Handbook of Language and Literacy Development - a Roadmap from 0 to 60 Months

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parent tips

Prereading Development (0-60 Months)click to print Print
Research Review / Parent

Written by: Heather Sample Gosse, University of Oklahoma

Three kinds of tips are provided to help you learn the ways to read with young children, d on ways to focus on print with young children, and on how to pick out books for young children.

Tips for Reading with Young Children

Tips for Focusing on Print with Young Children

See the next section for tips on picking out books for young children!

Tips on Picking Books for Young Children

Parents and caregivers often have many questions about how to select high-quality books for young children. What is considered to be a high-quality book will change as a child grows. Consider asking yourself the following questions when picking a book for a young child.

1. What is the book made of?

Books are may be made from heavy cardboard, vinyl, or paper.

Heavy cardboard books are referred to as board books and are ideal for babies and toddlers who lack sufficient fine motor control to avoid crinkling and tearing paper pages, or who may wish to chew on the books!

Vinyl books, which are also known as bath books, will withstand water and soiling.

Paper books come with either soft covers, which are light and travel easily, or hard covers, which are more durable.

2. What is the topic?

Topics should be age-appropriate as well as interesting to the child. Most children enjoy stories describing an adventure or fantasy, stories about pets or animals, and stories that describe a familiar experience (e.g., learning to share with playmates).

Concept books are also popular with young children. These are books that emphasize alphabet letters, counting or numbers, colors, shapes, and opposites (e.g., hot/cold, up/down, open/closed).

Informational texts are increasingly being developed for young children to expose them early to this type of book, which is important for learning new information. For young children, informational texts on such topics as dinosaurs, puppies, weather, and transportation might be enjoyable.

Young children should be exposed to a variety of books, including traditional stories, rhyming books, alphabet books, picture dictionaries, and informational books.

3. How much print is on each page?

While many children's books are approximately 32 pages in length for publishing purposes, they vary a great deal in the quantity and complexity of the text.

Quantity of text refers to the number of words and sentences while complexity refers to the type and difficulty of the sentences. Both quantity and complexity should be considered when picking a book to read with a young child.

Longer text will require a longer reading session, which may not be suitable for a young child's attention span. Text that is more complex may be more difficult for a child to understand and thus may not be suitable for a child whose language skills are underdeveloped or delayed.

Note that some books do not provide any text. These books have been called "wordless picture books" and some evidence suggests that they may encourage storytelling and discussion.

4. What words are used?

The words used in the book will be closely linked to its topic. Typically a child will gain from a reading experience when he or she understands at least 90% of the words in the text.

Too many words in the text that a child does not understand will take away from both understanding and enjoyment. Including some words that are new is important and provides a way for the child to learn the meaning of new words. The concepts or new words can be discussed prior to, during, or after the reading session.

Choose some books that focus on sounds. For example, the Dr. Seuss books can lead to lots of chanting and fun with sounds. Research has shown that attending to the sounds in words is a critical early reading skill - plus it's simply fun!

After the same book has been enjoyed a few times, the child can be invited to supply the last word of each rhyme or the reader can follow the model the book provides and make some silly rhymes that are special for each child.

5. How is the book illustrated?

The illustrations of a book sustain children's interest in the story and enhance their understanding of the story events. Choose books with attractive, colourful, and realistic illustrations whenever possible.

Some books have illustrations that invite children's active participation and promote turn taking. Such features may include flaps to lift for revealing words or pictures, tabs to pull for activating movement in the illustration, buttons to push for producing sounds or lights, and various textures to touch or feel that represent concepts in the book. Allowing children to lift flaps, pull tabs, push buttons, and touch and feel various parts of a book are important ways to entice children who may be reticent or reluctant to participate in reading sessions.

Please Note: These questions can be used to select books from a variety of sources. When buying books, look at traditional bookstores but also don't be afraid to check out the selection at supermarkets and grocery store chains. Use your local library as a source of children's books. It is a great place to experiment and see what types of books your child likes. The librarian will be able to provide book suggestions. The answers to the five questions just asked can also be used to provide helpful guidance to family and friends who may consider buying books as gifts for a child. For example, a parent could tell grandparents and aunts and uncles (depending on the child's age) that board books about animals and vehicles with only a small amount of print on each page and colourful illustrations are preferred and most helpful at the child's current age.

There is a wonderful world of children's books out there to explore. Enjoy!

Sample Gosse, H. (2008). TIPS for Parents and Caregivers on Prereading Development (0-60 Month). In L.M. Phillips (Ed.), Handbook of language and literacy development: A Roadmap from 0 - 60 Months. [online], pp. 1 - 7. London, ON: Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. Available at: Handbook of language and literacy development