Children's Books for Parents and Teachers - book reviews and suggestions for parents and teachers.

How to Succeed

Years of research show clearly that children are more likely to succeed in learning when their families actively support them. When you and other family members read with your children, help them with homework, talk with their teachers, and participate in school or other learning activities, you give your children a tremendous advantage.

Other than helping your children to grow up healthy and happy, the most important thing that you can do for them is to help them develop their reading skills. It is no exaggeration to say that how well children learn to read affects directly not only how successful they are in school but how well they do throughout their lives. When children learn to read, they have the key that opens the door to all the knowledge of the world. Without this key, many children are left behind.

Childlike drawing of a mother sitting akimbo and reading to a small child.At the heart of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is a promise to raise standards for all children and to help all children meet those standards. To help meet this goal, the President is committed to supporting and promoting the very best teaching programs, especially those that teach young people how to read. Well-trained reading teachers and reading instruction that is based on research can bring the best teaching approaches and programs to all children and so help to ensure that “no child is left behind”. However, the foundation for learning to read is in place long before children enter school and begin formal reading instruction. You and your family help to create this foundation by talking, listening, and reading to your children every day and by showing them that you value, use, and enjoy reading in your lives.

This booklet includes activities for families with children from infancy through age 6. Most of the activities make learning experiences out of the everyday routines in which you and your children participate. Most use materials that are found in your home or that can be had free-of-charge from your local library. The activities are designed to be fun for both you and your children as you help them to gain the skills they need to become readers. Enjoy them!

You could say that your baby starts on the road to becoming a reader on the day she is born and first hears the sounds of your voice. Every time you speak to her, sing to her, and respond to the sounds that she makes, you strengthen your child’s understanding of language. With you to guide her, she is well on her way to becoming a reader.

To understand the connection between a child’s early experiences with spoken language and learning to read, you might think of language as a four-legged stool. The four legs are talking, listening, reading, and writing. All four legs are important; each leg helps to support and balance the others.

This booklet gives you information about how you can use your language skills to build your child’s skills. It offers suggestions about how you can:

  • Talk with and listen to your child.
  • Read together with her.
  • Help your child learn about books and print.
  • Encourage your child’s early writing efforts.
  • Help your child learn to read if his first language is not English.
  • Prepare your child for success in school.

The major portion of the booklet contains activities that you can use with your child to strengthen her language skills and encourage her love of reading. However, these activities are only a starting point. We hope that you and your child will enjoy them enough to create and try many more on your own. As a parent, you are your child’s first and most important teacher. You don’t need to be the best reader to help—your time and interest and the pleasure that you share with your child as part of reading together are what counts. If you would like more information about helping your child with reading, this booklet also provides lists of books and Web sites and the names of groups that you can contact.

We all know that older children can do things that younger ones can’t. This is true for reading, too. To help show when children can take certain learning steps, this booklet ties the discussion and activities to four age groups:

  • Baby = birth to 1 year
  • Toddler = 1 to 3 years
  • Preschooler = ages 3 and 4
  • Kindergartner/early first-grader = ages 5 and 6

Keep in mind, however, that children don’t all learn at the same pace. And even though they learn new things, they may have “old favorites”—books and activities from earlier years—that they still enjoy. You are the best person to decide which activities will work best for your child.

Children become readers step by step. By age 7, most children are reading. Some take longer than others, and some need extra help. When children receive the right kind of help in their early years, reading difficulties that can arise later in their lives can be prevented. This booklet offers steps that you can take to start your child on the way to becoming a successful reader. It is an adventure that you will not want to miss, and the benefits for your child will last a lifetime.

Every step a child takes toward learning to read leads to another. Bit by bit, the child builds the knowledge that is necessary for being a reader. Over their first 6 years, most children

  • Talk and listen.
  • Listen to stories read aloud.
  • Pretend to read.
  • Learn how to handle books.
  • Learn about print and how it works.
  • Identify letters by name and shape.
  • Identify separate sounds in spoken language.
  • Write with scribbles and drawing.
  • Connect single letters with the sounds they make.
  • Connect what they already know to what they hear read.
  • Predict what comes next in stories and poems.
  • Connect combinations of letters with sounds.
  • Recognize simple words in print.
  • Sum up what a story is about.
  • Write individual letters of the alphabet.
  • Write words.
  • Write simple sentences.
  • Read simple books.
  • Write to communicate.
  • Read simple books.

Children can take more than one of these steps at the same time. This list of steps, though, gives you a general idea of how your child will progress toward reading.

Talking and Listening

Scientists who study the brain have found out a great deal about how we learn. They have discovered that babies learn much more from the sights and sounds around them than we thought previously. You can help your baby by taking advantage of her hunger to learn.

From the very beginning, babies try to imitate the sounds that they hear us make. They “read” the looks on our faces and our movements. That’s why it is so important to talk, sing, smile, and gesture to your child. Hearing you talk is your baby’s very first step toward becoming a reader, because it helps her to love language and to learn words.

