Help Your Toddler Get Ready to Read

By, Lisa Rappaport Ph.D.

When children begin preschool, it’s not unusual for parents to pull back on teaching, leaving the next phase to the experts. By that point parents have done a lot of the heavy lifting, helping their infant transition into toddlerhood and all that goes with that, including toilet training, self-feeding, walking, talking, etc.

But not so fast, parents! There’s still a major role for you in helping your child acquire the auditory skills needed for learning how to read: auditory discrimination, sequencing, and blending (in that order). Most often these skills come naturally, but they can be fostered and reinforced through play.

Learning Games

Almost everything you do with your child, from bath-time to drive-time to mealtime, offers opportunities for word games. For example, asking a child if “p” and “b” are the same sound and switching between same (pig, pat, put) and different sounds (big, cat, ball) will develop sound awareness.

Rhyming is also an important skill. Reading books that rhyme is fantastic. Also, asking your child “what rhymes with…” will build this skill. For example, “Does bat rhyme with cat?” “Does book rhyme with sat?” (Do one at a time so your child does not become overwhelmed.)

Children love when adults make mistakes and soon you will be rhyming with your child everywhere–supermarket, park, playground, or anywhere the two of you go where talking can take place.

Once your child can rhyme, add other discrimination skills such as identifying beginning sounds. For example, “Let’s play ball. What sound does ball start with?” When your child can identify and isolate beginning sounds, work on ending sounds: “What sound does ball end with?” Remember that you are not asking for a letter; you are asking for a sound.

Once this is mastered you can blend sounds. For example, you say “chi- ken” and your child can blend it to say “chicken”; “bay- bee” (baby), “b- ench” (bench).

Finally, work on sequencing. Every night when you put your child to bed, go over what he did that day in order. At first, you might have to repeat each thing but as your child gets used to this routine it will become fun for him to try to recall his day in order. For example, “Today I woke up, I brushed my teeth, I ate breakfast, got dressed and went to the playground; I had lunch and a nap and then we went to the store, I had a bath and dinner and brushed my teeth.”  

Anything that develops your child’s awareness of the sequence of events is helpful. Try singing songs about the days of the week and the months of the year. (Check out YouTube for tunes kids know.) If your child watches a show on TV, help her recount in order what she saw.

These are just a few ideas. As you play with your preschooler, you’re bound to come up with variations, all of which will help develop auditory pre-reading skills to make learning to read a little easier.

Dr. Lisa Rappaport is a neuropsychologist, specializing in the treatment of children with LD, ADHD, and developmental disorders. She is also an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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