Best preparation for school and learning to read

My sister is a Speech Pathologist. With school starting, she had a message for parents. No one teaches you this stuff – when it comes to.parenting we have a baby and we do the best we can and know. This message won’t be relevant to everyone given we have a community where there may be those who have speech and language impairments that are neurological. But for others it might help increase awareness of how to develop language and prepare your child for school.

“Screening Kindergarten for speech/language and school readiness. Parents, please be aware that language underlies every area of the school curriculum. An important indicator of being ready for school is your child’s ability to tell a well sequenced oral story/recount e.g. your day at the zoo/Park.

Talk to them!! And not just directive language like “Get your shoes” but stories, descriptions, problem solving. Before Kindy, your child should have basic sound awareness as this is a CRUCIAL skill for being ready to learn to read and spell. They should be able to clap out syllables in words, know rhyming words and be able to identify words that rhyme, and be able to identify the first sound in words- or developing this skill. This will increase phonemic awareness in readiness for learning to read and understanding literacy concepts”

I remember when my son was young and this same sister was telling me engage more, play games and encourage vocabulary development. Yes, what a great idea! Only how exactly do you go about doing this stuff when you’re super busy and don’t really know where to start and what to do? Or a lot of money to spend on resources.

With her help, I tried my best to engage with my son so that we had some phonemic awareness in his early years. Some of the games we used to play were just as much about having fun together as they were about teaching moments.

Here are some anecdotal suggestions that might work for you.

  • Bathtime play – draw pretend pictures in the air or on their back when they’re playing in the bath and give them lots of oral hints so they listen to letter sounds. So you might draw the shape of a lion and air draw a letter “l” where they can see it and then say “okay, this is an animal that has yellowy fur, the boys have a mane and it starts with the letter “l” that sounds like (sound it out). Then maybe do a roar. Once they get it, make them repeat the “l” sound at the beginning of the word and see if there are some other words that they might know that start with that letter. You can also increase vocabulary and general knowledge by talking about where they live and what they like to eat etc.
  • If you have the time, look up some cartoon images, print them off, get some paper and make up some stories about the characters in your own book. Try for some really goofy ones that inspire the imagination. It can be as silly as you like. We found some monster ones and gave them names like “Farticus” (lives in your underpants and makes some very bad smells when he’s in a bad mood), and Flug. Flug lives in the bath drain and makes some very funny noises when the water drains. He’s called Flug because he rhymes with “glug”, the sound the water makes. This introduces the concept of rhyming. What other words rhyme with glug? Be as creative as you like, and make up as many stories as you want. You can even make up some characters that might help with anxiety. Worrywart Wally who gets very worried about things but finds out most of the time everything is okay! What strategies does he use to help when he’s worried? There are lots of uses for this activity and literacy is just one of them!
  • Lots of reading to your child. This will be easier with some than others. Even if your child doesn’t sit down to read, it’s okay if they play or fiddle with something else when you’re reading, so long as they are still listening. Engaging in asking questions and being curious about the illustrations can encourage the use of language.
  • Playing games in the car like Eye Spy will encourage kids to think about the letter sound when trying to answer. As always, the sillier the better. Whatever keeps them engaged and entertained and laughing.
  • Playing card games like snap with illustrated cards. You can extend the rules so you snap on pictures with the same colour or names that start with the same letter. Eg farm animal snap. Snap on the ones that look the same or ones that start with the same letter sound like Donkey and Dog. You can also play Match with the same idea. Moves faster when there is more than one “match”! We have some products here that might help: Snap Cards Set of Four and Rhyming Words Snap
  • If you have more than one child you can play a game where one of them has to make a noise like an animal or object starting with that letter. Eg “G’ might be a gorilla, “D” might be a dog. But you can be as creative as you like. “V” might be “vacuum”. Throw as many hints out as you like, the idea is to encourage letter sounds. The sillier the more fun it is! As kids get older and understand the basics you can introduce letter combinations like “sn” for “snore” or “sl” for sleeping. Just as an aside, we have some educational charts that illustrate the combinations and you can use those for inspiration if it helps! Blending Consonants are Fun Wall Poster and Blending Consonants Dominoes
  • Sing lots of songs – there are some phonemic awareness songs that you can download, but you can also make up lots of silly songs too. This is a fun way to introduce rhyming as well. We used to make up songs for bathtime. reading time, and bedtime. The sillier the better.

There is some further information on why phonemic awareness is important when learning language and learning to read. A more in depth research article about this is here:

The Importance of Phonemic Awareness in Learning to Read – SEDL Letter, Putting Reading First, Volume XIV, Number 3, December 2002

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