In our previous post, we explored different pre-reading skills your baby, toddler, and preschooler can learn before they know how to read. These pre-reading skills are essential to learning to read. Luckily teaching these skills to your child is simple: all you have to do is read! Reading books together is the perfect platform for exposing your child to the many nuances of reading, including concepts of print.
Concepts of Print
There are many understandings that are essential to knowing how reading “works”. These understandings, called concepts of print, are foundational to both reading and writing. Matured readers rarely notice these key concepts because they are so ingrained in our reading, but at some point we all had to learn them. These concepts relate to orientating oneself of reading, using books, and recognizing the different elements found in books (letters, words, punctuation, illustrations, etc.). There are many concepts of print. Below are a few key concepts that your child will learn as you read with them. Understanding these concepts will help prepare them for success in kindergarten and beyond.
Left to Right & Top to Bottom
In English we read words, sentences, and entire books by starting at the left and moving to the right and working our way from top to bottom. When we read books with our children we model these motions. We demonstrate this when we turn to a new page and hold our gaze on the left side first, then turning to the right. When we follow the words along with our finger, we more clearly visualize the left to right and top to bottom motions used when reading words. These acts are motions that our children internalize and after prolonged exposure begin to replicate themselves. After reading books together multiple times a day, I have been amazed to notice my 7 month old consistently turning the pages of her board book from the right side then holding her gaze on the new left page. At less than a year old she is already demonstrating understanding of the left to right motion used when reading.
We Read Print and It Has Meaning
Children’s books typically have both print and illustrations on a page. Both are there to aid the reader’s comprehension. When we point to the words we are reading on the page, we demonstrate that the words we are saying come from the print. When we read aloud our intonation, cadence, and expression are usually slightly different than when we converse. Infants and toddlers are very attune to voices, especially the voices of their caregivers, and notice these differences. The combination of the change in our speaking and pointing/gazing at the words on the page signal to our children that the print is what we are reading. When our children watch us read the print, they learn those boring pictures (aka print *wink*) are meaningful.
The knowledge that books have a front and back (some people include books having a spine) is key to being able to orient oneself when reading. When reading with your young child, we model how we start at the front and work our way toward the back. You can enhance your young child’s understanding of this concept by intentionally using the words “front” and “back” to describe the book when reading.
Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Recognizing story structure is a comprehension strategy that students will be taught throughout elementary school. Story structure is also important for narrative writing. Young children can begin to understand story structure by being exposed to lots of stories and having conversations about them. When reading with your infant, make sure to include stories among the books you read. Many books for infants have simple words and illustrations that do not contain a plot. Those books are great and serve many purposes, but they do not support story structure learning. Be intentional with the books you read your child and include stories. For toddlers and preschoolers, lay the foundation for story structure understanding by asking your child questions like: “What happened at the beginning of the story?” and “How did ____ feel at the beginning/end of the story?” You can also regularly use key phrases like these to expose story structure to your child.
- Let’s read our book! We start at the beginning.
- We finished the book. The END
- Can you turn the page to the end?
There are more concepts of print that your child will learn throughout preschool and kindergarten. By reading with your infant or toddler, you are giving them a head start on learning to read–what an incredible gift. Next time you read your child a book, don’t forget to marvel at the many things your child is learning and pat yourself on the back for being such a great teacher!