Friday, January 26, 2018

Six Keys to an Engaging Early Childhood Reading Experience

The most essential aspect of early childhood reading is simply reading.  Identifying books that are appealing, entertaining, and educational though enhances the experience.  When choosing books for children under five, there are six key criteria to consider.

Rhyme and Rhythm

For centuries, children have recited the same nursery rhymes.  They are drawn to these poems and songs because of the rhythm and flow created by the poetic elements, such as rhyme and alliteration.  Books that utilize rhyme, such as Cat Napped (Leeza Hernandez) and Rhyming Dust Bunnies (Jan Thomas), make language and reading more appealing.  

The benefits of rhyme are numerous.  For instance, it teaches children how language and phonics works.  Rhyme helps them learn how to identify word parts and to break words down.  All of these skills are vital as they begin to read, to spell, and to write. 

Rhyming is also fun.  I used to brainstorm rhyming words with my kids as we did errands in the car.  To them, it was a game. 

Books with rhyme and rhythm are ideal read alouds for preschool children because they build literacy skills and boost the reading experience. 

Kinesthetic Activity

Reading does not have to be a static activity.  I always encouraged my children to point and to interact.  

Some books go further by inviting physical activity—clapping hands, stomping feet, dancing around. A few books in this category are Clap Your Hands (Lorinda Bryan Cauley), From Head to Toe (Eric Carle) and Hop, Hop, Jump (Lauren Thompson). Action-oriented books like these have the added bonus of helping small children get some of the wiggles out.

Active reading can include physical motions and participation—whether the book directly encourages it or not.  


Foundational to the early childhood experience is learning to identify numbers, colors, letters, opposites, shapes, feelings, and animals.  Popular early concept books include Shape Shift (Joyce Hesselberth), The Day the Crayons Quit (Drew Daywalt), and Ten Little Caterpillars (Bill Martin Jr.).

Regularly incorporate books into story time with bright colors and bold pictures that illustrate these concepts in creative and entertaining ways.   


Some of my favorite books have a repetitive structure.  The two I read most often to my children were We Are Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen) and Five Monkeys Jumping on the Bed (Eileen Christelow).

I encouraged my kids to read along.  I began with leaving off a word or phrase.
We are going on a ______.
We are going to catch a ______.
Eventually, my children memorized the whole chorus and “read along” with me. 

Repetitive books are one way to help youngsters begin to internalize patterns and structure. As they do, they feel more competent and confident.

Include a steady stream of books with repetition like Tiny Little Fly (Michael Rosen), like Down by the Barn (Will Hillenbrand), and It’s a Tiger (David LaRochelle).


Predicting is a key comprehension skill.  It is never too early to begin to ask guessing questions. Sure babies will not understand or be able to answer.  Your interaction with them is beneficial though. 

As toddles become talkers, they can make guesses.  In time, those guesses will become more sophisticated. 

Look for books with a picture or word clues (sometimes in the form of rhyming words). Children will benefit by developing a basic framework for engaging or thinking about the text as they read. Also, these books encourage them to practice guessing using context clues and memorizing sequences of events.

As a result, choosing books that are conducive to predicting outcomes are ideal for early childhood reading experiences.  Check out Whose Hat Is That? (Anita Bijsterbosch) and Guess Who, Haiku (Deanna Caswell).

Sound Words

There is some debate as to whether sound words are helpful in language development.  Some educators claim it is just as easy to say ”cow” as “moo.” Saying “moo” and “baa” is fun though.  These words add drama and flair to story time in books like Chugga Chugga Choo Choo (Emma Garcia) and Cows Can’t Quack (David Reisman).

In addition, sound words and phrases are conducive to choral reading.  Simply put, choral reading is reading or reciting in unison.  This activity can be small and informal like when a child “reads along” words or phrases with a parent or caregiver.  It can also be large and formal, such as a whole class reciting together.  This activity builds self-confidence and motivation in pre and early readers. 

Furthermore, children use animal sounds as a means to express their emotions.  A child feeling wild may “roar” during playtime.  Later, while feeling cuddly and peaceful, he may “meow.”  Of course, you want kids to express themselves fully with “adult” words, but animal sounds can be a temporary short cut as they get a full understanding of language, emotions, and social cues. 

The whole point of reading is to engage children in sound and language.  If sound words enrich the experience, it is beneficial.  Therefore, read books out loud brimming in onomatopoeia.

For more help picking the perfect book for your children, read Five Fabulous Picture Book Finds for Kids under 5 or click on the labels in the right-hand column. 

1 comment:

  1. Such great stories and books. I see uses for these books in Middle School as well. Mark


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