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Partner with Your Child's Preschool to Promote Literacy

Teamwork between parents and teachers is essential to get your child ready to read.

Parents and teachers working together.
Parents and teachers working together.

At home and in preschool, the best way to develop pre-reading skills is through fun and games. Here's how to start your child off right.

Connect With the Teacher
Get Involved in School
Things to Do at Home

Connect with the Teacher
Do you need an appointment or is there an open-door policy? "I'm always there to talk when parents drop off and pick up kids, and I encourage them to come into the classroom to look at projects," says Marcia Levy, a teacher of 4 year olds at the Sarah Lawrence Early Childhood Center in Bronxville, New York.

Share any concerns you have with your child's teacher. Keep in mind that speech and language delays can be a red flag for future reading problems.

Questions to ask:

  • Is my child on track with speech, socialization, and fine and gross motor skills?
  • Does he show precursors for reading problems, such as significant trouble pronouncing words, following directions, remembering nursery rhymes, or learning numbers, ABCs, or days of the week? If so, how can we help?

What to do if there's a problem:

  • First, have your pediatrician do a thorough medical checkup to rule out hearing or vision problems or other health-related issues that could be impacting learning.
  • If you still sense something’s wrong, have your child tested for speech and language and learning delays. By Federal law, all 3- and 4-year-olds are entitled to a free educational evaluation to determine whether early-intervention services, such as speech and language therapy, are necessary. Contact your local school district’s committee on preschool special education for more information.

Get Involved in School
"I hope that parents will spend at least one day a year in the classroom," says Levy. Volunteering to read a story or assist with a craft enables you to observe your child's progress and the playful techniques the teacher uses.

"My daughter's school has a program where parents volunteer to work with kids one-on-one on letter sounds," says Liane Hetherington-Ward of Homer Glen, Illinois. "My daughter loves it when she gets to do sounds with somebody's mommy or daddy, and I like that she gets the individual attention."

Things to Do at Home

  • Talk, talk, talk: "Have lots of conversations with kids," says Levy. "Encourage and answer questions, and validate curiosity by saying, 'That's a good question!'" Tell about your day, and ask specific questions about his, such as, "What story did your teacher read today?" or "What colors did you paint with?"

  • Tell stories as you play: When building with blocks, for example, ask your child to tell you a story about what he's making. "This develops narrative skills and understanding of sequencing," explains Julie Oudin, a former preschool teacher who is now a special-needs consultant for the Jewish Community Center Preschools of Houston.

  • Take dictation. Type up and print your preschooler's stories on the computer. Or make a photo album of a favorite event and let your child dictate the captions. "This teaches how oral and written words correspond," says Oudin, who suggests kids share their creations with the class.

  • Make time to rhyme. Read plenty of Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose (see our booklist for more ideas). Rhymes and repetitive refrains draw children's attention to the consonant sounds at the beginnings and ends of words, making it easier for them to learn letter sounds and break down words phonetically later on in kindergarten and the early grades. "Singing is an important part of preschool literacy, too, emphasizes Levy, "because it builds memory, vocabulary, and the ability to follow directions and switch sounds around." Clap and stomp to "Bingo," "Willoughby Wallaby Woo," and "Apples and Bananas," and ask your child to teach you new songs she's learned at school.

  • Surround kids with books: Preschoolers are ready for longer picture books with detailed plots and illustrations. But your child will still want to hear books from babyhood, along with stories on real-life themes like starting school or welcoming a new sibling. Follow along with your finger as you read, to show how text moves from left to right. Stop and point out words and letters. Spark prediction skills and critical thinking by asking questions like, "What do you think will happen?" or "Why do you think he did that?" And "as soon as your preschooler can write his name, get him a library card," advises Barbara Genco, President of the Association for Library Service for Children. "This helps children identify themselves as readers — even if they can't yet read on their own."

Parent's Tip
“I buy a book for my daughter’s classroom every year,” says Liane Hetherington-Ward of Homer Glen, Illinois. “She gets so excited seeing the bookplate that says she donated it! I also call the teacher once a month and ask how my daughter is doing and whether there’s anything I can do to help.”

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