Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Using Many Senses to Help Beginning Readers

Anyone who has walked down a grocery store aisle behind a mother a a small child has heard a future reader proudly singing "The Alphabet Song." (For more information about this classic, visit .

This familiar tune has helped thousands of children learn the names of letters in the English alphabet. The song is an easy teaching tool for parents, grandparents, and other relatives. It is a good beginning, but just a beginning.

We, as adults, seldom remember the process of learning to read, but we do remember the frightening days when we were learning to drive. Learning the names of the letters is like examining the steering wheel, the pedals, and the gauges in a car.

Reading, like driving, is a complicated process. Little children must learn not only the names of letters, but also the symbols associated with those letter names, and the sounds associated with the symbols. They must learn to listen to words in a new way, and to recognize individual sounds in those words.

The alphabet song is important, but so are other activities. If your child is to be a good reader, he must first have a strong working vocabulary. How can he recognize words in print if he has never heard them?

Begin by listening to him, and talking to him. Teach him the names of things wherever you go. Encourage him to learn action words, too, such as walk, run, play, laugh, sing, talk, throw, toss, eat, and clap.

A reader must be able to recognize similarities and differences. Take a look, for example, at the letters p, d, b, and q. They are similar in many ways, aren't they, but they are also different. Telling symbols apart is a visual skill. Drawing, coloring, cutting, and pasting aren't just creative activities for small children. Those delightful occupations are also vital steps in learning to read.

Because recognizing visual similarities and differences is so important, sorting things out is a task that is both enjoyable and educational. Puzzles and blocks are tools which allow children to explore the attributes of shape and form.

You will find more suggestions for helping early readers in my book ABC, Follow Me! Phonics Rhymes and Crafts. It is listed as a resource for grades K-1, but preschool parents and teachers will find it very helpful.