Developing early literacy skills does not mean teaching an under five year old to read. Early literacy skills involve reading and talking to your child and (possibly) teaching letter sounds.
SPEAKING TO BABIES/TODDLERS TO DEVELOP VOCABULARY
One of the greatest indicators of a child’s reading success in later grades (third grade and beyond) is the robustness of his vocabulary. Initially, a child learns vocabulary by listening to his parents speak to him. Talking to infants helps them grasp the grammar rules and speech sounds of the language. Differences in receptive vocabulary emerge as early as 18 months of age (the key is receptive vocabulary or listening vocabulary, as most children can’t yet articulate well at this age).
By age three, children of parents who spoke to them frequently know thirty million more words, and this difference compounds over the years. Yes, that’s right, thirty million! Check out the study: The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3 by Betty Hart and Todd Risley (1995). Birth to three is a magical, ephemeral window for language development. In this age range, a parent can develop early literacy skills by speaking to her child.
TEACHING VOCABULARY TO AUTISTIC CHILDREN
Of course, if the child is autistic, language acquisition is very different. Specialists must be brought in to teach the child systematic language, encourage the child to say phonemes (the smallest sound units), and possibly even begin teaching letter sounds early just to encourage proper articulation. Nonverbal autistic children can benefit from deliberate language instruction, the type in which words/phrases are taught repeatedly, in isolated contexts and then extended outward to the real world. In sum, in autistic children vocabulary development instruction must be deliberate, repetitive and systematic.
As a child’s speech becomes more sophisticated, he learns new vocabulary words by listening to his caregiver read well-written books. Great children’s books use high vocabulary words and complex syntactic structures not often found in speech. Did you know reading a single well-written book to your child can improve his expressive vocabulary (Scarborough, 1998)? Steer clear of books that are full of phrases like, “He was having a wonderful day!” Authors that use these boring words do not develop children’s vocabularies. Read great authors.
TEACHING VOCABULARY TO DYSLEXIC CHILDREN
If a child is dyslexic, it is crucial to read him well-written books, since once he is in school, he’ll likely read low-level books longer than his peers. Once children learn how to read, there is a profound, major shift in vocabulary acquisition: instead of learning new words by listening, children begin to learn new words by reading. If you have a dyslexic child, read aloud to him so he can learn new vocabulary words. So he’s stuck on “the cat sat”–read to him the I Survived series.
TEACHING LETTER SOUNDS TO DYSLEXIC CHILDREN
Besides, vocabulary development, teaching letter sounds can also be helpful. About 30% of children will get mixed up between letter names and letter sounds. Since letter names are nearly useless—think about it: the sole purpose of letter NAMES is to spell OUT-LOUD to another person—many children benefit from NOT learning letter names. A dyslexic child or struggling reader can get letter names and sounds mixed up for months, beginning a long delay in reading that takes years to correct. To troubleshoot this potential problem, simply focus on letter sounds. Begin stringing sounds together, and you’ll be amazed to watch your child read short vowel words.
BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR VOCABULARY DEVELOPMENT
To find well-written books, follow my Best Read Aloud Children’s Books posts.
Reading Elephant offers printable phonics books.