As your child grows older, continue talking with her. Ask her about the things she does. Ask her about the events and people in the stories you read together. Let her know you are listening carefully to what she says. By engaging her in talking and listening, you are also encouraging your child to think as she speaks. In addition, you are showing that you respect her knowledge and her ability to keep learning.

Reading Together

Childlike drawing of a mother and a child reading a magazine.

Imagine sitting your baby in your lap and reading a book to him for the first time. How different from just talking! Now you’re showing him pictures. You point to them. In a lively way, you explain what the pictures are. You’ve just helped you child take the next step beyond talking. You’ve shown him that words and pictures connect. And you’ve started him on his way to understanding and enjoying books. While your child is still a baby, reading aloud to him should become part of your daily routine. Pick a quiet time, such as just before you put him to bed. This will give him a chance to rest between play and sleep. If you can, read with him in your lap or snuggled next to you so that he feels close and safe. As he gets older, he may need to move around some as you read to him. If he gets tired or restless, stop reading. Make reading aloud a quiet and comfortable time that your child looks forward to. Chances are very good that he will like reading all the more because of it.

Try to spend at least 30 minutes each day reading to and with your child. At first, read for no more than a few minutes at a time, several times a day. As your child grows older, you should be able to tell if he wants you to read for longer periods. Don’t be discouraged if you have to skip a day or don’t always keep to your schedule. Just get back to your daily routine as soon as you can. Most of all, make sure that reading stays fun for both of you!

What Does It Mean?

From the earliest days, talk with your child about what you are reading. You might point to pictures and name what is in them. When he is ready, have him do the same. Ask him, for example, if he can find the little mouse in the picture, or do whatever is fun and right for the book. Later on, as you read stories, read slowly and stop now and then to think aloud about what you’ve read. From the time your child is able to talk, ask him such questions about the story as, “What do you think will happen next?” or “Do you know what a palace is?” Answer his questions and, if you think he doesn’t understand something, stop and talk more about what he asked. Don’t worry if you occasionally break the flow of a story to make clear something that is important. However, don’t stop so often that the child loses track of what is happening in the story.

Look for Books!

The books that you pick to read with your child are very important. If you aren’t sure of what books are right for your child, ask a librarian to help you choose titles.

Introduce your child to books when she is a baby. Let her hold and play with books made just for babies: board books with study cardboard covers and thick pages; cloth books that are soft and washable, touch-and-feel books, or lift-the-flap books that contain surprises for your baby to discover. Choose books with covers that have big, simple pictures of things that she sees every day. Don’t be upset if at first your child chews or throws a book. Be patient. Cuddling with the child as you point to and talk with great excitement about the book’s pictures will soon capture her interest. When your baby becomes a toddler, she will enjoy helping to choose books for you to read to her.

As your child grows into a preschooler and kindergartner, the two of you can look for books that have longer stories and more words on the pages. Also look for books that have repeating words and phrases that she can begin to read or recognize when she sees them. By early first grade, add to this mix some books designed for beginning readers, including some books that have chapters and some books that show photographs and provide true information rather than make-believe stories.

Keep in mind that young children most often enjoy books about people, places, and things that are like those they know. The books can be about where you live or about parts of your culture, such as your religion, your holidays, or the way that you dress. If your child has special interests, such as dinosaurs or ballerinas, look for books about those interests.

From your child’s toddler years through early first grade, you also should look for books of poems and rhymes. Remember when your baby heard your talking sounds and tried to imitate them? Rhymes are an extension of that language skill. By hearing and saying rhymes, along with repeated words and phrases, your child learns about spoken sounds and about words. Rhymes also spark a child’s excitement about what comes next, which adds fun and adventure to reading.

Show Your Child That You Read

When you take your child to the library, check out a book for yourself. Then set a good example by letting your child see you reading for yourself. Ask your child to get one of her books and sit with you as you read your book, magazine, or newspaper. Don’t worry if you feel uncomfortable with your own reading ability. It’s the reading that counts. When your child sees that reading is important to you, she may decide that it is important to her, too.

Learning about Print and Books

Reading together is a perfect time to help a late toddler or early preschooler learn what print is. As you read aloud, stop now and then and point to letters and words; then point to the pictures they stand for. Your child will begin to understand that the letters form words and that words name pictures. He will also start to learn that each letter has its own sound—one of the most important things your child can know when learning to read.

By the time children are 4, most have begun to understand that printed words have meaning. By age 5, most will begin to know that not just the story but the printed words themselves go from left to right. Many children will even start to identify some capital and small letters and simple words.

In late kindergarten or early first grade, your child may want to read on his own. Let him! But be sure that he wants to do it. Reading should be something he is proud of and eager to do and not a lesson.

How Does a Book Work?

