Promoting Your Preschooler's Development of Reading and Writing Skills
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With a huge smile on her face, 4-year-old Maddie got off the bus clutching a piece of braille paper and greeted her aunt. "Want to hear my story, Aunt Connie?" Once inside, Maddie's fingers moved over the braille as she "read" the story she had dictated to her teacher of students with visual impairments:
Scamper is a bunny.
I love Scamper.
Scamper eats carrots.
I love carrots.
I love my bunny Scamper.
My bunny Scamper loves me.
All children need to develop literacy skills, that is, the ability to read and write. Literacy development begins long before your child's third birthday. During the preschool years, your child will become more aware of and interested in print or braille and will start to make the connection that written words are used to represent thoughts. By the time your child is moving into kindergarten, she may be dictating stories like Maddie did.
Maddie was motivated by telling a story in her own words, and as her teacher read it back to her, she committed the story to memory. She knew enough about braille to move her fingers across the page as she pretended to read it, and she could pick out some of the words, such as "I" and "love," that she had used in previous stories at preschool and at home. Over time, and with practice, Maddie will learn to read all the words in her story.
Whether your child is a print reader, a braille reader, or a dual reader—a child learning both print and braille—there are many ways for you to foster a love of reading and writing in her.
- Have books for your child at home and read to her often. (See the suggestions for choosing books under Reading and Making Tactile Books with Your Child). Books are available in both print and braille for children who are likely to become braille readers. You can read the print to your child while encouraging her to run her fingers along the braille. These books can be borrowed free from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped or purchased from organizations like Seedlings and National Braille Press, or your child's teacher of students with visual impairments may be able to loan you books.
- Consider learning some braille yourself so you can assist your child in reading and writing. There are several free ways to do this, including correspondence courses from the Hadley School for the Blind and the Dots for Families web site. You don't have to learn all the braille code, but can at least consider learning the alphabet.
- Encourage your child to dictate stories to you that you can make into books together. You can write down her story in print or braille, and she can illustrate the book with her drawings, or you can collect objects to glue on the pages (see Helping Your Baby Learn about Reading and Writing).
- Give your child reasons to read and write. Together, make a shopping list to take to the grocery store, write out her birthday invitations, or compose a letter to a grandparent.
- Label items in your house that are important to your child. You can put her name on her bedroom door or the word "blocks" on the outside of the bin where she keeps her building blocks. Make your print legible and don't write on a busy background. For most children with low vision, black print on a white background works best. If your child will be reading braille, you can learn to make such labels in braille.
- Point out print in the community, especially when it will have meaning for your child. When you're in the toy store, show her the price tags that tell how much her new game cost. At a restaurant, point out the menu that tells you the food choices they have, and at the mall talk about the signs above each store. When possible, have her get up close to pictures and print so she too can see them. Or show her braille anytime you see it in the community: in an elevator, on a menu, or outside a door.
- For reading and writing to make sense to your child, she needs to understand the things she is reading and writing about. (See Reading and Making Tactile Books with Your Child) Since Maddie, the child in the opening vignette, has a bunny, a book from the library about bunnies will have meaning for her, but it might not for another child who does not have a pet. The more experiences your child has, the more concepts she will understand in the books she reads.
- If your child uses a magnifier to see things close by or a monocular to see things in the distance, encourage her to practice using these low vision devices to look at words, as well as pictures, money, and other objects in the environment.