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How Parents Can teach Pre Reading skills

Updated on July 14, 2014


There has been a lot in the news recently about the compulsory year 1 phonics test. But whatever the debates around testing may be, the fact is parents are usually keen for their children to read and often want to make sure they have learnt pre reading skills before they go to school.

Many parents ask how they can make sure their children are ready to read? Well in this article I will share the pre reading 'essential' skills and how as parents these can easily be taught to your children.

You certainly don't need to be a teacher to do this, any parent can do it, and what's more it is fun and will provide plenty of opportunities to share quality time with your child. Right from the start try to make sure that books and reading are associated with fun and closeness, then you'll be halfway there long before your child begins school or formal learning. Lots of books are also interactive, with flaps or activities etc and they encourage children to see reading and books as an activity, something they need to engage with not just a passive activity.There really are so many quality books around it really is a privilege and a pleasure to engage babies and young children with books.

Books to interact with

Books that involve play are great to encourage engagement
Books that involve play are great to encourage engagement | Source

Before Books

Babies are born able to hear almost as well as adults unless their is a specific auditory problem. For many parents it is an automatic response to talk or sing to their babies. This is excellent as babies get used to the sound of voices, different voices and will enjoy and respond to being spoken to especially when this is accompanied by eye contact and physical touch.

Songs are great for babies and all but the very youngest will respond with smiles and coos.

Even young babies respond to funny noises or music and can be soothed by calm voices or soothing singing.

As they get older they will often take real delight in funny words and funny noises, especially when these may be associated with 'actions' being hugged or tickled for example. This may not appear to be related to reading but it is - the baby is responding to stimuli in their environment, this will be important in later reading development.

Interact with Books

Activity books with flaps or buttons encourage interaction
Activity books with flaps or buttons encourage interaction | Source

Early Stories

Children love stories and quite small children will enjoy being cuddled by an adult they love while listening to a story. Don't make the mistake of thinking that all stories need to be from books. Try just making them up. Often they love hearing about things they have done but maybe with a bit of adventure added or something funny. 'Once upon a time a little boy/girl called (childs name) went to the park but when thy were there a dinosaur appeared in the field nearby and all the children ran away. Luckily (child's name) was able to zap the dinosaur with his very special dinosaur zapper.

The plot isn't so crucial they enjoy hearing their own name and being the hero or heroine of the story. Change the scenario or details to suit the child and their preferences and age. Add in a few funny noises and it's sure to be a winner.

Another idea is to tell them a story they know and get it wrong, again no need for the book but choose a story they know. So for example for three Billy Goats story try starting with 'Once upon a time there were three elephants in field on a hill'. Obviously for this to work they to have to know the story but young children usually like to repeat stories so often they do know them well.

Children will continue to love these stories even when they can also enjoy books. Use times when you are waiting or travelling - in the photo we were on an train but you can tell the little chap is concentrating on the story - and no book was involved!

Stories can transfix

Stories, with or without books can absorb children
Stories, with or without books can absorb children | Source


When young children are first enjoying books make sure they are age appropriate and the most important thing is that they enjoy the experience. Let them turn the pages, handle the book and enjoy it so choose a book that is not too precious. Yes you want to teach them to respect books but if they enjoy stories they will. What you don't want to do is put them off books and reading by having them associating stories with lots of 'no'!

When you have the book, read the story and often they will want it repeated, several times, encourage them to look for detail on the page. Can you see a spider? Don't let it be a problem if they can't just point it out, but soon they will love to find things.

Even the very first books which may have no words are great for teaching them the culture of books, we read left to right, we open books on the right etc. They will also learn that the pictures are related to the text, if there is any, or at least to the story that you are telling by simply talking about the pictures.

These are important skills for later. As they grow encourage them to predict what they think will happen next - another really good skill when it comes to later reading.

Books with Detail

Encourage children to look for detail on the page
Encourage children to look for detail on the page | Source


Long before children start to read or are faced with learning letters (pictures of sounds) encourage them to think about the sounds they are hearing. Bees that buzz, the noise cars make, the noise a dog makes. This all helps when they hear sounds that are in words. As they become adept at knowing that a dog goes woof and a duck goes quack then get them to think about the sounds in the word 'dog' d-o-g they don't even need to see the word just get them hearing the sounds and repeating it 'd-o-g' 'dog' and so for any three sound CVC (consonant vowel consonant) word.

You can certainly do it with other words but this is a good place to start. so dog, cat, rat, mat, tap, bag. sad, pad, etc make sure you only use words where each individual letter makes a sound, so stay clear of 'cow' which only has 2 sounds 'c' and 'ow'.

It's most helpful just to think about sounds not letter names - that can come a lot later.

It can also be good to have fun with continuums - sounds you can hang on to like 's' 'f' and 'm' for example it's a great way to get children to recognise the first or last sound in a word 'ssssssip' or 'hammm' and of course 'mum' try it yourself they are simply sounds you can hang on to whereas others like 'c' or 'd' you just can't.

Books that use different senses

Encourage children to feel the different textures glittery wings in this case
Encourage children to feel the different textures glittery wings in this case | Source

What About You?

Of course as with most skills children will model what they see. So is you are a parent make sure they see you reading. Books magazines or newspapers, hard copies or on the kindle or smart phone. Get them involved WITH you. new technology can be great for encouraging interaction with stories. Like anything it shouldn't be overused but technology can definitely be useful.

If your little ones see you reading tell them you are enjoying a story or the news show them the difference between a picture or text and when they are ready show them some of the words.

Also tell them about your favourite stories, if you enjoyed them the chances are they will too.

Using Senses

Books that encourage use of different senses are good. For example books that have textured parts they can feel, or books that make a noise when pressed etc. are really good to encourage a multi sensory approach.

As they get older, when they can talk and enjoy stories and 'sounds' the next step is to get them to recognise the pictures of sounds so a 's' which makes the 's' in 'sat'.

But don't rush to get them writing it. Try making 's' with playdough, getting them to trace over a large S with their finger while going sssss.

Or use a tray of flour or sand and try making the letter with you finger then encouraging them to copy. Try to get them simply to associate the look of the letter (sound picture) with the sound so don't bombard them with too many. Start with just a few and don't move on till they gain some confidence with them. You can still keep practicing sounds in words without them writing them.


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