Children are fascinated by how books look and feel. They see how easily you handle and read books, and they want to do the same. When your toddler watches you handle books, she begins to learn that a book is for reading, not tearing or tossing around. Before she is 3, she may even pick one up and pretend to read, an important sign that she is beginning to know what a book is for. As your child becomes a preschooler, she is learning that

  • A book has a front cover.
  • A book has a beginning and an end.
  • A book has pages.
  • A page in a book has a top and a bottom.
  • You turn pages one at a time to follow the story.
  • You read a story from left to right of a page.

As you read with your 4- or 5-year-old, begin to remind her about these things. Read the title on the cover. Talk about the picture on the cover. Point to the place where the story starts and, later, where it ends. Let your child help turn the pages. When you start a new page, point to where the words of the story continue and keep following the words by moving your finger beneath them. It takes time for a child to learn these things, but when your child does learn them, she has solved some of reading’s mysteries.

Early Efforts To Write

Childlike drawing of a mother and child sitting at a table drawing pictures.

Writing and reading go hand in hand. As your child is learning one, he is learning the other. You can do certain things to make sure that he gets every opportunity to practice both. When he is about 2 years old, for example, give your child crayons and paper and encourage him to draw and scribble. He will have fun choosing which colors to use and which shapes to make. As he holds and moves the crayons, he will also develop muscle control. When he is a late toddler or early preschooler, he will become as eager to write as he is to read.

Your preschool child’s scribbles or drawings are his first writing. He will soon begin to write the alphabet letters. Writing the letters helps your child learn about their different sounds. His very early learning about letters and sounds gives him ideas about how to begin spelling words. When he begins writing words, don’t worry that he doesn’t spell them correctly. Instead, praise him for his efforts! In fact, if you look closely, you’ll see that he’s made a pretty good try at spelling a word for the first time. Later on, with help from teachers (and from you), he will learn the right way to spell words. For the moment, however, he has taken a great step toward being a writer.

Reading in Another Language

If your child’s first language is not English, she can still become an excellent English reader and writer. She is on her way to successful English reading if she is beginning to learn many words and is interested in learning to read in her first language. You can help by supporting her in her first language as she learns English. Talk with her, read with her, encourage her to draw and write. In other words, do the same kinds of activities just discussed, but do them in your child’s first language.

When your child first enters school, talk with her teacher. Teachers welcome such talks. They even have sign-up times early in the year, though usually you may ask for a meeting at any time. If you feel that you need some support in meeting with the teacher, ask a relative, neighbor, or someone else in your community to go with you.

When you do meet, tell the teacher the things that you are doing at home to strengthen your child’s speaking and reading in her own language. Let the teacher know how important you child’s reading is to you and ask for support for your efforts. Children who can switch back and forth between languages have accomplished something special. They should be praised and encouraged as they work for this achievement.

What follows are ideas for language-building activities that you can do with your child to help her build the skills she needs to become a reader. Most public libraries offer free use of books, magazines, videos, computers, and other services. Other things that you might need for these activities are not expensive.

For each set of activities, we give an age span that suggests when children should try them. From one activity to the next, we continue to talk about children at different stages: babies (birth to 1 year), toddlers (1 to 3 years), preschoolers (ages 3 and 4), and kindergartner/early first-graders (ages 5 and 6). Remember that children don’t always learn the same things at the same rate. And they don’t suddenly stop doing one thing and start doing another just because they are a little older. So use the ages as guides as your child learns and grows. Don’t consider them to be hard and fast rules.

You’ll see that your role in the activities will change, too. Just as you hold up your child when he’s learning to walk, you will help him a lot when he’s taking his first language steps. As he grows, you will gradually let go, and he will take more and more language steps on his own. That is why in most of the activities we say, “The first activities . . . work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let him do more.”

As a parent, you can help your child want to learn in a way no one else can. That desire to learn is a key to your child’s later success. Enjoyment is important! So, if you and your child don’t enjoy one activity, move on to another. You can always return to any activity later on.


Baby Talk

Childlike drawing of a mother holding a babdy in her arms.

For babies from birth to 1 year

Babies love hearing your voice. When you answer your child’s sounds with sounds of your own, she learns that what she “says” has meaning and is important to you.

What to Do

  • Talk to your baby often. Answer her coos, gurgles, and smiles. Talk, touch, and smile back. Get her to look at you.
  • Play simple talking and touching games with your baby. Ask, “Where’s your nose?” Then touch her nose and say playfully, “There’s your nose!” Do this several times, then switch to an ear or knee or tummy. Stop when she (or you) grows tired of the game.
  • Change the game by touching the nose or ear and repeating the word for it several times. Do this with objects, too. When she hears you name something over and over again, your child begins to connect the sound with what it means.
  • Do things that interest your baby. Vary your tone of voice, make funny faces, sing lullabies, and recite simple nursery rhymes. Play “peek-a-boo” and “pat-a-cake” with her.

Books and Babies

For babies from age 6 weeks to 1 year

Sharing books is a way to have fun with your baby and to start him on the road to becoming a reader.

