early literacy

“Read it again, Mom!”

I’ve been a professional educator for over 25 years, teaching Kindergarten, preschool, and students in the Education department at UVU. I’ve taught these delightful students how to foster reading and writing with children birth through 6. Here is some of my cumulative knowledge and experience in a KSL online news article.


“Read it again, mom!”

I love sharing wonderful books with young children! I need to just say that again. I love sharing wonderful books with young children! I’m sure I learned that from my mother who also loves to read for recreation and personal education and sharing what she reads with her family. When she comes to visit her grandchildren, she puts children’s picture books in her suitcase. Guess what the grandchildren look forward to do with grandma, curled up on the couch?

I’m also a professional early childhood educator and mother of 5 grown children. Having taught young children ages 3 mo. to 3rd grade and supervised and trained teachers of this age group for over 25 years, I have a lot of tricks for sharing books with kids. It’s more than just opening up a book and reading the words.

What I teach my university students is that you have to prepare your child before even reading. Give them a purpose for wanting to listen. Involve them in the reading, and then discuss a thinking question at the end. Here is a template for book sharing:

Introduction. Start with an introduction and some prequestions or a discussion, i.e. Have you ever seen a mouse?  What do they look like?  Do they really like cheese?  (show the front of the book) This is a book about a mouse who loves to eat cheese and a cat who wants to eat the mouse. Do you think the cat will catch the mouse?

Then, ask them to listen for something so they can develop critical thinking.

Sample Question:  “While I read this book, I would like you to see how the mouse figures out a way to eat the cheese before the cat catches him.” For a toddler or preschooler, simplify the question such as, “Let’s read the book and see if the mouse can hide from the cat.”

Shared Book Experience. Shared reading involves your child in whatever appropriate ways you choose such as: chanting together repeated phrases, stopping at predictable parts and asking children to fill in a key word, echo reading, making predictions or applying to real-life experiences. Just spontaneously involve her while you are reading like having her fill in the missing rhyming word, for example. Or saying, “Look at this page. How many baby kittens do you see? Let’s count them together.” Or asking, “Why do you think this lion looks so unhappy?” Chanting together repetitive phrases is one of my favorites. When you have a repetitive phrase, like “Chica Chica Boom Boom!” ask the child to say it aloud with you on every page it appears. Be sure to track your finger along so she can see how the words translate into the familiar sounds.

Discussion after readingExample:  Did the mouse get the cheese?  How did the mouse outsmart the cat? Then talk about what kinds of pets they know of. Do you have a pet? What do you feed them?

I don’t always use have a pre- and post critical thinking question. But I always figure out a way to introduce the book, get a child involved in wanting to hear what it is about, and involving him while I read. We also discuss the message afterward and relate to real life or react meaningfully to it. The purpose here isn’t to teach reading or early literacy skills (except a little when you do the rhymes together) but to have him enjoy listening to great stories, seeing the beautiful illustrations, and thinking and discussing themes.

Here is a list of GREAT books for young children, ages 2-6.  I deliberately chose them for their simple themes, illustrations, and brief text. You can read them in under 5 minutes.  A lot are Caldecott award winners. Some are even wordless or have few words, which lend themselves for more participation and interpretation of what the child thinks is happening on the page and what might happen next. Many are build-upon or repetitive stories, and others are rhyming, which is really important for early readers to hear often. You want good read-alouds and these are very rhythmical.

So…you’re welcome! Have fun reading every day. Be prepared to hear, “Read it again, mom!” That’s the highest compliment you can earn.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Ella Sarah Gets Dressed by Margaret Chodos-Irvine

One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian

Drummer Hoff by Barbara Emberley

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead

My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann

ANYTHING by Eric Carle (Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear, Lonely Cloud, Home for Hermit Crab, etc.)

Chica Chica Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault

Are You My Mother? by  P.D. Eastman

White Rabbit’s Color Book and Brown Rabbit’s Shape Book by Alan Baker

It Looks Like Spilt Milk by Charles Shaw

Flotsam or Tuesday by David Weisner

Any short and fun book by Dr. Seuss like “Green Eggs and Ham” “Foot Book” And “Red Fish Blue Fish”

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahberg

Not at Box by Antoinette Portis

Inside a Barn in the Country by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens

In the Tall, Tall Grass by Denise Fleming

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

No David! by David Shannon

Kitten’ First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

Llama, Llama, Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney (and there’s other versions as well)

A Ball for Daisy  by Chris Raschka

The House at Night by Susan Marie Swanson

First the Egg  by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Fortune Telling, Early Literacy, and Mt. Everest

Mountain Climbing

Did any of you play “fortune telling” when you were a kid? You’d look at your friend’s palm and see the creases and lines that forecasted wealth, love, a long life, or maybe forebode heartache and misery. It was all fun and games and no one took it seriously.

I’d like you to image that you are a palm reader today.How accurate will you be by looking at lines on a palm? You can’t really tell a person how their life will turn out just by a few wrinkles, right? Are you certain of your predictions?  I have a formula that is fool proof (well, almost…but it sure beats a crystal ball). I will be a fortune teller today and tell you if your kids will likely have a long and happy life. It all depends on one thing. Reading.

In one of my favorite books called The Read Aloud Handbook (I read it while living in Chicago and it changed my life), Jim Trelease summarizes solid research that shows a high probability of a child’s later success in life is based on how often a parent read to them while they were growing up:

You read more, therefore…

You know more, therefore…

You’re smarter, therefore…

You stay in school, therefore…

You get more diplomas, therefore…

You have more stable employment, therefore…

You make more money, therefore…

Your kids will get good grades, therefore…

You’ll enjoy a longer and happier life! (Handbook, pp. xxiv, xxv).

It all starts with one book. For a child to have the foundational literacy skills to learn how to read in Kindergarten, their parents need to have read a minimum of 1000 books to their child before they enter school. One thousand books may seem like a lot, but if you break it down, it’s only about two books per day. But those one or two books add up and predict amazing results.

It reminds me of a keynote speaker I heard once at a conference. He had conquered the climb to Mt. Everest after experiencing harrowing, near-death experiences along the way. The final step on the summit was celebrated with a ceremonial flag-posting, pictures, and a brief breath-taking view. But he said something like this: “That last step on the top was not any more important than the first step at base camp. If I hadn’t taken that first step and all the other small but important steps along the way, I would never have taken that final step.” I think that has a lot of significance to many things in life, including the achievement of raising children.

I write this after reading the paper today. I’m so impressed that Utah County has initiated the “EveryDay Learners” reading program by encouraging local businesses to become active in early literacy activities. Today’s article highlighted Tom Hansen. He owns a 7-Eleven convenience store and took up the challenge by Bill Hulterstrom, president of United Way of Utah County, to help young children want to read. He installed two bookshelves in the front of his store, just the height for small children, and stocked them with children’s books. Hansen tells his young friends, “Take a book, read it, bring it back, report about the book to an employee and collect a treat from a variety of healthy snacks like a banana or apple, or have a Slurpee on the house”  (http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/central/provo/eleven-makes-reading-fun-rewards-efforts/article_cfb9536a-a9d4-5116-9f0d-3a93f20fe534.html).

My hat is off to you, Tom Hansen. You are the newest fortune teller in Utah County. You are creating the next generation of 7-Eleven shoppers who will more likely stay in school, get a diploma, secure more stable employment, earn more money, raise successful children, and have a happy life. Who knows, they may end up owning their own 7-Eleven store filled with a library of books for other young children.

High five to you. Palms and all.