Helping A Child Learn to Read — 4 to 6 years old

Children in the four- to six-year old age bracket are ready to engage with the language they have learned so far. They can learn words at an amazing rate. Providing them with a language-rich environment is important. But probably the most important factor is the child’s interaction with you the parent. Children at this age are still primarily tuned into their parents. They copy them and are anxious to please them (although I admit sometimes it doesn’t seem like it!). Here are some practical tips to increase their ability to understand and use words.

1. Engage your child in conversation. Researchers Minda Tessler and Katherine Nelson showed that children remembered an experience better if the parent engaged in natural conversations with their child. The children who remembered the most had mothers who expanded on what they were seeing, reminded the child of something similar the child had seen before, and most importantly, engaged the child in mutual conversation. Astoundingly, children who were not engaged in mutual conversations remembered nothing about the exhibits they visited.

2. Be an “elaborative” talker. “Elaborative” talkers describe what is happening, how things look, feel, taste, and smell. They draw comparisons between past experiences and what is happening right now. This important factor in building vocabulary increases a child’s exposure to words. Children will imitate their parents’ use of language. You will be the example for language usage so talk with your child. Describe what you see, hear, taste, and smell. Compare the dog you pass during your walk to your own. “See that brown dog by the white fence? It looks bigger than Fido. Listen to it bark! It sure is loud.

3. Go on outings. When expanding your child’s vocabulary, it is helpful to share and talk about new experiences. Visit the zoo, a museum, a park, or a fair. Go for an ice cream or another favorite treat. “Elephants sure have an interesting nose, don’t they? An elephant’s nose is called a trunk. Can you hold this peanut for him to eat? Wow! Look at that! He took that little peanut right out of your hand! Did you feel the trunk? Was it soft? Did it feel like my leather purse?” Remember to pause for the child to respond after asking questions.

4. Visit the library regularly. Go to Story Hours. Allow your child to pick out three books for you to read to him. As he grows in his language skills during these two years, he may well be able to read quite a bit for himself. Pick a chapter book to read at a specified time each day as well. Listening to you read is one of the best ways for a child to learn vocabulary.

5. Have your child tell you stories. Make a game of learning to tell stories. Story telling is important because it helps a child learn how to better communicate. You can start a game of story telling by saying – “Let’s each tell a story. I’ll go first and then you tell me one.” Tell a short portion of your story and then have your child start his story. Trade back and forth until you reach the end. Make the stories you tell follow the guidelines of fairy tales. “A long time ago and far, far away…and they lived happily ever after. The End.” This approach will feel familiar to the child since many of the stories written for this age group have a similar approach. After your child is comfortable with this style of story telling, you can introduce other beginnings and endings. Another fun, and often funny, way to play story telling is to have the second person continue the first person’s story after the first few sentences. Switch back and forth like before but continue using one story line.

You can give your child a great start for learning language and understanding the world. The ideas above will help you. Have a wonderful time helping your child to grow!

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