What You Need

Cardboard or cloth books with large, simple pictures of things with which babies are familiar

Lift-the-flap, touch-and-feel, or peek-through play books

What to Do

  • Read to your baby for short periods several times a day. Bedtime is always a good time, but you can read at other times as well—while you’re in the park, on the bus, or even at the breakfast table (without the food!).
  • As you read, point out things in the pictures. Name them as you point to them.
  • Give your baby sturdy books to look at, touch, and hold. Allow him to peek through the holes or lift the flaps to discover surprises.

Chatting with Children

For children ages 1 to 6

Continue talking with your older child as you did with your baby. Talking helps him to develop language skills and lets him know that what he says is important.

What to Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let him do more. However, keep doing the first ones as long as he enjoys them.

  • Talk often with your toddler. When feeding, bathing, and dressing him, ask him to name or find different objects or clothing. Point out colors, sizes, and shapes.
  • Talk with your child as you read together. Point to pictures and name what is in them. When he is ready, ask him to do the same. Ask him about his favorite parts of the story, and answer his questions about events or characters.
  • Teach your toddler to be a helper by asking him to find things. As you cook, give him pots and pans or measuring spoons to play with. Ask him what he is doing and answer his questions.
  • Whatever you do together, talk about it with your child. When you eat meals, take walks, go to the store, or visit the library, talk with him. These and other activities give the two of you a chance to ask and answer questions such as, “Which flowers are red? Which are yellow?” “What else do you see in the garden?” Challenge your child by asking questions that need more than a “yes” or “no” answer.
  • Listen to your child’s questions patiently and answer them just as patiently. If you don’t know the answer to a question, have him join you as you look for the answer in a book. He will then see how important books are as sources of information.
  • Have your child tell you a story. Then ask him questions, explaining that you need to understand better.
  • When he is able, ask him to help you in the kitchen. He might set the table or decorate a batch of cookies. A first-grader may enjoy helping you follow a simple recipe. Talk about what you’re fixing, what you’re cooking with, what he likes to eat, and more.
  • Ask yourself if the TV is on too much. If so, turn it off and talk!

As Simple as ABC

For children ages 2 to 6

Sharing the alphabet with your child helps her begin to recognize the shapes of letters and to link them with the sounds of spoken language. She will soon learn the difference between individual letters—what they look like and what they sound like.

What You Need

Alphabet books
ABC magnets
Paper, pencils, crayons, markers
Glue and safety scissors

What to Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let her do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as she enjoys them.

  • With your toddler sitting with you, print the letters of her name on paper and say each letter as you write it. Make a name sign for her room or other special place. Have her decorate the sign by pasting stickers or drawing on it.
  • Teach your child “The Alphabet Song” and play games with her using the alphabet. Some alphabet books have songs and games that you can learn together.
  • Look for educational videos, DVDs, CDs, and TV shows such as “Between the Lions” that feature letter-learning activities for young children. Watch such programs with your child and join in with her on the rhymes and songs.
  • Place alphabet magnets on your refrigerator or on another smooth, safe metal surface. Ask your child to name the letters she plays with and to say the words she may be trying to spell.
  • Wherever you are with your child, point out individual letters in signs, billboards, posters, food containers, books, and magazines. When she is 3 to 4 years old, ask her to begin finding and naming some letters.
  • When your child is between ages 3 and 4, encourage her to spell and write her name. For many children, their names are the first words they write. At first, your child may use just one or two letters for her name (for example, Emily, nicknamed Em, uses the letter M).
  • Make an alphabet book with your kindergartner. Have her draw pictures (you can help). You can also cut pictures from magazines or use photos. Paste each picture in the book. Help your child to write next to the picture the letter that stands for the object or person in the picture (for example, B for bird, M for milk, and so on).

What Happens Next?

For children ages 2 to 6

Books with words or actions that appear over and over help your child to predict or tell what happens next. These are called “predictable” books. Your child will love to figure out the story in a predictable book!

What You Need

Predictable books with repeated words, phrases, questions, or rhymes

What to Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let him do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as he enjoys them.

  • Read predictable books to your child. Teach him to hear and say repeating words, such as names for colors, numbers, letters, and animals.
  • Pick a story that has repeated phrases, such as this example from The Three Little Pigs:

Wolf Voice: Little pig, little pig, let me come in.
Little Pig: Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin!
Wolf Voice: Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in!

Your child will learn the repeated phrase and have fun joining in with you each time it shows up in the story. Pretty soon, he will join in before you tell him.

  • Read books that give hints about what might happen next. Such books have your child lifting flaps, looking through cut-out holes in the pages, “reading” small pictures that stand for words (called “rebuses”), and searching for many other clues. Get excited along with your child as he hurries to find out what happens next.
  • When reading predictable books, ask your child what he thinks will happen. See if he points out picture clues, if he mentions specific words or phrases, or if he connects the story to something that happens in real life. These are important skills for a beginning reader to learn.

A Home for My Books

Childlike drawing of a boy removing books from a bookshelf.

For children ages 2 to 6

Starting a home library for your child shows her how important books are. Having books of her own in a special place boosts the chance that your child will want to read even more.

