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Rearing Readers: Everyday Ideas for Encouraging Literacy 13

Posted by Elisa Taub
Rearing Readers: Everyday Ideas for Encouraging Literacy 13

by Helen Coronato


There are about a million toys, gadgets and programs targeted at pre-readers (ages 3-5). Each new product promises to give your budding bookworm an edge, an advantage, an early acceptance into Harvard... all for the special introductory price of 19.95. Well, save your money, and your sanity, by investing in a packet of index cards. Cheap. Small. Disposable. Brilliant!

The following pre-school friendly activities are fast, fun and functional. If you're convinced these ideas are too easy and inexpensive to work, you can always send me the cash...

There is a whole world of developmental play that precedes formal reading instruction. This month, skip the "award winning" costly curriculums, break out the crayons and embrace your Index Card Intelligence!

Picture This!
Place cards aren't just for fancy weddings. Dress up your dinner table with place card/flash cards and practice high frequency words. Glue a picture of yourself onto an index card and write "mom" beneath it. Make a separate card for each family member, complete with photo and name. Invite your children to decorate the cards then arrange them on the table, in front of the correct seat.

Collect the place cards after your meal, and then set them out again the next day. After about a month, design new cards without photos, and continue the routine. You've just taught your pre-reader that everyone has their own name, each name has its own spelling, and names (words) can represent people.

Then What Happened?
Give yourself ten minutes of peace by encouraging your children to journal about their day. Write "morning", "afternoon", and "evening" on three separate index cards, then place them in front of your child, left to right. Instruct him to draw a picture of a favorite, or not so favorite, activity that happened during that time.

If your child struggles with these time concepts (many do!) try writing "breakfast", "lunch" and "dinner" instead, and focus their attentions to that part of the day. Share these new memories over dinner. You've just taught your pre-reader about sequencing and recall, while learning what they really love (and hate!).

Mix it Up!
Using one card per letter, write out your child's name. Start by showing him what his name looks like. Then ask him to see what other words can be made by rearranging these letters. If his name is super short, add middle and last names. Or add your name (yes, you still have a first name, mom!).

This is a great game for siblings with different reading skills to play, as the letter combinations become more advanced with practice. You've just taught your pre-reader that letters represent individual sounds, which when combined differently, make new words.

Super Market!
Need a few minutes to get yourself together before heading out the door? Assign your child a few items to be in charge of at the supermarket. Write out "milk", "apple", "eggs" or "low-fat-whole-grain-high-fiber-cereal bars" (just kidding) on index cards. Have your child illustrate each card and bring his "list" to the store. Turn your shopping trip into a treasure hunt and find these special items. You've just taught your pre-reader that reading happens in real time, in real life.

Friendly FYI
There is a lot of discussion in the education world about whether or not to use capital or lowercase letters. Some suggest concentrating on lowercase letters first, as children read in lowercase. Others suggest capitalizing names and proper nouns from the get-go, so children are exposed to all the different letters. I say, try it both ways and figure out what works best for your family. Reading is a process. Enjoy it!

Helen Coronato is a former middle school English teacher and children's librarian, who designed and facilitated literary workshops for parents and children. She now enjoys a career as a freelance writer, program facilitator and full time mother. Please visit the author at

Rearing Readers is a monthly momready column written by Helen Coronato about creative ways to encourage children of all ages to read.