How to read with your young child - Print concepts

Reading a book with your little one is a time honoured tradition that many households continue today. Sharing a book can open your child’s mind to imaginative worlds or help them discover facts about something in our world. 

readingAs a primary school teacher, I am often asked many questions about the best strategies to use when listening to a child read or about what aspects to focus on when reading to a child. There is a lot of information about learning to read so I thought I would break it up into three blogs in a series titled “How to read with your young child”. This is the first blog of the series focusing on Print concepts.

In order for children to read they need to know how a book works. This is what teachers call “Print Concepts”. Most children are expected to know about some of these concepts prior to starting school, while others are developed through Kindergarten and Year 1. In NSW schools, children are tested on their knowledge of Print Concepts at the beginning of Kindergarten, end of Kindergarten, Year 1 and at any other point for “at risk” readers (children not meeting benchmarks). It is important for parents to have a good understanding about Print Concepts in order to help develop their child’s understanding of them. Most parents refer to print concepts while reading to their child without even realising it.

For children aged 2 to 7 years old it is important to articulate the print concepts every time you read to your child. Talking about how a book works, engages your child in a conversation with you, which will help deepen their understanding of reading.

Below is a list of the print concepts that children should understand in the early phases of learning to read.

1. Can locate the front of the book

This is a fairly simple one but children only become confident with this if they have lots and lots of experiences with books. They need to watch you locate the front as well as pointing it out to you while they are handling the book.

Ideas to try for this concept

  • Hand the child the book in different ways and see if they can turn the book into the right position ready to read
  • Ask the child to point to the front of the book, the back of the book and the spine of the book
  • Ask the child where the name of the book is (title)
  • Ask the child what does an author do and what an illustrator does. See if they can locate the names on the front cover, if not, show them
  • Ask the child to open the book to where the story begins

2. Knows the difference between a picture and words

This is another basic concept that needs to be known before a child can learn to read. They need to understand the idea of the print carrying the message and the picture supporting the print.

Ideas to try for this concept

  • Ask the child to point to the picture and describe what is happening in the picture
  • Point out interesting parts of the picture that is written about in the print
  • Focus the child’s attention on the words and explain that we read the words on a page
  • Ask the child where they (or a parent) would start reading from (as long as they point to any text, they understand this concept)

3. The direction of reading

Children who have had a lot of exposure to books would already understand that the text is what is being read. The next concept would be to understand where we start reading from and which direction we read in.

Ideas to try for this concept

  • A parent points out which page they would read first (left, then right) A parent could ask the child this question before they start reading. eg Can you point to the page that I read first
  • If there is more than one block of text on the page, a parent could ask the child what words do I read first? (top then bottom)
  • The parent points out what word they read first and use their finger to show the direction that they will be reading on the first line (child can copy by running their finger under the first line of text from left to right)
  • The parent points out what happens when they finish reading the first line (sweep around to the start of the next line) Again the child can copy with their finger showing the return sweep.
  • Ask the child what happens when you have read both pages (turn the page and start with the left page again)

4. The difference between a letter and a word

Many parents are overjoyed when their child can read a word from a flash card or read a word written by itself on a piece of paper or on a whiteboard. This is a big achievement but what is even better, is if they can point out this word in context (within a sentence or story). Reading is a complicated skill and children rely on adults to be clear about literacy to help them develop their own meaning. We need to guide them in understanding that letters make sounds and putting letters together make words and putting words together make sentences. This is a concept that takes a while to understand.

Ideas to try for this concept

  • A parent points out a letter in a word. They ask questions like: Do you know what the name of this letter is? Do you know what sound this letter makes?
  • A parent points out a word in a sentence. They ask questions like: How many words are in this sentence? How many words are on this page?
  • Child points to the first word, last word, a word starting with a particular letter
  • Give the child two cards and ask them to use them as curtains that open (pull cards apart from each other) and close (put the cards next to each other) to show a letter in a word and a word in a sentence.

5. One to One Correspondence

Children need to learn that each word on the page represents each word that is read. The child needs to be able to point to each word when the corresponding word is read by their parent or themselves.

Ideas to try for this concept

  • Get the child to point with their index finger under each word that is read
  • Get the child to use a pointer or pencil under each word that is read

6. Understanding of simple punctuation

Children need to see that there are other aspects of text that help the reader to read. The use of punctuation helps the reader, read fluently and with expression

Ideas to try for this concept

  • A parent can point to the full stop and tell the child why we use full stops (to indicate the end of a sentence)
  • A parent can point to a question mark and tell the child why we use a question mark. (to indicate a question has been asked)
  • A parent can point to a exclamation mark and tell the child why we use an exclamation mark ( to emphasise something)
  • A parent can point to speech marks/quotation marks and tell the child why use speech marks (to indicate a character is talking)

The main focus of teaching your child to read is having lots and lots of conversation about it. Not only are you reading the text but also teaching your child how a book works.

I hope you have found this first blog in the series “How to read with your young child” useful and informative. The next blog will be about Strategies to help your child work out an unknown word while reading.

Thank you for taking the time to read my first blog. I look forward to hearing any thoughts or comments that you have.

Until next time …….

Kelly Pisani

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6 thoughts on “How to read with your young child - Print concepts”

  1. Thanks for the pointers on your blog. It’s funny how we just take it for granted that they understand what we’re reading to them. I’ll be more mindful from now on when reading to the grandchildren!

    1. I agree Sue. We are all guilty of assuming they are learning what we are wanting them to. Children learn “in the moment” so it is very important to seize any teaching moments while reading to them. Teaching them how a book works while reading to them or listening to them read will open so many opportunities for them at the beginning of school.

  2. Well written Kelly, your blog is clearly an easy read and understandable for all and not only for parents and guardians, but is a great support and strategies for teachers and educators in the early childhood industry- I will be definitely be passing this blog onto my colleagues to pass onto their students starting their teaching careers.

    1. Thank you for sharing my blog to your colleagues. It is really important as educators and parents to give learning experiences which are meaningful to the child. Sometimes we just assume that children learn what we need them to by just watching (passive learning) but it is important to have conversations with our little ones to pinpoint their understanding. Get them involved in the learning process (active learning) and their knowledge and understanding of reading concepts will be very deep and it will therefore build a great foundation for further learning in literacy.

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