A Simple Way To Advance Your Toddler’s Reading Skills

Learning to read in the preschool years sets up a critical foundation for later literacy and learning. While we all know that it’s important to read to our kids, research continues to identify specific ways that we read that advance reading skills in the early years. And a study recently published in Child Development provides really strong evidence that there is a simple thing you can do when you are reading to your toddler that can have a big effect on their later reading ability – simply using your voice and your fingers to draw attention to the printed page. 

Here’s what the study did. They compared (in over 80 preschools) teachers’ typical book reading style (which often involves just reading aloud) to a teaching style (“print referencing”) that emphasized getting a 4-year-old to focus directly on the printed page. Half the teachers were trained to do this both by using words (“Let’s look at the top of this page!”; “Can you find the letter K on this page?”) and by pointing (“Here’s the word ‘the’ – we are going to see it a lot in this story!”; “Here’s a capital M.”). Teachers in both conditions (the usual reading style vs. the print referencing style) were videotaped to document that they were using different styles.

The results? Over a two year period, the toddlers who were exposed to the print referencing teaching method had significantly higher reading skills, along with more advanced spelling and comprehension.

I really like studies like this because they evaluate, with rigor, things that we all do intuitively now and then – and show how we can use simple methods to not only make reading fun but also amp up the learning curve for our kids.

So when you are reading to your toddler, it’s a great idea to become more conscious of how you focus your toddler’s eyes on the page and engage them in recognizing and finding letters and words. Of course, part of the effect here comes from the very real benefit of making reading interactive (if you haven’t seen my earlier post on 3 ways of talking about stories when reading to your kids, click here). By engaging your toddler – and by bringing their eyes to the page while you bring the story to their imaginations – you can be sure that you are providing a very nice platform for later literacy skills.

Reading to kids via Shutterstock.com

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  1. by nasreal

    On June 19, 2012 at 4:57 am

    i want to learn more.

  2. by TDeane

    On June 19, 2012 at 8:12 am

    My only problem with studies like this is that half the children are getting the better education and the other half not. All of the children deserve the best education.

  3. by WillH

    On June 30, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    I love this style of reading but I prefer to do both ways…I was a visual learner and loved to create stories from scratch as a kid. Both styles taught me to be original in my writing.

  4. by Krystal

    On July 27, 2012 at 10:02 am

    “Over a two year period, the toddlers who were exposed to the print referencing teaching method had significantly higher reading skills, along with more advance spelling and comprehension.”

    Shouldn’t it read more “advanced” spelling and comprehension? I wonder what can be done to improve the writer’s writing skills.

  5. by superscrounger

    On July 27, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    “Learning to read in the preschool years sets up a critical foundation for later literacy and learning.”

    Up until the 1960s, no one even knew their ABCs before they entered, not kindergarten, but first grade (few students at that time went to kindergarten. Before 1979 less than 20% of the children in the U.S. attended kindergarten. It was not part of the school curriculum). We learned to read and to read well. By third grade the gap between those struggling and the better readers was mostly bridged (many times it was a developmental issue. When the child matured things fell into place.You can’t force that.) So clearly, it isn’t a critical foundation for literacy. It may be a critical foundation for the current highly flawed public school test-based curriculum, which is a different issue.

  6. by Richard Rende

    On July 27, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Actually, it’s my typing skills … thanks for detecting this, I’ve corrected it. Feel free to proof future blog posts as well!

  7. by Laura

    On August 1, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Thank you for giving more advice! I’ll take it! Anything I can learn to help my child is well received. Ignore the fools who are critical or those who criticize human error!

  8. by Paula Passailaigue

    On September 12, 2012 at 9:57 am

    I agree! I taught my 2 year old to read by showing him flash cards daily. At the end of the week I would ask him to read the cards and he always got them correct. He could match the names of Thomas the Tank Engine characters with their toy trains! Therefore, a combination of repeated visual cues and something of high interest is great motivation for children to read!

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