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pre-reading skills

Why read aloud?

When reading aloud, you are giving your child a gift of your undivided attention, adding a peaceful moment to your stressful schedule, opening doors to a world of possibilities, and setting the stage for a lifelong love of learning. You are also giving your child essential pre-reading skills. As you read aloud to your child, each of these vital skills will slip into your child's knowledge. See the Pre-Reading Skills Booklists page for titles that focus on the individual skills described below.

Emergent Literacy

Emergent literacy is what children know about reading and writing before they can actually read or write. Emergent literacy skills are the building blocks of reading and writing. From birth through the preschool years, children develop knowledge of spoken language, the sounds that form words, letters, writing, and books. Children need this knowledge to be able to learn to read and write later in life.


Your child's vocabulary is the collection of words he or she can understand. There is a direct correlation between the size and richness of kindergartners' vocabularies and their school success. Books will introduce more than three times the number of words to your child than television and everyday conversation. After all, when was the last time you turned to someone and used the words "exclaimed" or "replied" in a sentence?

Print Awareness

Print awareness is the knowledge that the print on a page is what is being read by someone who knows how to read. Print awareness is also the understanding that a written language follows basic rules. In English, these rules include text flowing from top to bottom and left to right. A child who is beginning to acquire this skill might point to words on the page while a caregiver is reading a story.

Narrative Skills

Narrative skills include being able to understand and tell stories and being able to describe things. A child with this skill can explain what he or she did at the zoo or retell a book you read together.

Letter Knowledge

Letter knowledge is understanding that letters are different from each other—that each letter has a name and its own sound. Learning the alphabet is most important, yet activities like finding certain letters in signs and words or playing with magnetic letters can also encourage letter knowledge.

Print Motivation

Print motivation is a child's interest in and enjoyment of books. A child with good print motivation enjoys being read to, pretends to read and write, and likes trips to the library and bookstore.

Phonological Sensitivity

Phonological sensitivity is the ability to hear and manipulate the smaller sounds in words. This understanding helps children break the code between written language and spoken language. Examples of phonological sensitivity are the ability to tell if words rhyme, the ability to put two words together to make one word ("cow" + "boy"), and the ability to say words with sounds or parts left out (what is bat without the "buh" sound?). When a child makes up silly words by changing a part or sound, such as saying: "milk," "nilk," "pilk," "rilk," etc., he or she shows the beginnings of phonological sensitivity. Build this skill by reading stories that rhyme to your child.

Dialogic Reading

Dialogic reading will enhance many pre-reading skills in your reader-to-be. It will expand your child's vocabulary. As you encounter new words together, you can talk about them. Take clues from the page, and make a game of figuring them out. It will enhance narrative skills. Let your toddler finish "reading" the story. Ask him or her what the characters might do after the story is over. Have your child try out all those new words! It will encourage print motivation. Books are fun! There is always something new you can do with the book each time you read it.

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