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How to raise a reader

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In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. How do nursery rhymes help?
2. How to teach words?
3. When to start engaging?

Did you know there’s so much you can do — even as early as pregnancy — to help your child succeed in school?

The first step includes taking care of yourself so you have the best chance possible of giving birth to a healthy baby. Once your baby is born, you can begin raising a reader right away by cuddling, singing, talking and listening.

But there’s even more you can do every day to give your child that extra edge. Read on to learn more...

Here’s a riddle: Exactly how many times do the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round?

No one’s really sure, as most parents with toddlers have probably lost count.


Joking aside, all those recitations of a child’s beloved nursery rhymes are actually helping the child become a better reader, even if he or she doesn’t read yet.

“Research has shown that children who are familiar with eight to 10 nursery rhymes by age 4 are better readers by age 8 than peers who weren’t exposed to nursery rhymes,” notes Darlene Kostrub, retired Chief Executive Officer of the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County. “A child needs spoken words in their vocabulary bank before they can learn to read those words, and for young children, hearing and repeating those words when they rhyme is a fun way to build a vocabulary.”

Kostrub points out that, along with nursery rhymes, singing, talking and looking at picture books also help encourage better reading.


“I suggest parents make daily life a game of words,” Kostrub says. “So when you’re in the car, have your child look out the window for shapes and colors, or point out the colors of fruits and vegetables during a grocery trip. This makes it a game for the child, and then they don’t even know they’re learning.”

But you don’t need to get in the car or go shopping to access valuable teaching moments. Just changing a diaper or taking your child with you to check the mail can strengthen vocabulary, as long as you talk to your child about each step of the process (For example: Let’s go get the mail! First, we’ll put on our shoes, then we’ll open the front door, etc.)

“If you take a walk to the park for instance, and you point out plants and animals along the way, when the child encounters those experiences later in a book, they can identify those experiences as they relate to real life,” says Jeanne Siccone, Director of Children’s Literacy at the Literacy Coalition. “It gives them a baseline for comprehension when they open that book.”

Keep in mind, though, you don’t have to wait until your child is walking or talking to engage them in your daily activities through talk.


“Parents can actually start reading and talking to their child in the womb,” Kostrub says. “And then continue speaking to the child as soon as he’s born. Even though they don’t understand you yet, they’re hearing the language, the cadence and structure, the pitch and intonation of the language.”

This is how the human brain forms the ability to speak. For example, your toddler may not be able to say the words “nose” or “shoes,” but if you ask her to touch her nose or to go get her shoes, she probably can.

If you’ve ever tried to learn a foreign language, you likely found it easier to read and write the language before you could speak the language. The same applies to children learning to speak for the first time.

“A person, young or old, must be exposed to a language for five years before they are fluent,” Kostrub says. “And because of the rate at which the brain develops in the first three years of life, it is critical that children are exposed to language through talking, reading and singing starting at birth, or even in the womb.”

By age 4, the conversation can turn into a two-way street. At this stage, it’s beneficial to ask open-ended questions and hear what your child has to say.

“This develops their critical thinking skills,” says Siccone. “After you read them a book, don’t just ask if they liked the book, but ask them what they liked about it. You will elicit conversations and thought, and teach them critical thinking skills that can be applied to math and other areas of learning.”

So, parents, during that next diaper change, give your baby the play-by-play. And sing along with your toddler as that “itsy bitsy spider” crawls up the waterspout again. And again. And then relish the day your future kindergartner’s teacher reports that your child is one of the best readers in class. Read on!


Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County


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