Get Children Ready to Read: Four and Five-Year-Olds


“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. This is especially so during the preschool years.” – From Becoming a Nation of Readers

Six pre-reading skills your child can start learning from birth!

Vocabulary – Learn new words

Learning words begins at birth and grows throughout a child’s life. Most children start school knowing between 3,000 and 5,000 words.

  • Talk with your child about what is going on around you. Talk about how things work, feelings and ideas.
  • When your child talks with you, add more detail to what she says.
  • Speak in the language that is most comfortable for you.
  • Read together every day. When you talk about the story and pictures, your child hears and learns more words.
  • Learn together by reading some true books on subjects that your child likes.
  • Research shows that children who have larger vocabularies are better readers. Knowing many words helps children recognize written words and understand what they read.

Print Motivation – Love of books

  • Make book-sharing time a special time for closeness between you and your child.
  • Let your child see you reading.
  • Visit your public library often.
  • Children who enjoy books will want to learn how to read.

Print Awareness – Use books

  • Read aloud everyday print — labels, signs, lists, menus. Print is everywhere!
  • Point to some of the words as you say them, especially words that are repeated.
  • Let your child turn the pages.
  • Let your child hold the book and read or tell the story.
  • Hold the book upside down. See if your child turns the book around.
  • Being familiar with printed language helps children feel comfortable with books and understand that print is useful.

Narrative Skills – Tell a story

  • Listen to your child carefully when he talks.
  • Ask your child to tell you about something that happened. Let him tell you about a picture he drew.
  • Share books together.
  • Stories help children understand that things happen in order — first, next, last.
  • Read a book together that your child already knows. Switch what you do. You be the listener and let your child tell you the story.
  • Ask “what” questions. Point to a picture and say, “What’s that?” or “What is happening here?”
  • Add to what your child says. If your child says, “big truck” then you say, “Yes, a big red fire truck.”
  • Ask open-ended questions like, “What do you think is happening in this picture?”
  • Help your child relate what is happening in the story to her own experience, for example, “What happened when we went on a picnic?”
  • Being able to tell or retell a story helps children understand what they read.

Phonological Awareness – Hear and make sounds

Most children who have an understanding of phonological awareness have an easier time learning to read. Help your pre-reader become aware of the smaller sounds that make up words.

  • Ask whether two words rhyme: “Do ‘cat’ and ‘dog’ rhyme?” “Do ‘cat’ and ‘hat’ rhyme?”
  • Say words with word chunks left out: “What word would we have if you took the ‘hot’ away from ‘hotdog’?”
  • Put two word chunks together to make a word: “What word would we have if we put ‘cow’ and ‘boy’ together?”
  • Say words with sounds left out: “What word would we have if we took the ‘buh’ sound away from ‘bat’?”
  • Say rhymes and make up your own silly, nonsense rhymes together.
  • Sing songs. Songs have different notes for each syllable in a word.
  • Read some poetry together. Make up short poems together. Say the words that rhyme.
  • Say rhymes and sing songs in the language most comfortable for you.
  • Most children who have difficulty reading have trouble with phonological awareness.

Letter Knowledge – See and know letters

  • Write your child’s name.
  • Make letters from clay or use magnetic letters.
  • Point out and name letters when reading alphabet books, signs or labels.
  • Show your child that the same letter can look different.
  • Write words that interest your child (like “dinosaur” or “truck”) using crayons, magnetic letters or pencil and paper.
  • Knowing the names and sounds of letters helps children figure out how to say written words.

Have Fun!

The Early Literacy Initiative
A partnership among the Public Library Association, the Association for Library Service to Children and the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development

This information created by Dr. Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Leading Professor of Psychology, State University of New York and Dr. Christopher Lonigan, Associate Professor of Psychology, Florida State University.

Funding provided by the Public Library Association (PLA) and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), divisions of the American Library Association. Spring 2001
© copyright 2004 -- PLA/ALSC, divisions of the American Library Association
50 E. Huron, Chicago, IL 60611

Early Literacy:
Get Children Ready to Read

   Birth to Two
   Two and Three
   Four and Five

What's New in Picture Books?

What Children Like in Books

Early Literacy Resources

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