Many of the skills necessary for reading comprehension begin to develop during the preschool years and earlier. Early skills that support reading comprehension involve many of the same oral language and listening comprehension skills that young children acquire through interactions with parents and peers at home, during play, in preschool settings, and in the community. During preschool, skills that contribute to the development of language skills lay the groundwork for reading comprehension once the child acquires the ability to read or decode words. Early skills that create a foundation for later reading comprehension include:
- Learning the meanings of new words
- Learning to ask/answer questions during conversations, when listening to stories, and/or during shared book reading times
- Learning to predict or anticipate what might happen next in a social situation or in a story
- Learning to summarize or retell a story or an event to others
There are many opportunities for preschoolers to learn these skills, both at home and in school programs. For instance:
- Ask "why" type questions throughout the day to help teach cause and effect relationships (e.g., Why do you think we need to feed the dog every day? Why do we have houses? Why do we have policemen?)
- Give the child the chance to draw conclusions from different pieces of information (e.g., It's snowing outside and a fire is roaring in the fireplace...what time of the year do you think it is?).
- Ask the child to look at pictures and describe what he or she sees. This provides a good opportunity to draw conclusions based upon details (e.g., If the child describes a picture of children playing, ask whether the children are getting along or not. How can you tell? What activity are they doing?).
- Provide the pre-school child with simple chores and self-care responsibilities. Help the child learn to think through "what to do if...?" situations that may occur during chores or self-care responsibilities (e.g., What should you do if you run out of pet food? What should you do when it rains? What should you do if you have a cold?).
Like all children, preschoolers with Spina Bifida benefit greatly from being read to by their parents and teachers. When reading to a preschool child, it is important to talk about the stories and ask questions about it. Stopping to discuss the story or ask questions is a good way to show the child how to think about what he or she is hearing. It also provides a model for how to be an "active" reader. For instance, pause occasionally while reading and have the child "fill in" missing details or make predictions about what will happen next. However, it is also important to not disrupt the flow of the story too often (which can interfere with comprehension and interest). Rereading short parts of the text to maintain flow and coherence can be helpful.