Prepare Children for Reading Success at School 

By Sharon Darling, founder and president of the National Center for Family Literacy TX 

Sharon Darling
Question: How can parents prepare their children for reading success at school?

Answer: Parents know that reading is important for school success. Sometimes, though, parents don’t know the process of learning to read or how to help their child make this reading voyage. Learn how parents can help their children achieve reading success during various stages in life with these time-tested tips.

Infants and Toddlers
Children crawl before they walk; they learn language before they read. Talking sets the stage for language development. Even though your child may not understand the words she hears, she’s storing up the sounds of language for the day she’ll put the sounds and words together and say them herself.

Start developing book habits early. Infants and toddlers often just want to chew on a book; mouthing and exploring are important book behaviors for very young children. Read to your infant or toddler until he is bored, then put the book away for another time. As your toddler becomes more interested in books, let him make more book choices, hold the book, and turn the pages. Make these book times pleasurable and fun.

Preschoolers and Kindergartners
Preschoolers and kindergartners like to have fun with language. They like silly rhymes and verses, singing a song, dancing, and sharing a story through finger play. These are ways they develop language and literacy skills.

Children at this age are learning more about letters, print and books. They know many letters of the alphabet. They begin to match letters to their sounds, which is important for learning to read.

Many preschool children will pretend to read books, telling the story as they turn the pages, look at the pictures and identify some print on the page. They learn that print in books moves from left to right. Kindergarten children are getting better at matching letters to sounds and know many words from sight.

School Age
Around the third or fourth grade, children are no longer learning to read, but reading to learn. Comprehension becomes important to all school experiences. This is why children should be good readers by the end of third grade.

The early primary grades are key years for building good reading skills. School-age children need to learn and explore new words to develop the vocabulary they need to comprehend what they read. They need not only to hear, play with, and manipulate the sounds in words, but also to match those sounds to print. Phonics, spelling and writing become important in the reading process.

Middle and High School
During the middle and high school years, reading for pleasure may not be important, and reading for school may be a chore. However, reading is still important to children’s school life and critical to their future success. The more they read, the better their fluency and comprehension. The better their comprehension, the more successful they are in school. Capitalizing on adolescents’ goals and interests is one way to keep them reading.

Whatever your children’s ages, it is important to talk to your children often, read to and with them, and support them throughout their school years. 

Written by the National Center for Family Literacy

About Our Guest Columnist: 
Do you have a question about reading and literacy? Just Ask Sharon. Sharon Darling is the founder and president of the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), the worldwide leader in family literacy. A leading force for literacy and reading, Darling serves on the boards of numerous national and international organizations. Among her many honors are the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism, Johns Hopkins University (1998), and the Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Education (1996). More than one million families have made positive educational and economic gains as a result of NCFL’s work, which includes training for more than 150,000 teachers and thousands of volunteers. For more information about Sharon and the National Center for Family Literacy, please visit
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