Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Helping Preschoolers Learn to Read



Have you ever really considered what is involved in learning to read? Most of us learned so long ago, we do not ever remember not knowing how to read. For young children, however, written language begins as a jumble of symbols and code that they simply do not understand. Some new research is offering more insight into how parents and teachers can help children decode and make sense of language in order to become effective readers.

Simple strategies in how adults read to young children can make a substantial impact on their literacy skills. Researchers found that certain strategies like pointing out capital letters, showing how you read from left to right, and pointing out letters helped preschoolers learn to read better. These strategies, called print references, were more effective in helping students learn to read than simply being read to without such references.

One of the most encouraging aspects of this study was the fact that most of the students included were from low-income backgrounds and started the study with less-than-average language skills. Students whose teachers used the print reference strategies not only scored higher on reading and spelling tests, but also had higher reading comprehension scores compared to other students. This means that the students weren’t just decoding the words themselves but were actually better at understanding the content of what they were reading.

This research is especially promising because implementing the use of print references in schools and homes would be so easy. Teachers could easily adopt these strategies and they could have a substantial impact on children’s long-term literacy skills. More research in this area is needed, but this initial study showed that the impact of print reference strategies was seen for students even one to two years later.

I think this research is really helpful because it not only suggests strategies, but it indirectly sheds light on how children learn to read. As adults, we take simple aspects of reading for granted, such as that you read from left to right or the difference between capital and lowercase letters. For children, however, all this knowledge is new and has to be intentionally pointed out to them. This is yet another example of how good research provides insight into the world from a child’s perspective rather than just an adult’s. 

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