will be reading when they start school, but many more won’t be reading. Reading is such a vital skill and building the foundations for learning to read is far more important than trying to keep up with the reading level of other children.

The most important task for parents in the early years is to help their child develop a positive and enthusiastic attitude towards reading. Rather than prematurely trying to explicitly teach your child the alphabet and how to read particular words, you can engage them in fun, gentle and relaxed literary activities.

‘Slow and steady’ is a great motto to adopt when preparing your child to learn to read. The preparations can start the day they are born. They should be enjoyable and not forced.

Read to your child regularly

In her Ten Read-Aloud Commandments, Mem Fox states that ‘children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read’. The underlying message here is to read to your child daily and start from the day they’re born.

Provide your child with a variety of reading experiences

Give your child the chance to hear stories read by a range of people. This can easily be achieved by making visits to the story-time at your local library.

Take advantage of your local library and borrow an assortment of books based on a range of themes and written in a variety of writing styles.

Attend literary eventssuch as book launches and plays based on classic stories.

Provide your child with a variety of daily experiences

A child’s ability to understand and make meaning of a story is heightened when they can relate the story to their own experiences. For example, if you read a book about the beach when your child has never seen or visited a beach means they have no experience to draw on when they try to understand the story. Creating a range of experiences for your child enables them to make meaning of a wider range of stories.

It can also be beneficial to use a story as a stimulus for trying a new activity or visiting a new place.
hungry caterpillar

Choose good-quality books to read

Although this list is not prescriptive or exhaustive it will provide you with some guidance when choosing books. Look for:

  • Stories about topics or themes that are familiar to your child
  • Appealing illustrations (they may be simple, colourful and large)
  • Stories with clear, basic and interesting language that you can use when you talk to child
  • Stories that have an element of predictability
  • Stories that offer an opportunity for your child to participate in the reading and discussion of the story (repetitive words, sound effects etc.)
  • Stories that use rhyme and/or repetition Nursery rhymes are a great start. There are also some wonderful authors that regularly use rhyme: Michael Rosen (We’re going on a Bear a Hunt), Mem Fox ( Time for Bed, Shoes from Grandpa, Sleepy Bears), Pamela Allen (Mr. McGee series), Lynley Dodd (Hairy McLary series) and of course Dr. Seuss.

we're going on a bear hunt

Image courtesy of Walker Books

Encourage your child to take part in the story telling

When reading books with a repetitive narrative, pause and allow your child to predict and say the repetitive word or phrase.

It can also be fun to add your own sound effects to stories, especially if there are animals or vehicles involved. Your child can be the chief sound-effect maker.

Pause to look at the illustrations too. Ask your child to tell you what they see in pictures.

Discover different parts of a book

Knowing about the different parts of a book help us to understand the purpose of books and how to find, choose and use books.

At times you might like to point to the words as you read. This will help your child to understand that the story comes from the text. It is also important to talk about the Illustrations as they also add meaning to the story. The illustrations play an important role in giving a child clues about the words when they are beginning to read.

By reading regularly to your child, they will start to learn the concepts of books: That we read from left to right, from the top of the page to the bottom, that when we finish a line we sweep to the start of the next line. Let your child hold the book and help to turn the pages. Even young children who haven’t mastered the necessary fine motor skills can turn the page if you have it ready for them.

Introduce each part of a book. Explain what an author, illustrator and publisher do. Use the cover, title and blurb as clues to what the story might be about before you start reading.

Also show your child the imprint page and what information can be found there, such as the message from the author, publication place and date and where the book can be found in the library using the Dewey number.

Play games with the words in the stories

Regularly hearing rhyming and repetitive words allows children to make connections and recognise patterns between words. Without explicitly teaching letters and sounds these word games will assist in building the foundations for letter-sound knowledge.
– I Spy with my little eye.
Start by playing this game with the illustrations. It is also more constructive to ask your child to find something that starts with a particular sound rather than a particular letter. For example, I spy with my little eye something that starts with /k/ will allow your child to find words like kite and cat. (ie. different letters but same sound). While having fun your child will also be learning to recognise the first sound in a word.

– I hear with my little ear a word that sounds like…
When your child gives you an answer ask them for a reason. They may say a word sounds the same as another because it starts with the same sound, ends with the same sound or shares a sound in the middle of the word.

-Make up your own rhymes.
After reading nursery rhymes such as To ‘Market, To Market’, you can follow the pattern of the rhyme to make up your own verses. For example, ‘To market, to market to buy a fat cat. Home again, home again, jigetty-jat’. This game will help your child learn to recognise the last sound in a word.

Have a chat about the story

There are different ways to talk about a story. Sometimes you can talk about each page and at other times you might wait until you finish the story. You might start by asking your child about characters, events and their favourite parts of the book, but it’s also wonderful if you can let your child lead the discussion. You might ask questions such as, What did you like about the character? Do you know someone like the character? Why was that a fun party? Would you like to go to a place like that? What page did you like the best?

Remember to keep enjoying books with your child once they begin school

As part of the reading curriculum your child will be required to bring readers home from school. School readers have a different purpose to the picture books you will have come to enjoy with your child. They are written to help teach a child to read.

It is common for parents to replace their favourite picture books with school readers because they feel they don’t have time to read both or because they are focused on flying through the reading levels.

If a child stops reading quality picture books there is a chance they will stop loving books. They will learn that reading is a task instead of feeling that reading is for enjoyment.

Make time to choose and read books that interest your child. A love and enthusiasm for reading is a gift we should never underestimate.
reading a book together

Image courtesy of Daquella manera

How have you prepared your child for reading?