Preparing Preschoolers for Reading

How does what we do as Preschool Teachers line up with what teachers are doing in Kindergarten? This is the question asked by preschool teachers and administrators everywhere. If it’s not, it should be.

We need to take a look at what we are doing in the preschool classroom to make sure we are truly preparing the children to go on for success in Kindergarten, especially in the area of reading.

This past week, I was at a training that had both my preschool teacher peers, and kindergarten teachers as attendees. The topic was on teaching children to read. As a preschool teacher, this had never specifically been a topic I had been trained in, though, I’ve always been interested in it.

Our focus as preschool teachers often is on letters, phonics, and exposure to print and print concepts, in order to ready children for reading.  This is not a bad thing, in fact, all of those are very helpful. The piece that’s been missing, is knowing what they are doing in kindergarten to actually start reading.

Our speaker was Pamela Grayson, a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader and Educational Consultant from Burlington, North Carolina. She has been teaching for 40 years. Her knowledge and experience got all of us thinking about some things in a way we had never thought of before.

Read to your Children

As preschool teachers, we know how important it is to read to our children. I have never heard the reason why put more clearly than this: ” children need the literary language in order to read and understand what they are reading.” By reading with children, we are  modeling reading behaviors (ie. how to hold the book, which way the cover, words, and pictures should go, which direction to turn the pages, etc.). That is not the only benefit to reading aloud with children. Children begin to hear “book language” which helps them understand what they are reading. Think of it this way, if you’ve never heard someone speak with a Southern Drawl before, it would be hard to read a book in which the characters speak in a Southern Drawl. You might not understand what it is they’re saying, and meaning would be lost.  If children have never heard language in the way books are written, it’s not going to make sense to them. We need to model the “voice” in which books are written, and children will begin to use the same voice as they mimic reading behavior, and they will have more understanding from the start when they actually begin to read.

One thing she pointed out here, was that we tend to hold the book up and to the side when we read to children. If this is how they see us read, they may think that’s how they should read. We are their models, and they will do what they see. Our speaker suggested that instead, we hold the book on our lap, read the words, then show them the pictures. To prove her point, she asked how many of us had read the Harry Potter books before seeing the movie. Many hands went up. Then she asked how many thought the “movie version” matched “our version” (that our mind created when we read it). Many hands went down. She asked why we would want to show them “the movie version” (pictures) before they have a chance to form their own version.

I can see her point, though I’m not sure I completely agree that this is a real problem for emerging readers. I have seen children hold up the book sideways, but only when they are playing teacher and “reading” to their friends. I also feel that pictures help 3 year olds make sense of the story, and that they need to see them in order to understand everything going on. I’m going to experiment a bit this school year.

Connect Children With What You’re Reading

Pam gave us the term “interactive reading.”  It’s important not only to read aloud to children, but also to help them connect with what we’re reading. One way she suggested, was to have “stopping points” throughout the story. She suggested putting sticky notes on those pages with notes to yourself with some questions to ask children and have them discuss. As preschool teachers, we tend to do this naturally. We’ll stop to define a word, or ask children questions to help them relate their experiences to what they’re listening to. Her approach is even more intentional than that. She suggests stopping for discussion/sharing several times throughout the story. I see this being very difficult with the 3 year old classes, but it certainly can be done on a smaller scale with 4-5 year olds, especially  towards the end of the school year. That said, it is helpful to know this is something they may be doing in kindergarten. We can help them be ready for such activities, by practicing discussing and sharing on various topics.

When we plan classroom activities, we plan many things that may somehow relate to our story or theme for the week. How often do we actually intentionally link those items together for the children? While demonstrating the different activities, we can easily take the extra minute to plant the seeds of ideas as to how they might use the materials to relate to the story. Pamela suggested asking children what area in the classroom they are going to choose,  what they plan to do in that area, and how they could relate it to the story. She also suggested asking them to think about what materials they might need, and help them expand their ideas some. I like the idea of pushing children’s thinking about things to a new level, and making their experiences connect to stories. That said,  I wonder if that would take away some of the creative freedom that we value in preschool as we are teaching them to independently choose areas/activities in the classroom. This is another skill that they will likely be using in Kindergarten, so giving gentle nudges is not a bad idea for preschool teachers.

The conversations we have during and after reading a story, and the activities we offer that relate to the stories we read, can help children connect with characters and stories. When they feel connected to books, they are going to want to read more. That is really our goal, to develop a love of books and reading.

This post has included two major ways we can help children develop a love of reading: by reading with children, and helping them connect with the story. In the near future, I will also write about some specifics ways we learned that we can teach children to look at letters and words to help them on the path to becoming fluent readers. I will also attempt to talk about more things we can do to help our preschoolers prepare for the types of learning they will most likely be doing in Kindergarten.

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3 thoughts on “Preparing Preschoolers for Reading

  1. Thanks for this post! As the mom of a 3-year-old, I’m very interested in this topic. We don’t have good preschools here so I’ll be doing a lot at home. Looking forward to future posts. 🙂

  2. […] training I attended on teaching kids how to read. The focus in my last post was more on how we can prepare preschoolers for reading. At the training, there were things I agreed with our speaker about, and there were things that I […]

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