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Launch Your Child into Reading

  • Peggy M. Wilber, M.Ed.
  • 2008 2 Jan
Launch Your Child into Reading

Susie, aged four, was nibbling on animal crackers and holding her well-loved Bible storybook. From her car seat, she said, "Mommy, Mommy! Listen to me read."

"I'm listening," said her Mom. They were going home late one night from visiting Grandma.

"Jesus and his men sat in a boat. A BIG wind came. Whooooo! A BIG wave came. Splash!" her tiny voice chanted. "Do you hear me, Mommy? I'm reading!" 1

Her Mom smiled and said, "Good job, Susie!"

Even with no light in the car, Susie was so familiar with her favorite Bible story that she could "read" it to her mother. A few months later, Susie delighted her Grandmother by reading Hop on Pop, (Dr. Seuss, 1963) out loud. Susie was ready to launch into a lifetime of reading.

How can you best launch your child into reading? You begin by talking to your child.

Talk to your child

Research shows that reading begins in your child's ears. That is because reading is part of the language arts: listening, speaking/singing, reading, and writing. The language arts are linked together in the brain. (For this reason, it is much easier for a blind child to learn to read well than for a deaf child.)

As you talk to your child, he learns vocabulary words, correct grammar, and new concepts. These skills are the launch pad for his reading success. What can you talk to your young child about?

· Talk about the weather and crazy storms that you have been in
· Talk about his relatives—grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, and fun stories about them
· Talk about how her favorite toys might have been created
· Talk about where he lives—city, state, country
· Talk about where things come from—milk/cow, bacon/pig, noodles/wheat, light/sun
· Talk about vegetables, fruits, and potential pizza toppings
· Talk about Dad's work, the mailman, radio waves, snow and ice, pickles, ketchup, angels, and anything else you can think of.

Sing songs with your child such as, "Jesus Loves Me! This I Know," and "Joy to the World." Tell funny jokes, ask riddles, and try to say tongue twisters together. (Riddles, jokes and tongue twisters are available on the Internet.) Ask your child open-ended questions like, "What do you think the President does for fun?" or "If you could fly, where would you go?" Encourage your child to pray out loud at meals and at bedtime.

Listen to Your Child
Be ready to listen.

When your child talks to you—he is thinking. When she asks you a question—she is ready to gain knowledge. When he is explaining his idea—he is practicing recalling and comprehension skills.

Listening is best done face-to-face. Do you have a listening time when you just listen to your child? Many things can be found out by listening to your child talking, singing, or making outrageous-car-engine noises. Does he have a speech impediment? Does she repeat herself, or say, "Umm," a lot? Does he ask tons of questions or no questions at all?

A child with speech impediments can be at-risk for having difficulties learning to read. Speech impediments should be addressed as early as possible, before kindergarten. A child who does not ask questions is at-risk of being passive learner. A child who asks many questions might drive you half-crazy, but he is an active learner. He will be ready to liftoff into reading.

Ask your child to tell you a Bible story, about when he was sick, or why the moon has a face. Have her rhyme with you, sing a song to you, or tell how to make cinnamon toast. Not only will you share special moments together but also your child will be practicing language skills needed later on for reading.

Read to Your Child
How did Susie know the words to her favorite Bible story? Mom read it to her. Grandma did too—over and over!

Read books to your child with rhyming words, alliteration (words beginning with the same letter), and silly stories. She will like nonfiction stories about gorillas, Komodo dragons, and volcanoes. He will want to hear Jack Prelutsky poems, Bible stories about Daniel in the lion's den, and how Jesus healed the blind man.

Your child will want you to reread the same books over and over. One well-known reading professor often says, "Each child should enter kindergarten with fifty books memorized."2 That is a lot of reading on the parent's part!

You may worry about the state of your own mind when you read, "Stand Back," Said the Elephant, "I'm Going to Sneeze!" (Patricia Wallace, 1990) for the twenty-ninth time. Your child, however, is going to love it. Better yet, she will be able to recite many of the words with you.

"Why is that valuable?" you may ask. "He's just memorized the words," and "What does that have to do with reading?" you may wonder.

Memorizing language will help your child liftoff into reading. As a child memorizes poems, songs, and stories, he learns syntax—the structure of language. She learns that sentences do not end with the words because or where. He becomes able to match the words he says with words he sees on the page. She becomes aware that words are made up of smaller sound bites: cat is c-a-t. This is the beginning of phonics; helpful when he sounds-out new words. Also, when your child recites words, she practices sounding fluent. Fluency is a necessary reading skill.

So read to your child. Read library books, road signs, restaurant menus, and the back of your child's favorite cereal box. Read until your voice is hoarse, your eyes itch, and pages fall out of your child's book.

One day, like Susie, your child will say to you, "Listen to me! I can read." Your fingers will tighten on the steering wheel. Then you will smile as your child lifts off into the wonderful world of reading.

Peggy M. Wilber is a teacher, author, and speaker with a mission of helping children learn to read well. She has been diagnosing and remediating elementary and middle school children's reading disorders since 1987. Her education includes a Masters of Education from Boston University and Certification in Early Childhood Reading Instruction from University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, specializing in integrating reading methodologies.  Peggy has worked alongside the team at Cook Ministries to create Rocket Readers a biblically based reading program designed to teach children to read using Scripture. Visit

1. Learn-to-Read Bible. Heather Gemmen, Cook Communications Ministries, 2003.
2. Dr. Barbara Swaby, director of the Graduate Reading Program, School of Education, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.