Supporting Your Emergent Reader (Hint: Reading is more than decoding the words)

Some books change your life forever. When I was at Nazareth college obtaining my Masters in Literacy, I will never forget the impact this book had on me.  I loved it so much that I would purchase copies and give them as baby shower gifts to my friends!


I believe this book influenced me to read aloud to Penelope in the womb, to read aloud to her as an infant, to read aloud to her as a toddler and to read aloud to her now as a young child. You know what, it works… She LOVES books and stories! So much so that it’s rare to see her without a book in her hand.  This is one of the BEST gifts we can give to our children, a joy for reading and listening to stories.

As children become preschool and Kindergarten age, a fear slowly starts to creep into the minds of parents.  A small voice that turns into a feeling of panic or worry:  “My child is 4 and he isn’t exactly reading yet.” Or “She’s 5 and she’s not actually reading the words… WHAT SHOULD I DO!?”

First of all, don’t panic. If you start to panic and worry it will show in your reading times with your child.  Your child will pick up on it and your experience together will start to change… for the worse, not for the better.  Besides, if you are panicking, you are probably the type of parent that is very aware of the importance and value of reading.

Do you remember when you started to read? I bet you started memorizing your favorite stories first.  There was what educators call “Environmental Print” you started to recognize.  You could read local business signs, food labels from the pantry cupboard, and even start to recognize your name! I bet even before you were a reader, you imitated your parents’ reading the newspaper, magazines and even books.  If books are being read in the home, you most likely acquired what educators call “book handling skills,” especially if you were read to as a young child. These are all attributes of an emergent reader.

If your child is entering Kindergarten this year and you’re already getting a list of sight words to practice at home, take a deep breath and again, relax.  I would argue that these sight words are busy work and most likely not going to be a meaningful experience with your child. I say this because I personally know a district (probably more) that send home a list of sight words for the incoming Kindergarten student to practice over the summer before entering school. I’m not going to lie- It makes my face bend and eye twitch so yes I too need to take a deep breath.   Inhale. Exhale.  Okay, that’s better.

I’m not against sight words. They are essential in learning how to read. I personally and professionally believe they should be introduced at a more “natural” pace. They can be introduced within the books you’re reading together.  It’s important for a child to see where these words are coming from in context of a story, then written down to practice as a sight word.

So if you’re feeling pressures of “When will my child be reading?” What do you do first? Look at research.  Look at what professionals in the field of education who have been doing this for years have to say.  Specifically check out this website: Defending The Early Years and download their FREE Straight Talk About Kindergarten Readiness Assessment on the side bar. Also take a few minutes to watch their YouTube Video, Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little To Gain, Much To Lose. I think you’ll start to see and identify where that little voice of panic and worry came from after checking out these resources.  We need a shift in our culture and it begins with educating ourselves on these issues.

Now that you know, now what? Do I do nothing with my kid? Do we just continue to read stories aloud? Your time is still purposeful and meaningful with your child when it comes to reading stories.  Here’s what you can do:

  • Provide choices. We offer choices to our children with so many other things, so why not start offering a choice between a couple books to read as well?
  • Have your little reader pick out books he/she likes.  Ask him/her why they chose that book.  An appealing cover is a great answer! Maybe it’s the topic? Then share how you pick out books you like: Maybe it’s an author you’re familiar with, maybe you read the back paragraph or flip through the table of contents.  A child at any age would love to hear your strategy for picking out a good book.
  • Decrease the amount of screen time, especially when it comes to e-books.  Some may argue, “But this technology is the future!” I say, “It will always be there as an option for the rest of their lives, why not give them a time of their life without it?” But that’s my personal opinion. Leading research on learning and cognitive development show that:

“Reading on screens drains mental resources and diminishes the brain’s ability to integrate information in the context of an entire text, thereby decreasing overall comprehension. ” Taken from Oak Meadow’s List of Research on Why Print Matters

  • When you read aloud point to the words as you read and talk about the illustrations.
  • When you read aloud, slow down your pace, especially if you’re used to reading fast.
  • Encourage discussion before, during and after reading.  Before reading you can make predictions or take a Picture Walk.  During reading, you can make connections with the text (text to self, text to text, text to world) and after reading you can encourage personal thought and reflection.  WAIT A SECOND! That’s a bunch of teacher jargon! You expect me to know what you’re talking about!? Don’t worry I got you covered… Check this out:

I am a HUGE fan of these GORGEOUS early readers: HomeGrownBooks created by a small company in NYC. On their Parent Resources page you will find video tutorials on everything I’m talking about.  I’ve seen a lot of tutorials and these are THE BEST!! It will open your mind to all the possible strategies to do with your emergent reader.  What’s awesome is you can watch these videos and practice these VALUABLE skills with any early reader book at home.  If you’re not sure what book to use, ask a librarian or early childhood educator.  If you’re ambitious and want to know the companies that publish early reader books in relation to one another, feel free to check out this correlation chart.  The key is keep joy and love at the center of your reading time together.  If you can do that, you’re golden.

4 thoughts on “Supporting Your Emergent Reader (Hint: Reading is more than decoding the words)

  1. Such an informative and inspiring read! My favorite course in college was on this topic–emergent literacy. Thanks for the refresher and for using teacher jargon! Haha! 📖📚😊


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