We know that children who have lots of experience manipulating, using, and reading books before they go to kindergarten have an advantage in reading readiness over children who don’t. That’s because children with book experience understand many print conventions already. They know that there’s a title on the cover of the book, they know the book opens from right to left, they know that the story doesn’t start on the very first page of the picture book, they know that to read we pay attention to the black squiggles on the page and we look at those lines of squiggles from left to right. Children who know all this can dive right into learning how to decode those squiggles, while children who don’t must spend time getting acclimated to what print is and how print works before they can begin to try to sound out the words on the page.
A study published earlier this year showed that teachers can make a difference in their children’s reading readiness simply by adding a few simple activities to their shared reading every week. Teachers were trained to draw their students’ attention to the print in books, by short actions such as running their finger under a few words as they read or by noticing the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters.
When we add simple print awareness activities to storytime, we are modeling to parents the ways that they too can build their children’s understanding of print, even before they begin to learn to read. One thing you can do in storytime is spend a little extra time looking at the book and cover before you begin reading it.
You might show the book to the children as usual, but after you read the title aloud, read it again, pointing to the words on the cover. You might look at the differences between the front cover and the back cover images, naming which is which. (“Look, here’s the title of the book, it’s on the front cover. I know this is the front because it has the title and because it opens this way [open the front cover from right to left]. Here’s the back. What looks different on the back?”) You can talk about the picture on the cover and ask if it looks like it tells us anything about the story. You can point out the author and illustrator’s names. You can point out the capital letters on the cover that match the initials of children in your audience. (“Oh look, here’s a letter D! Dora’s name starts with a D.”)
After you explore the cover of the book for a little bit, then tell the parents, “When you spend some time talking about the cover of a book, pointing to the words or the letters of the title, your child begins to learn to pay attention to the print as well as the pictures. Before they can read, they will need to learn that we read the words on the page and not the pictures! Talking with your child about print will help them get ready to read.”
Then go on and read your book with the children!