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Is Your Toddler Ready to Read?

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A mother of a 2 1/2 year old told me she had heard the teachers at her son's preschool talking about "emergent literacy." She wondered whether it's something she needs to know about or cultivate.
 
Often I find that if one parent has a question like this, so do others; they just haven't found the time to ask! So what do we mean by “emergent literacy”? This is a fancy term that refers to the skills and characteristics a young child reveals indicating how much he understands about books and reading. Emergent literacy skills are often good predictors of the ease with which your child will eventually absorb early reading lessons.
 
If you have been snuggling and reading picture books to your little one regularly since she was a baby, she may well have picked up some emergent literacy skills already. Here are 11 signs you will want to look for and encourage. Your child is emergent literate if she knows the following:
 
1. A book needs to be right side up. If you hand your child a favorite picture book upside down, she will turn it so that it is correctly positioned for reading and looking at the pictures.
 
2. Each book has a title and an author. He understands what you mean when you tell him you will read a "Dr. Seuss" book tonight.
 
3. A book is opened at the front, pages are turned, and the story is read until you come to the end. She understands that the end of a book means you have finished reading it for this time around. Of course, if she loves the story, she may well ask you to "read it again!"
 
4. There is a difference between the pictures and the printed words. In addition, he realizes that the written words tell the story.
 
5. Words are read starting at the top of the page and ending at the bottom. She understands that reading isn't haphazard.
 
6. Words are read from left to right. You can demonstrate this for your child by putting your finger on each word and moving it along as you read.
 
7. Letters are familiar. This may only happen occasionally, but your child sometimes notices, for example, that a large capital letter in a book matches the first letter of his name. He would need some familiarity with the alphabet to make this connection.
 
8. There is a correspondence between a sound and a letter. For example, if you read "'Bow-wow,' said the doggie," she may realize that part of the sound of the dog's bark is represented by the big B on the page.
 
In addition, your child may do any of the following:
 
9. Enjoy "pretend" reading a picture book. He will move his finger along the words and use a sing-song intonation as he babbles, pretending to read the book. He may also point to a picture and babble about the story.
 
l0. Repeat a story she has heard many times. Most of the sequence of events will be told in the correct order.
 
11. Adopt favorite storybooks. There are certain books your child may ask you to read over and over again. He may even know which ones have several volumes with the same character in them, such as the Corduroy or Curious George books.
 
If your child displays several of these abilities, she may be well on the way to becoming an enthusiastic reader and book lover! If she doesn't, please don't worry. Continue to read and enjoy books together, and share words and letters in other ways too: through songs, ABC blocks and magnets, and most importantly through everyday conversations about the world around you.

About the Author

Alice Sterling Honig, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University. She is the author of Secure Relationships: Nurturing Infant-Toddler Attachments in Early Care Settings.

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