Pre-Reading Skills: What Are They And What Do you Need To Know?

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Teaching your child to read can be a trying time. It’s exciting to watch them learn a new skill, but when they struggle and get frustrated, it can be tough to get them back on track. That’s why pre-reading skills are so important to giving your child a head start.

With pre-reading skills, they’ll already have a foundation in reading, so when it’s time to solidify the skill completely, they’ll have the confidence they need to excel in a formal education setting or wherever you decide to educate them.

What Pre-Reading Skills are and Why They are Important

Let’s start out with some statistics. Some sad statistics, if you ask me. People don’t love to read. Statistics Brain says the following:

  • 50% of adults in the United States can’t read an 8th grade level book
  • 42% of college graduates won’t read any more books after they graduate
  • 70% of adults haven’t been to a bookstore in the past 5 years

Here’s another thing you may have noticed. The number of real, tangible bookstores have been dwindling. Evidence that people don’t buy books often enough to support the need for them.

It seems like we’ve gotten slightly off track, but I promise there’s a point. If parents aren’t reading, what are the kids doing? I hate to think about it.

That’s why pre-reading skills are so important. They establish a foundation for learning how to read and learning to love it. As a parent, you may not love to read, but if you can encourage your child to love it, they’ll benefit in so many areas of their life now and in the future.

Reading is the single most important academic skill your child will ever learn. Why? Because they’ll use it in absolutely every subject, every day, every situation for the rest of their lives.

Pre-Reading Skills Your Child Needs

Resources differ on the number of pre-reading skills your child must have and which ones are crucial to their ability to read. But just like anything else, your child will learn at a different pace and in a different way than other children.

You know your child better than anyone else, and your awareness of the following pre-reading skills will help you guide them when you feel it’s time.

Their knowledge of any or all of these skills can make learning to read easier. Learning to read is hard work for any child, at any age, no matter how much they already know, so anything you can equip them with to make it go more smoothly will give them even more confidence.

1. Oral language

Since birth, and perhaps before that, you’ve been talking to your child. Their ability to understand you has built the foundation for their communication skills.  Developing these skills can help increase your child’s speaking skills and vocabulary.

With excellent communication skills, your child has a better chance of excelling at reading, including comprehension. Your child is also more likely to enjoy the task, relate to the characters in the stories, and build listening and attention skills, which will be beneficial in school.

2. Phonological awareness

This is the step before teaching phonics, which if you didn’t know, is the best way to teach a child to read. Phonological awareness is when a child can hear words and the individual sounds that make up those words.

You may notice from time to time that your toddler or preschooler says silly, made-up words. That’s their way of playing with these sounds. You can encourage these awareness skills even further by joining in the game.

Make up words of your own, create word riddles, sing, read nursery rhymes, or task your child with changing the beginning or the ending of words like top, pop, hop or hit, him, hill.

boy reading story book

3. Vocabulary

Having conversations with your child, reading, playing games, and being silly will all help to build your child’s vocabulary. Your child’s oral language skills are directly tied to their vocabulary, and vice versa.

You don’t need to use any fancy learning programs to build your child’s vocabulary. It’s a very simple process that started when your child was born. Read all kinds of books, use big words in front of them and encourage them to ask what those words mean, and ask them to describe things to you.

4. Print awareness

You can’t expect your child to be motivated to read if you don’t put the written word in front of them. If they have absolutely no awareness of books, they won’t have any interest in them at all.

That’s where print awareness comes into play. Children have to notice, print and understand its function. They don’t have to have a deep understanding of it, but they do need to know that the words on the page represent spoken words.

It also includes handling books in the proper way like holding them and turning pages. Allow your children to handle age appropriate books and help them learn how to hold them and turn the pages. Point to words as you read them, especially familiar words like their name.

5. Print motivation

Now that your child is aware of books, they may be very excited about them. If you read your own books in front of your child, not just to them, they’ll see that reading is important, and can be fun and exciting.

Part of encouraging this motivation is, of course, making print visible, even if it’s just a dinner recipe, a work email, or your shopping list. Make sure you read to them every day, but read your own books, too.

Read cheerfully and make it sound fun. Allowing your child to choose their own books gives them ownership over the activity. At the bookstore or library, you can allow them to put the books in the basket.

6. Narrative skills

After building oral skills and a vocabulary, your child will be able to tell exciting stories. Narrative skills involve describing objects or retelling stories. For younger children it may be repeating major characters, places, or pictures.

However, there are plenty of other ways your child builds narrative skills on a daily basis through pretend play. You can make up stories to tell them, ask them to make up a story to tell you, or ask them questions while you read.

7. Letter knowledge

After being in front of the written word for long enough, your child may start to recognize letters. This knowledge will help them begin to understand that all letters look different from one another. They have their own names and they sound different, too.

This may be when you start to see the progression of your child toward reading. It’s a big step that holds everything involved in helping them identify the components of letters.

It’s important to encourage this knowledge by singing the alphabet song, reading alphabet books, doing alphabet puzzles, working on name recognition, pointing out familiar letters while running errands, or challenging your child to explain what each letter looks like in their own words.

child learning to write

8. Writing

As they start to learn letters and their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination develops, they may show an interest in writing. Even before they were writing anything you recognized, their scribbles were an important step in the right direction.

Now they can put those muscles to work. They may not be able to spell anything yet, but some toddlers and preschoolers can write their name and other small words.

Whether they can or not, it’s important that they practice using all kinds of writing tools so they begin to develop an understanding that they can express their emotions through drawing and writing.

Reading and writing both develop in stages and both are related, so you can encourage both of them at the same time.

Boosting These Skills

As a parent, many of these activities will come naturally to you, and you may already be doing a lot of them. However, if this list feels slightly overwhelming, don’t worry too much about doing everything all at once.

Pick the easiest one for you to tackle right now, and focus on that. You can always gradually sprinkle in a few others later. In fact, one of the easiest ways to start with print motivation is to use the letters of your child’s name, and find them in other words, books, and logos.

Children love finding things they can relate to. If you can find letters and books that mean something to them, especially characters that have the same name or the same interests, you’ll have an avid reader in no time.

Sarah is a full-time freelance writer and mother of 4. She loves Jesus, cars, and coffee.