[Moore, T. 2002. Book Stew: A recipe for reading. In Children and Families, 16 (Fall): 10, Alexandria, VA: NHSA]

How I love to see a child taste a good book. Yes, taste. After all, that is what babies naturally do. I don’t mind seeing a baby stick a corner of a board book into her mouth, because I know that child is gathering knowledge about an important object. By the time children reach your Head Start classroom, however, they are probably done taste testing books but not quite ready to read on their own. Before children can read, they use pre-reading skills in order to communicate. Later, they learn how to read. Helping children develop pre-reading skills is one of the great pleasures of teaching. Try introducing these fun activities, and you’ll see what I mean:

1. Place letters in your environment. Children like to play with alphabet puzzles and letter magnets. And the more they play with letters, the more they understand how an A differs from an H, or a B from a D. Letter magnets in particular can enrich your children’s classroom experience. Not only do children get to pick up and play with the alphabet, they also learn about science by attaching the magnets to metal. And when they sort the letters by size or color, they learn basic math skills.

2. Use that wall space. List the children’s birthdays on a big calendar prominently displayed on the wall. Write classroom rules, words related to the current season, and other important words in large print on posters, and hang them on the walls. There are countless possibilities when it comes to adding print to your classroom in meaningful ways.

3. Symbols teach reading, too. Try developing a grocery store in one of your centers, with distinctive plastic Coke bottles, red and white Campbell’s Soup cans, and other objects with familiar symbols and logos. Children learn that these symbols have meaning, even if at first they just look like squiggles

4. Read aloud in class every day. Children model what they see. If they regularly interact with a reader, they’ll pretend to be readers. From their role-playing, they’ll learn how to hold a book and turn the pages in the appropriate direction. Here’s a tip: before you read a book aloud, give the children a synopsis of the story to help children understand and focus.

5. Choose a diverse array of characters. Children always enjoy seeing books with pictures of children who look like them. But you should also select books that depict children from other backgrounds and cultures

6. Look for activities in books that the children can do. In Whistle for Willie, by Ezra Jack Keats, a little boy wants to whistle, but hasn’t learned how yet. Read this book to your class; then try to teach the children how to whistle. Or follow-up a reading of Sandra Boyton’s Barnyard Dance with some energetic dancing in class. By helping the children do activities mentioned in a book, you give the book more meaning.

7. Find books that encourage call-and-response. This is a great way to engage children in stories. For example, read a page of Dr. Seuss’ Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? and ask the children to copy the sounds Mr. Brown makes. Repeat for each page.

8. Expand your world. Take your class to the library, and look for new, exciting topics to introduce to the children. Browse school supply catalogs and specialty bookstores. With a little searching, you’ll discover many wonderful but obscure topics and people to share with your class.

9. Keep in touch. Send notes to parents about the reading activities children are engaged in. Encourage parents to read these notes aloud to their child and talk about the day’s activities. This gesture alone can start a meaningful conversation.

10. Talking and listening – first and last. Encourage children to talk about the books you’ve read together. Really listen to what they have to say. Help them listen to each other. Encourage children to listen to recordings and talk about what they hear. Read poems. Sing songs. Children prosper when they have strong speaking and listening skills. By nurturing children’s ability to speak and listen, you’ll be creating readers – and writers, too. Children prosper when they have strong speaking and listening skills. By nurturing children’s ability to speak and listen, you’ll be creating readers – and writers, too.

© Thomas Moore, 2002 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books “Where is Thumbkin?” and “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”. He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series “Music, Movement and More”. He has also produced ten recordings for children.