What You Need

Books from bookstores, garage sales, flea markets, used book stores, and sales at your local library

A bookcase, a cardboard box, or other materials to make a place for books

What to Do

  • Pick a special place for your child’s books so that she knows where to look for them. A cardboard box that you can decorate together might make a good bookcase. Or you might clear one of the family bookshelves and make a special place for her to put her books.
  • Help your child to arrange her books in some order—her favorite books, books about animals, holiday books. Use whatever method will help her most easily find the book she’s looking for.
  • Borrow books from your local library. Go to the children’s section and spend time with your child reading and selecting books to take home and put in her special place. You might even have a box or space just for library books, so that they don’t get mixed up with your child’s own books.
  • Encourage family members and friends to give books to your child as presents for birthdays and other occasions.
  • When you and your child make your own books, you can add them to your home library.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

For children ages 3 to 6

Books that have no words, just beautiful pictures, invite you and your child to use your imaginations to make up your own stories to go with the pictures.

What You Need

Wordless picture books
Old magazines
Safety scissors
Construction paper

What to Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let him do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as he enjoys them.

  • Look through the whole picture book with your child. Ask him what he thinks the story is about. Tell the story together by talking about each page as each of you sees it.
  • Ask your child to identify objects, animals, or people on each page. Talk with him about the pictures, and ask him if he thinks that they are like real life.
  • Have your child tell another child or family member a story using a wordless picture book. Doing this will make him feel like a “reader” and will encourage him to continue learning to read.
  • Have your child create his own picture book with his drawings or pictures that you help him cut from magazines.

Rhyme with Me: It’s Fun, You’ll See!

For children ages 3 to 6

Rhyming activities help your child to pay attention to the sounds in words.

What You Need

Books with rhyming words, word games, or songs

What to Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let her do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as she enjoys them.

  • Play rhyming games and sing rhyming songs with your child. Many songs and games include clapping, bouncing and tossing balls, and playing in groups.
  • Read rhymes to your child. As you read, stop before a rhyming word and encourage your child to fill in the blank. When she does, praise her.
  • Listen for rhymes in songs that you know or hear on the radio, TV, or at family or other gatherings. Sing the songs with your child.
  • Around the home, point to objects and say their names, for example, clock. Then ask your child to say as many words as she can that rhyme with the name. Other easily rhymed words are ball, bed, rug, sink, and toy. Let your child use some silly, or nonsense, words as well: toy—joy, boy, woy, loy, doy, hoy, noy.
  • Say three words such as go, dog, and frog, and ask your child which words sound the same rhyme.
  • If your child has an easy-to-rhyme name, ask her to say words that rhyme with it: Jill—bill, mill, fill, hill.
  • If a computer is available, encourage your child to use it to play rhyming games.

Match My Sounds

For children ages 3 to 6

Listening for and saying sounds in words will help your child to learn that spoken words are made up of sounds, which gets him ready to match spoken sounds to written letters—an important first step toward becoming a reader.

What You Need

Books with nursery rhymes, tongue twisters, word games, or silly songs

What to Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let him do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as he enjoys them.

  • Say your child’s name, then have him say words that begin with the same sound; for example: David—day, doll, dish; Jess—juice, jam, jar.
  • As you read a story or poem, ask your child to listen for and say the words that begin with the same sound. Then have him think of and say another word that begins with the sound.
  • Read or say a familiar nursery rhyme such as “Humpty, Dumpty.” Then have your child make it “Bumpty, Lumpty” or “Thumpty, Gumpty.”
  • Help your child to make up and say silly lines with lots of words that start with the same sound, such as, “Sister saw six silly snakes.”
  • Say two names for an animal, and tell your child to choose the name that begins with the same sound as the animal’s name. Ask, for example, should a horse’s name be Hank or Tank? Should a pig be Mattie or Patty? Should a zebra be Zap or Cap?

Take a Bow!

For children ages 3 to 6

When your child acts out a poem or story, she shows her own understanding of what it is about. She also grows as a reader by connecting emotions with written words.

What You Need

Poems or stories written from a child’s point of view

Things to use in a child’s play (dress-up clothes, puppets)

What to Do

  • Read a poem slowly to your child. Read it with feeling, making the words seem important.
  • If your child has a poem she especially likes, ask her to act it out. Ask her to make a face to show the way the character in the poem is feeling. Making different faces adds emotion to the performer’s voice. After her performance, praise her for doing a good job.
  • Tell your child that the family would love to see her perform her poem. Set a time when everyone can be together. When your child finishes her performance, encourage her to take a bow as everyone claps and cheers loudly.
  • Encourage your child to make up her own play from a story that she has read or heard. Tell her that it can be make-believe or from real life. Help her to find or make things to go with the story—a pretend crown, stuffed animals, a broomstick, or whatever the story needs. Some of her friends or family also can help. You can write down the words or, if she is old enough, help her to write them. Then help her to stage the play for everyone to see!

Family Stories

For children ages 3 to 6

Telling family stories lets your child know about the people who are important to him. They also give him an idea of how one thing leads to another in a story.

