Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pre-Reading Skills

This is a very old page from for working with preschoolers based on some Montessori ideas. I'm bumping it here for now until I figure out what I can put where when we get our new automated system up and running. It may need some editing too...

When preparing their preschool age children for later reading, parents usually think of teaching them their ABCs. Inadequate development in other areas can make learning to read much more difficult. Rather than starting in on formal school too early, try some of these suggestions to put your children on the right path early on....

1. Learning the Names of Things

Often before a child begins to talk, around the age of 18 months, they are working on mastering the language by recognizing words and associating them with appropriate people, places and things. While most of this learning can take place quite naturally and without much deliberation on the part of the parents, there are some activities which can enhance this learning. These activities will tend to be fun for little ones and they may enjoy having their own special "school time" each day.


Any or all of the following three types of materials will be useful for this stage.

a) "small objects" - You can find many useful items around the house or at garage sales for this purpose. It should be fairly easy to collect a key, a button, a nail, a bead, small plastic animals and perhaps some dollhouse furniture. for this purpose.

b) flash cards - simple pictures, preferably photographs without excess background (which can be confusing and distracting) work quite well. The Dorling Kindersley flash cards are especially nice because they are simple photographs with a plain white background. Look for pictures of household items, people, animals, plants, buildings, etc. Magazine pictures attached to index cards (double-sided tape is best because it doesn't wrinkle the picture or the card) and covered with contact paper work quite well too.

c) Picture/Word Books - Books with simple pictures or photos of everyday objects (words a small child is likely to encounter) work quite well too. Some examples include Baby's Book of Animals (Dorling Kindersley), My First Word Book (Dorling Kindersley) and Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever.

Activity: This activity has three parts. There may be many months between the time you start the first part and the time your child is ready to participate in the third part. Part One: Begin by showing the child one picture at a time and saying the name. If they are able, you may encourage them to repeat the name after you. Part Two: Present several pictures to your child which are easy to distinguish from each other. Say the name of each one (if appropriate). Lay the pictures in a row (3 pictures in row is probably ideal, but you can also work with the pictures on a page of a book) and ask the child to point out a particular one - e.g. "Can you point to the cat?" or "Where is the cat?"Part Three: Show the picture to the child and ask them to identify it. (e.g. "What is this?")

Fine-Motor Skills:

The use of the hands for small, delicate tasks, is very important in developing the muscles and coordination necessary for writing. These skills are developing long before a child begins to write. Some activities that are helpful for this development include - drawing and coloring pictures, sorting small objects (such as beads), playing with Legos or building blocks, playing with puzzles (particularly those with small knobs to hold onto), cleaning household things, playing with playdough, etc.

Concentration/Attention Span:

There’s a lot of talk today about the evils of television/videos and computers for children. Most of this focuses on the overt evil present in all too many movies and computer games. It is well and good to avoid these problem areas, but I think it’s also important to consider what effect even GOOD movies, television shows and computer programs can have on our children, particularly when used in excess and at a very early age. Young children, particularly in the first five or six years of life, are busy developing the important little skills (such as concentration and attention span) that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. If they get in the habit of being entertained and educated mostly by very flashy, colorful, exciting shows and computer programs, it may be more difficult for them to concentrate on more "ordinary" tasks and may inhibit the development of their imagination. It might be a good rule of thumb to balance the amount of time spent on things. One way to look at it would be to sort a child’s ordinary activities into several categories such as:

1. Television, Movies, Computer Games, etc.

2. Listening to Stories (read aloud or on audio tape), coloring pictures, singing with or dancing to music tapes, etc.

Wouldn’t it be better if a child spent more time on activities in the second category each day than those in the first category? Television and computers are not NECESSARY parts of learning (particularly in the early years), so I believe it would be better to do without them entirely than to allow them to inhibit a child’s learning by excessive use.

Reading Comprehension:

Children understand words by having lots of experience with them. Reading aloud to your children, on a regular basis, is probably the best thing you can do to prepare them to read. It will help them to develop a love for and an interest in books. This tends to instill a desire to learn how to read. (What a great start this is for the homeschooling years!) Also, having some practice in understanding words, developing their vocabulary and hearing how proper sentences are put together will all make the task of learning to read easier.

"Learning Their Letters":

There’s a common belief that teaching a child the names of the letters of the alphabet is the beginning of teaching them how to read. Actually it is the sounds that the letters make, and not their names, that are the beginning of reading. The names of the letters are useful for talking about letters and putting things in alphabetical order but do not help with actual reading. It’s great to be proud of your two or three year old being able to say their "ABCs", but it might be more useful to help them connect the appropriate sound(s) with each letter before adding the complication of each letter’s name.

Learning About Words:

An important step in the process of learning to read is recognizing that words are made up of sounds. Playing games that involve identifying the first sound in a word will help to master this concept. We use home-made sandpaper letters to learn the sounds of letters in conjunction with writing them. Our children have enjoyed games involving matching small objects with the sandpaper letter corresponding to the first sound of the word. (see photo at top of page)

Nice Materials for Preschool:

The Red Letter Alphabet Book by Ellen C. Gould
1983, Montessori Services, 56 pages, comb-bound

A very nicely, simply illustrated book that makes the Montessori idea of tracing large textured letters (after the fashion of the classic sandpaper letters) affordable and simplified for home use.The purpose of tracing letters that a child can feel is to encourage fine motor skills in preparation for writing and introduce letters in a multi-sensory way (which more thoroughly involves the child in the learning process and is especially helpful for children with learning disabilities - most obviously for those without the use of one of their senses). This concept (of multi-sensory learning) is highly recommended by Maria Montessori, Romalda Spalding (author of the Writing Road to Reading) and many other fine educators.The large letter on each 2-page spread has a soft red felt-like flocking which is probably more enjoyable for young fingers than the scratchy sandpaper alternatives (such as our old rough home-made ones). The facing page has three classic black-and-white illustrations with a word describing the picture (with the featured letter printed in red). For example, the "k" page has the words basket, king and sink (with corresponding illustrations) with each occurrence of the letter "k" printed in red. The back of the book contains suggestions for how to use the book.

Reviewed by Alicia Van Hecke (4-18-01)
Available from Montessori Services

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