Almost everything young children do in the preschool and kindergarten years supports their emerging language and literacy skills. When children have access to reading and writing materials at home and at their child care or Head Start program, they will incorporate literacy in their play.
Many young children explore literacy play on their own, with little need for encouragement from adults. Other children need the one-on-one attention of a tutor to help them make literacy discoveries such as: print is talk written down, reading books is fun and interesting, and printed words carry messages to the reader.
Below are some tutoring strategies for working with children in preschool and kindergarten. They include:
These strategies may also be appropriate for older children in an earlier phase of literacy development.
One of the best ways to encourage emerging literacy is to read aloud with a child as often as possible. If you work with a child in a preschool or kindergarten, spend at least part of each session reading aloud.
Read-aloud sessions involve much more than saying words and turning pages. When you express your own excitement about the pictures, story, setting, and characters, the child will be excited too. With your guidance, the child can learn to take meaning from the words and expand his or her understanding and enjoyment of the story.
Looking for the details in the pictures, talking about what might happen next, and discussing how the story relates to the child’s real-life experiences are important parts of read-aloud sessions.
The following six-point checklist summarizes the key strategies used to read aloud to young children.
1. Choose a book
- Look for a book that:
- You will enjoy reading.
- Supports and builds on the child’s interests and experiences.
- Has beautiful pictures.
- Is slightly above the child’s current vocabulary level.
- Introduces a new style such as poetry or a folk tale.
- Invite the child to choose books she would like to read.
- Repeat familiar, well-loved books often.
2. Get to know the book
- Examine the illustrations so you can point out the information and clues in the pictures.
- Read the story to yourself.
- Plan ways to vary your voice (tone, volume, pauses) to fit the plot and characters.
- Collect dress-up clothes, puppets, or other props related to the story.
3. Set the stage for success
- Help the child get ready to listen.
- Make sure the child is comfortable and can see the book.
- Make sure you are comfortable.
4. Before starting the story
- Introduce the author and/or illustrator.
- Talk about other books you’ve read by the same author and/or illustrator.
- Show the cover and point out details in the illustration.
- Read the title aloud.
- Talk about what type of book it is – true, make-believe, folk tale, realistic.
- Describe where and when the story takes place.
- Introduce the setting and the main characters.
- Suggest things to look and listen for in the story.
- Show a few pages and ask: What do you think will happen in this book?
5. While reading the story
- Vary your voice to fit the characters and the plot.
- Stop frequently to:
- Add information that will help the child understand what’s happening.
- Rephrase something that might be confusing.
- Explain the meaning of a new word.
- Invite the child to predict what might happen next.
- Ask the child about the story and characters.
- Show the pictures and describe what’s happening.
- Share your own reactions to the story and characters.
- Use the props to enhance the child’s enjoyment of the story.
- Encourage participation by inviting the child to:
- Join in with rhymes and repeated words and phrases.
- Make different sounds “Peter, would you like to be the cow?”
- Add the last word to a familiar part of the text.
- Move your finger under words as you read.
6. After reading the story
- Ask questions to help the child:
- Recall what happened in the story.
- Relate the story to personal experiences (e.g., “Did you ever?”).
- Put themselves in the story – (e.g., “What would you have done?”).
- Express ideas, opinions, and creativity.
- Do a book-related activity so the child can:
- Act out the story (with or without props).
- Make up a sequel to the story which you write on a large piece of paper.
- Draw pictures that show the events in the story then use them to retell the story.
- Learn about the author and/or illustrator
- Talk about his or her life
- Look at his or her other books
- Draw a picture of the characters in these books.
- Encourage the child to look at the book at home or in the classroom. Read the book again and again if the child is interested.
Talking with children
Because all forms of language are connected, talking with children is an important way to encourage their emerging literacy.
Talking helps children develop thinking skills, use their creativity, express ideas, increase their vocabulary, and understand the relationships between oral and written forms of language. As described above, talking is an important part of reading aloud with young children.
When you talk with a child you send important messages – “I’m interested in you. Tell me about what you’re doing. I want to hear your ideas.” You can talk with children while reading, writing, playing, and doing routines together. Some examples follow:
- Talk about the past, present, and future. “Last week we played in the sand box together. This week we painted pictures. What would you like to do next week?”
- Talk during everyday activities. While preparing and eating a snack with a child, follow the child’s lead. “I like cats too. I used to have a fat cat with white paws.”
- Ask sincere questions. While taking a walk together, respond to the child’s interest. “How do you think that dandelion grew up through the sidewalk?”
- Start a conversation. While looking out the window together, say, “The clouds look soft today.” Wait for the child to respond.
- Respond to a child’s question. “I don’t know if hamsters like nuts like squirrels do. Let’s see what it says in the hamster book.”
- Offer props that lead to talking. Use puppets, dress-up clothes, and accessories to encourage make-believe play.
Writing with children
Writing is communicating with others by putting ideas in print. Children begin learning to write in the early years.
Writing focuses children’s attention on print, helps them learn that letters represent sounds, and contributes to their emergent reading skills. Handwriting comes later when children can form letters and words in conventional ways.
If you are a tutor who works with a 3- to 5-year-old child, you can offer support that helps a child make discoveries about writing. Here are some examples:
Bring writing materials to each session. In your tutor’s toolbox include:
- Paper (lined and unlined; different sizes, shapes, colors, weights, and textures)
- Writing tools (crayons, markers, alphabet stamps and pad, pencils)
- An iPad or other digital tablet
Some things you do to encourage writing include:
- Let the child see how you use writing.
Tell the child that you need to make a list and ask, “Would you like to make a list, too?” While you write your list the child can use scribble writing or invented spelling to write hers. Take turns reading your lists aloud.
- Help a child see the connection between spoken and written words.
Have the child draw a picture then dictate a story to you. You can write the story – exactly as the child tells it – then read it back to him.
- Encourage a child to put her ideas on paper.
The child can use scribble writing or invented spelling to write a story, then read it to you. Encourage her to take the story home to read to her family.
- Create opportunities to practice writing.
Bring paintbrushes and a bucket of water outdoors. You and the child can write letters and words on a wall or sidewalk. Write letters in the air – whichever letters are of most interest to the child.
- Show respect for a child’s home language.
Learn how to write a few words in this language. Ask the child’s family to help you, if necessary. When children have strong skills in one language, they can use these skills to become proficient in a second language.
- Help the child see the connections between oral and written language.
Ask a question about an interesting experience or special time she had with her family. Write the question in a special journal, then write the child’s answer. Read aloud the question and the child’s answer – to close the session and to start the next one.
- Help a child build the small muscles and coordination used for writing.
Together you can cut, paste, draw, paint, thread beads on a lace, roll playdough, connect small blocks, use a computer keyboard, play a drum, or spread peanut butter on a cracker.
- Have the child write and illustrate a story.
Make a simple book from paper folded in half and stapled on the fold. Make a fancier book with paper and a cardboard cover. Bind the book by lacing thick yarn through holes made with a hole punch. Encourage the child to take the book home to read to his family.
- Make alphabet cards or an alphabet book.
Save interesting pictures, catalogs, magazines, junk mail, and other items that contain print for the child to look at, cut up, and paste on index cards. Collect images that represent the child’s culture, home, and family. Show the letters of the alphabet in various forms (A, a, and a), together with an appropriate picture. Use the cards or books to refer to letters of the alphabet that come up while reading and writing with the child.