Building a Pre-literacy Foundation in Children From Birth

grandmotherI never tire of talking about my favorite childhood memories, which include the times I spent with my grandmother. Being with my grandmother was special no matter what we were doing, but the times we spent in shared reading are my fondest memories. We had a routine each night before bedtime. I would sit in her lap and read along with her from a large children’s dictionary. She would then ask me questions about the words, and in turn, I would ask her questions. Looking back, I realize the dictionary was less important than the interaction I had with my grandmother. I credit this time I spent with her in laying a good pre-literacy foundation.

Shared reading is nothing new. Another term for shared reading is lap reading and it has been around for generations. Sadly, it has often been replaced by an electronic babysitter, like the television or other electronic devices, and although these have their place, they cannot replace the benefits derived from shared reading. I cannot overemphasize the value of shared reading time with children.

Preliteracy starts at a young age

Back in 2010, there was an article in the New York Times about a Florida State University study that showed the link between lap reading (shared reading) and improved literacy. The study stated that lap reading “makes children more willing to read and increases the frequency of their reading.” Citing the use of Curious George images in a recent literacy campaign put forth by the Advertising Council, the copy supporting the images reads: “What makes a curious reader? You do…Read to your child today and inspire a lifelong love of reading.”

On my Cardboard Box Adventures Radio Show, I recently interviewed Dr. Blanche Podhajski, President of the Stern Center for Language and Learning about Building Blocks for Literacy ®. Building Blocks for Literacy® is a play-based program that fosters pre-literacy skills in children through fun and engaging activities, which includes shared reading.

six booksThink about it—between birth and 5 years of age, the human brain develops more rapidly than at any other time. Children are literally sponges for learning, so the preschool years are an ideal time to establish a good literacy foundation. The Building Blocks for Literacy video course is available free online for educators and parents and provides fun and easy activities that can help build a good pre-literacy foundation and will prepare kids to be readers.

Here’s another opportunity: there are over 19 million children in day care today. If teachers working in childcare can be trained to instill Building Blocks for Literacy into their curriculums, over 65% of the future students in America could get the foundation they need to become successful readers.

Are you interested in helping your children develop a pre-literacy foundation? Then read with them! Start before they are born. See below for some tips, ideas, and inspirations to get you going.

Shared reading or lap reading may not be the norm in our digital and fast-paced world, but it’s okay to be different.

five books

Parents and early childhood educators can use my (Don Winn’s) Cardboard Box Adventures (CBA) picture books to lay a foundation for literacy long before children can read. How? Through shared reading time together. Ask kids questions when you read together to get them involved in the stories. All of my CBA picture books include questions for discussion. Don’t shy away from big words—kids love learning new, grown-up words, and my picture books contain an abundance of great grown-up words. The meter and rhyming words build phonological awareness in kids, helping them predict upcoming words and teaching them to break words into syllables long before kids even know what syllables are. Draw kids’ attention to rhyme, alliteration, and any instances with repetitive sounds to help them recognize the sounds of different letters. By doing these things, you’ll be teaching kids essential skills that will make learning to read much faster and easier when the time comes.

  • All CBA picture books are great for shared reading. There are lots of fun pictures to help parents and kids interact, and questions for discussion at the end.
  • All CBA books include discussion questions. Sample questions from Chipper and the Unicycle: What did Chipper do to find a new act? Was riding a unicycle as easy as Chipper thought it would be? What is perseverance and why do people need it?
  • All CBA books include fantastic vocabulary growth words. Sample words from Twitch the Squirrel and the Forbidden Bridge: daring, nerves, lunge, fleet, ravine, rapids, chasm, perilous, tattered, frail, banned, steady, stride, bounding, severed, strands, slack, hurtling, desperate
  • All CBA books help teach phonological awareness through rhyme, poetic meter, and alliteration.

Click here to view a .pdf with a more detailed description of each of Don Winn’s picture books along with ways to utilize them to get the most out of shared reading time.