How Kids Can Play Their Way to Early Reading Skills
The government is concerned about it. Schools are worried, too. For many moms and dads nationwide, their children’s literacy has become a way of measuring whether they are “good enough” parents. What can parents do to ensure that their kids learn to read?
One key is in the link between good, healthy play, and reading. Children’s literacy development begins at birth, and research has confirmed that one of the best ways for children to master the early skills that lead to reading—everything from eye muscle control to understanding how and where print is used to knowing the alphabet to wanting to be a reader—can be learned during the natural, fun, and motivating activity of good, old-fashioned play.
Here are suggestions—all supported by research—about ways parents can promote literacy development:
Read to your child daily. Board books or soft cloth books for babies help them learn to savor the warm feeling of cuddling up with a story. Many books for babies incorporate play materials like mirrors, different textures, or peek-a-boo flaps to engage young “readers.” As kids get older, they will be eager to name objects, colors, shapes, and characters—and will thrive on simple question-and-answer games parents can make up on the spot.
Engage in “eye tracking” play right from birth. From the first few days of a baby’s life, many parents engage in simple play with their infant that encourages the little one to follow movement with his eyes. This starts to build the eye muscle control skill that is essential later on for following print on the page. As the baby and toddler get older, they will enjoy toys that encourage the child to follow movement with the eyes—everything from crib mobiles to racing cars around a track.
Include printed words in the materials kids use for play. Children learn to read words during play—e.g. signs, labels, lists, charts—that are central to the content of their play. Play provides a motivation for understanding and mastering what a sign, label, or other print material means. Products like kits and games are often good sources of words that children can quickly learn to read.
Encourage your kids to act things out. Dramatic play or pretend play is a great way to build the language skills kids need to become good readers because it introduces so many words, situations, and problems to be solved. The possibilities are endless— children can pretend occupations (doctor, teacher, firefighter, farmer, hairdresser); family activities (going to the beach, camping, doing laundry, parenting); various forms of shopping (groceries, shoes, restaurants); activities related to transportation (airplane, school bus, cars) and much more.
Just because reading is associated with school and causes so much anxiety for kids and grownups doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun. Visit your local neighborhood toy store for expert advice on toys that promote both fun and early literacy.