The 5Rs: Encouraging Early Literacy Skills

The 5Rs: Encouraging Early Literacy Skills in Children

Written by Lori de Brun Nothwang

As the parent of an 8 month old, I struggle with reading to my Bean. Sitting down to read a book with an 8 month old is ….what’s the word….challenging? She twists and turns and tries to eat the book as my head moves all over trying to read the words through her fingers and tongue. Before I can get through the first few pages she has spotted something across the floor that she now wants in her mouth. I follow her with the book, then think to myself, is this how it is supposed to go? 

I know she needs to listen to the language and have the exposure to books, and our nightly story is certainly important to our bedtime routine, but the parent part of me can’t help but wonder if the time spent trying to read to her is worth it.  The teacher part of me knows that, yes it is. I know this because I know the stats and I have seen the struggles.

The U.S. Department of Education conducted a national survey in 1996 and found that less than half (48 percent) of parents said they read or shared a picture book daily with their children ages 1 to 3. This statistic on reading aloud is upsetting because it’s known among the teaching world that one of the best predictors of how a child will do over the course of their schooling is how much s/he was read to prior to the first day of first grade.  Those who’ve been read to have working vocabularies of 40,000 words. They have heard over 3 million words. Children who haven’t been read to have 10,000 word vocabularies. They’ve heard under 1 million words. Staggering difference. 

I know that reading to my daughter will get easier, and I am setting myself up for that time.  I mean, at least I hope she won’t always want to eat the book.  What we parents do, or don’t do, has a lasting impact on our child’s reading skills and literacy. There is evidence of a relationship between reading regularly to a child and the reading achievement of that child later on.

The toddler and pre-K years are developmental stages in which literacy becomes so much more important because of its relationship to brain development.  “Children develop much of their capacity for learning in the first three years of life, when their brains grow to 90 percent of their eventual adult weight (Karoly et al., 1998)….as children grow and experience the world, new neural connections are made. This orderly and individualized process, varying from child to child, makes reading possible…As parents talk, sing, and read to children, the children’s brain cells are literally turned on (Shore, 1997). Existing links among brain cells are strengthened and new cells and links are formed. “

When reading to your child in the toddler and pre-K stage, there are 5 important Rs to remember. These Rs will remind us what to look for when reading, and they will also remind us of our purpose.

Rhyme Books that rhyme provide enjoyment in listening, fun in reading, and exposure to word families and patterns of language.  Rhyming helps children discover many common word patterns (such as those in cat / hat) and the more familiar these patterns are in oral language, the easier they are to recognize when learning to read. You may be able to pause and let your child finish a line in a rhyming book. Repetition (whoops, I gave away my next R) will also come in handy here, as your child may have read this story before and, through rhyming and memorization,  will know what word to fill in. 

Repetition Again. Again. Your toddler wants you to read the book again. We are once again humbled at the power and instinct behind nature. Toddlers need repetition to remember information and increase their memory. Reading their favorite book holds meaning to them, and it is this repetition that is critical to vocabulary development, motor development and learning the ways of the world. 
Rhythm The way we read and the intonation we use creates rhythm. Children love rhythm and given the opportunity to take over, will imitate your rhythm. I will never forget seeing a video of a friend’s son reading Knuffle Bunny at age 2. Was he reading? No, of course not. But he had memorized the whole book because he had read it with his parents so many times. He even mimicked their voice patterns and expression.  Learning the rhythm of speech and language develops overall fluency. 

Routine Try to spend 15-20 minutes every day reading to your child. Don’t look for perfect, uninterrupted time. We all know that finding uninterrupted time with a toddler, and possibly with other children in the house, is nearly impossible. If you read a few books interspersed throughout the day, your child will learn that reading doesn’t have to be saved for one special time. Do try to make those few minutes here and there quiet time where the book is the focus.

Having a routine with books is important because children like and need to know what is coming. Maybe your routine has to do with reading the same time every day, like before or after nap time, or maybe your routine has to do with where you read books or how you read books. Regardless, make reading something special between you and your child, and have some semblance of routine so your child knows what to expect. When your child drops their nap, their routine could be adjusted to quiet time with books. 

Respect Respect of books and reading time has to be taught and modeled. When we show our children that books are something we treat with care and love, then they will treat them the same way. By modeling the sacred time of reading, our children will learn its true value just through taking part in that special ritual.  Make sure you show, through your own actions, that reading is important to you. 

Books are changing these days, and we aren’t always opening a beautifully bound hardcover book. We see books online, on iPads and iPhones, and even in McDonald’s Happy Meals. Literacy isn’t just about being able to read, but being able to interact with all different types of media and text. Respect the art of reading and the methods behind the skill. 

Last bit of advice: make reading entertaining, fun and interactive. Ask questions, point to pictures, giggle together, and enjoy the time reading with your bean. 

For more information on reading, and lists of books appropriate for the toddler and pre-K stage visit
About the Author
Lori Nothwang is an elementary school teacher turned literacy blogger. While teaching she found that many parents had questions about their child’s reading and how to help at home. With the arrival of her own daughter, she decided to stay at home and focus on literacy, her passion in the classroom. Lori aims to provide resources to better the at-home reading experience for both child and parent. When not blogging or taking care of Bean, Lori is Crossfitting, running, or eating chocolate in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. 

6 thoughts on “The 5Rs: Encouraging Early Literacy Skills

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    Very thorough post and nice ideas for folks and educational institution lecturers. Actually, you web log generally simply makes Maine smile.

    Thank you for sharing!

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