What to Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let him do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as he enjoys them.

  • Tell your child stories about your parents and grandparents or about others who are special to you and your family. You might put these stories in a book and add old photographs.
  • Think out loud about when you were little. Make a story out of something that happened, such as a family trip, a birthday party, or when you lost your first tooth.
  • Have your child tell you stories about what he did on special days, such as holidays, birthdays, and family vacations.
  • If you go on a trip, write a trip journal with your child to make a new family story. Take photographs of special events. Writing down special events and pasting photographs of the events in the journal will tie the family story to a written history. You can also include everyday trips, such as going to the grocery store or the park.

Write On!

For children ages 3 to 6

Reading and writing support each other. The more your child does of each, the better she will be at both.

What You Need

Pencils, crayons, or markers
Yarn or ribbon
Writing paper or notebook
Cardboard or heavy paper
Construction paper
Safety scissors

What to Do

The first activities in the list below work well with younger children. As your child grows older, the later activities let her do more. But keep doing the first ones as long as she enjoys them.

  • Write with your child. She will learn a lot about writing by watching you write. Talk with her about your writing so that she begins to understand that writing means something and has many uses.
  • Have your preschooler use her way of writing—perhaps just a scribble—to sign birthday cards or make lists.
  • Hang a family message board in the kitchen. Offer to write notes there for your child. Be sure that she finds notes left there for her.
  • Ask your preschooler to tell you simple stories as you write them down. Question her if you don’t understand something.
  • Encourage your preschooler to write her name and practice writing it with her. Remember, at first she may use only the first letter or two of her name.
  • Help your child write notes or e-mails to relatives and friends to thank them for gifts or to share her thoughts. Encourage the relatives and friends to answer your child.
  • When she is in kindergarten, your child will begin to write words the way that she hears them. For example, she might write haf for have, frn for friend, and Frd for Fred. Ask her to read her writing to you. Don’t be concerned with correct spelling. She will learn that later.
  • As your child gets older, she can begin to write or tell you longer stories. Ask questions that will help her organize the stories. Answer questions about alphabet letters and spelling.
  • Turn your child’s writing into books. Paste her drawings and writings on pieces of construction paper. For each book, make a cover out of heavier paper or cardboard, then add special art, a title, and her name as author. Punch holes in the pages and cover and bind the book together with yarn or ribbon.

All of the activities discussed so far offer a rich experience for children as they build their language skills. But you can do even more to support your child’s learning.

Other Ways to Help

Visiting the Library

Libraries offer more than books. They are places of learning and discovery for everyone. Ask at the library about getting a library card in your child’s name and, if you don’t already have one, get a card for yourself.

Childlike drawing of a woman reading to a group of children in a library setting.

The Librarian

Introduce yourself and your child to your librarian. Librarians can help you to select the best books that are both fun and suitable for your child’s age level. They can also show you the other programs and services the library has to offer.

Books…and More

In addition to a wealth of books, your library most likely will have tapes and CDs of books, musical CDs and tapes, movies, computers that you can use, and many more resources. You also might find books in languages other than English, or programs to help adults improve their reading. If you would like reading help for yourself or your family, check with the librarian about literacy programs in your community.

Supervised Story Times

  • Babies and toddlers. Many libraries have group story hours that are short and geared to the attention spans of the children. During story hour, child sits in your lap, and both of you can join in the story. The storyteller also may show you fingerplays and rhythm activities. The storyteller also may give you tips and handouts that you can use for your own home story hours.
  • Preschoolers. The library may offer these story hours more than once a week. For these story hours, you and your child usually read several books on the same topic. You might play games, sing songs, use puppets, or do other activities that are connected to that topic. You also may get ideas for books to read and other things to do with your child at home.
  • Families. Families can read together, or they may join in a story told by the library storyteller. Some libraries also set up family activities around the readings, including crafts and art projects and watching movies.

Summer Reading

After the school year is over, some children may forget what they have learned about reading. Libraries help keep children interested in reading by offering summer programs. Children from early elementary school to high school read books on their own. A teacher or librarian may give a child a diary or log in which he writes what he read during the summer. And, because reading aloud is so important to promoting a love of reading, many libraries offer “Read-to-Me” clubs for preschool and younger children.


Learning with Computers

Computers can’t replace the reading and writing activities discussed earlier in this booklet. But computers can support what these activities teach your child.

Many computer programs (also called software) offer activities that can both grab your child’s interest and teach good lessons. Children as young as 3 years old, though they can’t read yet, may still have fun using some of the colorful, action—filled programs with enjoyable characters.

Computer reading programs let your child:

  • Hear stories, read along and read by herself.
  • Play with objects and characters on the screen that teach the alphabet, simple words, rhyming words and other skills important to learning to read.
  • Command the computer with her voice, record herself reading and play back the recording so that she can hear herself.
  • Write simple sentences and make up stories.
  • Add pictures and characters to her stories and have them read back.
  • Make and print her own books.
  • Make slide shows.
  • Gain praise and see improvement in her language abilities.

