So my 21 month old isn’t reading reading, but I love watching her experiment with drawing, writing, and with her collection of books. We’re in the very early stages of developing her concepts about print and concept of word – two crucial components of learning how to read. If your children are in PreK/K, you’ll begin to hear those terms tossed around a lot, and if you’re working with your children at home, you’ll want to have an idea of what these literacy skills consist of in order to help your kiddos be more successful in the learning-to-read process.
Concepts about Print (CAP) refers to an understanding of how print and texts “work”. This includes understanding that text carries meaning, that books are organized and read in a certain way, and that printed language is made up of letters, words, and sentences. A few easy ways to work on CAP is to read and reread favorite books while encouraging your child to read along or make up their own story to go along with the pictures. Children who make up their own words to familiar stories are beginning to understand that there is meaning to the pictures and words on a page. We call this “reading the pictures” and it’s a great place to start. Children should also understand that books are organized in a certain way. Just reading with your children will help with this, as they’ll start to understand how to hold a book right side up, turn the pages correctly, and read top to bottom/left to right. You can also mention and point to the “title”, “author”, “front cover”, “back cover”, and “spine”. Learning to differentiate between letters, words, and sentences is also crucial for beginning reading. Teaching this concept can be as simple as practicing letters with a puzzle, white board, flash cards, etc. or it can be taught more explicitly by using highlighting tape, for example, to highlight a letter on a page, a word on a page, and a sentence on a page of a favorite book.
Concept of word (COW) refers to an understanding of speech-to-print match along with automatic knowledge of letter sounds, an ability to identify beginning consonant sounds, and the ability to identify previously read words in isolation. While reading, having your children point along with you as you read will help develop the speech-to-print match (one-to-one correspondence). Each word that is spoken has a matching written word on a page. My daughter loves to “follow along” with her finger as I read to her. She’s beginning to understand that what I’m saying is printed on the page, and now she even knows there is a certain way to point, because instead of just sliding her finger across the page, she’ll ask me to hold her hand and move her finger along so that she’s on the right words. Letter sounds can be taught in many different ways. You can play with puzzles/flash cards, and you can also encourage finger tracing with an ABC book you can make from the following document.
As children trace the letter with their finger, they say the letter name, letter sound, and then corresponding word (“A, /a/, apple”). You can use the printable chart to help you refer to these while practicing reading or writing.
It’s helpful to have the same references when teaching letters and sounds so that learners have one less thing to think about. For example, A is for apple and alligator, but sticking with saying one of those consistently will help your very beginning reader focus on learning the letter and sound instead of thinking of the multiple words that begin with that sound. As children become more fluent readers and have more flexibility with letter sounds, they will be able to come up with other word, on their own, that begin with those letters. Work on beginning consonants doesn’t necessarily have to wait until all letter sounds are mastered. Ask your child to say a word and then “get your mouth ready” for the beginning sound (cat /c/) “What other words begin with that sound?” Here’s a quick video of how Jan Richardson does this in guided reading. It will help give you ideas of how to incorporate at home.
Words in isolation comes with a more advanced concept of word. A fun way to work on COW and especially words in isolation is to memorize a quick nursery rhyme and have your children read along as they point to the words. After reading a line or the entire poem (depending on reading level, ease/length of poem, etc.), ask the learners to find certain words and point to them. As a quick assessment of words in isolation, you can then make flash cards of those words and see if your child can identify them. This won’t be a memorization task, instead, it’s a short term identification task based on the fact that those words were very recently read in the rhyme. Click HERE to find a great selection of printable nursery rhymes.
With my daughter, we’re very causally working on CAP while reading books throughout the day, and we’re working on COW during her drawing time. She loves “drawing pictures” and having me label them. She’ll scribble on a page and give me a crayon asking me to label what she drew. Sometimes I’ll draw little pictures that go along with her scribbles, other times, I’ll just write the words. She LOVES playing this way, and it’s helping her understand that words have meaning.
With my tutoring students I’ll have them draw pictures of things that are meaningful to them personally or that they’ve just read about in a book with me. Once the drawing is finished, we’ll label the picture with important vocabulary, followed by creating a short sentence to describe the picture, such as, “The boy jumped into the pool.” I will draw lines on a blank sheet of paper that match the sentence we came up with, and help my students as they write the words on each line. Children should have the sentence memorized and should not need much coaching about what word comes next. Making the lines for them at the beginning is important because it helps with spacing and it clearly separates one word from another. As they become more experienced they can make their own lines and eventually, once their spacing is consistent, they won’t need lines at all.