Finding and Using a Computer

If you don’t have a computer at home, ask your librarian if you and your child may use one of the library’s computers. Your child’s school or a nearby community college might also have a computer laboratory that you may use. Ask your librarian about good programs for learning to use a computer. Try a few. They can help you learn basic computer steps before working with your child. Your librarian also may be able to tell you where you can get computer training if you want it.

When sitting at a computer with your child, join in at first. Later, watch as he plays. Always praise and guide him when you need to. Make sure that you choose the right programs for your child’s age. Often, one program may have activities for many ages. As your child grows, the program gets more challenging. In fact, if you have children of different ages, the same program can allow each to learn and practice different skills.

There are many computer programs available for children, but they vary in quality. If you can, try a program before you buy it. You also can check at your local library for reviews of children’s programs. Don’t hesitate to ask your librarian or your child’s teacher for information and recommendations about good software.

Many computer programs are available through “Web sites,” which are addresses on the World Wide Web, a part of the Internet. Organizations such as libraries, colleges, and government offices give people information through their Web sites. Businesses and other private groups also give—and sell—information over their Web sites. Good children’s programs are available this way, but again, the quality of such material varies and you will need to be careful in your choices. For help on how you can use a computer to hook up to the Internet and find what you need, check with your librarian.


 

Taking Charge of TV

Many children enjoy TV, and they can learn from it. Keep in mind, though, that young children often imitate what they see, good or bad. It’s up to you to decide how much TV and what kinds of shows your child should watch.

  • Think about your child’s age and choose the types of things that you want him to see, learn, and imitate.
  • Look for TV shows that
    — teach your child something,
    — hold his interest,
    — encourage him to listen and question,
    — help him learn more words,
    — make him feel good about himself, and
    — introduce him to new ideas and things.
  • “Sesame Street,” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Blue’s Clues,” “Between the Lions,” “Reading Rainbow,” “Barney & Friends,” “Zoom,” and “Zoboomafoo,” are some shows that you may want to consider. Many other good children’s programs are available on public television stations and on cable channels such as the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.
  • Limit the time that you let your child watch TV. Too much television cuts into important activities in a child’s life, such as reading, playing with friends, and talking with family members.
  • Watch TV with your child when you can. Talk with him about what you see. Answer his questions. Try to point out the things in TV programs that are like your child’s everyday life.
  • When you can’t watch TV with your child, spot check to see what he is watching. Ask questions after the show ends. See what excites him and what troubles him. Find out what he has learned and remembered.
  • Go to the library and find books that explore the themes of the TV shows that your child watches. Or help your child to use his drawings or pictures cut from magazines to make a book based on a TV show.

If You Think There’s a Problem

Your child may resist being read to or joining with you in the activities in this booklet. If so, keep trying the activities, but keep them playful. Remember that children vary a great deal in the ways that they learn. Don’t be concerned if your child doesn’t enjoy a certain activity that her friend of the same age loves. It is important, though, to keep an eye on how your child is progressing.

When a child is having a language or reading problem, the reason might be simple to understand and deal with or it might be complicated and require expert help. Often, children may just need more time to develop their language skills. On the other hand, some children might have trouble seeing, hearing, or speaking. Others may have a learning disability. If you think your child may have some kind of physical or learning problem, it is important to get expert help quickly.

If your child is in school and you think that she should have stronger language skills, ask for a private meeting with her teacher. (You may feel more comfortable taking a friend, relative, or someone else in your community with you.) In most cases, the teacher or perhaps the principal will be able to help you to understand how your child is doing and what you might do to help her.

There is a law—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA—that may allow you to get certain services for your child from your school district. Your child might qualify to receive help from a speech and language therapist or other specialist, or she might qualify to receive materials designed to match her needs. You can learn about your special education rights and responsibilities by requesting that the school give you—in your first language—a summary of legal rights. To find out about programs for children with disabilities that are available in your state, contact the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities.

The good news is that no matter how long it takes, most children can learn to read. Parents, teachers, and other professionals can work together to determine if a child has a learning disability or other problem, and then provide the right help as soon as possible. When a child gets such help, chances are very good that she will develop the skills she needs to succeed in school and in life. Nothing is more important than your support for your child as she goes through school. Make sure she gets any extra help she needs as soon as possible, and always encourage her and praise her efforts.

Watching Your Child Progress

As a parent, you can learn a lot about your child’s learning and watch for signs of possible problems. Here are some things to look for and to discuss with his teacher:

  • Starting at age 3 or 4: Does your child remember nursery rhymes, and can he play rhyming games?
  • At about age 4: Can your child get information or directions from conversations or books that are read aloud to him?
  • Kindergartners: Is your child beginning to name and write the letters and numbers that he sees in books, on billboards and signs, and in other places?
  • At age 5: Can your child play and enjoy simple word games in which two or more words start with the same sound? For example: “Name all the animals you can think of that start with d.”
  • At ages 5 and 6: Does your child show that he understands that spoken words can be broken down into smaller parts (for example, by noticing the word big in bigger)? Does he seem to understand that you can change a small part of a word and make a different word (for example, by changing the first sound and letter of cat, you can make hat, sat, mat, bat, rat, and so on)?

A Reading Checklist

There are many ways that you can encourage your child to become a reader. Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to make sure that you are keeping on track:

For Babies (6 weeks to 1 year)

Childlike drawing of a mother holding a sleeping baby in her arms while she is also writing while seated at a table.

  • Do I provide a comfortable place for our story time? Is my child happy to be in this place?
  • Am I showing my child the pictures in the book? Am I changing the tone of my voice as I read to show emotion and excitement?
  • Am I paying attention to how my child responds? What does she especially like? Is she tired and ready to stop?

For Toddlers (1 to 3 years)

All of the questions above, plus:

  • Does my child enjoy the book we are reading?
  • Do I encourage my child to “pretend read,” joining in where he has memorized a word or phrase?
  • When I ask questions, am I giving my child enough time to think and answer?
  • Do I tie ideas in the book to things that are familiar to my child? Do I notice if he does this on his own?
  • Do I let my child know how much I like his ideas and encourage him to tell me more?
  • Do I point out letters, such as the first letter of his name?

For Preschoolers (3 and 4 years)

All of the questions above, plus:

  • Do I find ways to help my child begin to identify sounds and letters and to make letter-sound matches?

For Kindergartners (5 years):

All of the questions above, plus:

  • Do I find ways to help my child begin to identify some printed words?
  • Do I let my child retell favorite stories to show that she knows how the story develops and what’s in it?

For Beginning First-Graders (6 years):

All of the questions above, plus:

  • Do I give my child the chance to read a story to me using the print, picture clues, his memory—or any combination of these ways that help him make sense of the story?

Learning to read is built on a foundation of language skills that children start to learn at birth—a process that is both complicated and amazing. Most children develop certain skills as they move through the early stages of learning language. By age 7, most children are reading.

The following list of accomplishments is based on current scientific research in the fields of reading, early childhood education, and child development. Studies continue in their fields, and there is still much still to learn. As you look over the accomplishments, keep in mind that children vary a great deal in how they develop and learn. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s progress, talk with the child’s doctor, teacher, or a speech and language therapist. For children with any kind of disability or learning problem, the sooner they can get the special help they need, the easier it will be for them to learn.

From birth to age 3, most babies and toddlers become able to:

  • Make sounds that imitate the tones and rhythms that adults use when talking.
  • Respond to gestures and facial expressions.
  • Begin to associate words they hear frequently with what the words mean.
  • Make cooing, babbling sounds in the crib, which gives way to enjoying rhyming and nonsense word games with a parent or caregiver.
  • Play along in games such as “peek-a-boo” and “pat-a-cake.”
  • Handle objects such as board books and alphabet blocks in their play.
  • Recognize certain books by their covers.
  • Pretend to read books.
  • Understand how books should be handled.
  • Share books with an adult as a routine part of life.
  • Name some objects in a book.
  • Talk about characters in books.
  • Look at pictures in books and realize they are symbols of real things.
  • Listen to stories.
  • Ask or demand that adults read or write with them.
  • Begin to pay attention to specific print such as the first letters of their names.
  • Scribble with a purpose (trying to write or draw something).
  • Produce some letter-like forms and scribbles that resemble, in some way, writing.

From ages 3-4, most preschoolers become able to:

  • Enjoy listening to and talking about storybooks.
  • Understand that print carries a message.
  • Make attempts to read and write.
  • Identify familiar signs and labels.
  • Participate in rhyming games.
  • Identify some letters and make some letter-sound matches.
  • Use known letters (or their best attempt to write the letters) to represent written language especially for meaningful words like their names or phrases such as “I love you.”

At age 5, most kindergartners become able to:

  • Sound as if they are reading when they pretend to read.
  • Enjoy being read to.
  • Retell simple stories.
  • Use descriptive language to explain or to ask questions.
  • Recognize letters and letter-sound matches.
  • Show familiarity with rhyming and beginning sounds.
  • Understand that print is read left-to-right and top-to-bottom.
  • Begin to match spoken words with written ones.
  • Begin to write letters of the alphabet and some words they use and hear often.
  • Begin to write stories with some readable parts.

Childlike drawing of a girl sitting on the ground, reading a book to her doll.

At age 6, most first-graders can:

  • Read and retell familiar stories.
  • Use a variety of ways to help with reading a story such as rereading, predicting what will happen, asking questions, or using visual cues or pictures.
  • Decide on their own to use reading and writing for different purposes;
  • Read some things aloud with ease.
  • Identify new words by using letter-sound matches, parts of words and their understanding of the rest of a story or printed item.
  • Identify an increasing number of words by sight.
  • Sound out and represent major sounds in a word when trying to spell.
  • Write about topics that mean a lot to them.
  • Try to use some punctuation marks and capitalization.