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This post is part of my 6×6 series on encouraging literacy in children from birth to five.

2014-04-09 20.24.10Words are everywhere. Letters are everywhere. They are on t-shirts, street signs, cars, buildings, and semi-trucks you pass on the highway. The more attention you draw to the fact that letters and words are everywhere, the more your toddler will start to notice them and associate the fact that they have meaning. That will make them interested in learning how to decode those meanings. Kids are curious and natural know-it-alls. They want to know it all.

The other day my doctor was sharing a story about a couple she knows. They had a two-and-a-half year old who wasn’t talking much yet. Not really a big concern, but something to keep an eye on. My doctor asked them if they read to her regularly. “Oh no,” said the mother, “she just won’t sit still for it.” Now, many of us probably know hyper active kids, kids that just ‘won’t sit still’. However, my doctor made a comment to me saying, “Well, of course she won’t sit still. They haven’t been reading to her, so she hasn’t been taught that this is what you do when you read.” I happen to agree with her.

We aren’t saying your toddler should sit still while you read the first chapter from Harry Potter to her, but you can teach her sit still while you read short board books like Good Night Moon or Gossie and Gertie. If they are an active kid (and let me tell you, I know active, I have two boys under 5) you can get them to sit by making it a routine, by doing it periodically, and sticking to short books until they get the hang of it. It is easier to do if you have been doing it since birth. If it has always been a routine, they won’t fight it, most of the time they will look forward to it. Anytime they have your undivided attention is a good thing; most kids will eat that up. However, you must make them sit still at first, especially if you started reading to them late, after they’ve become pretty active (like 1-year-old or more). It becomes a habit, like brushing their teeth and taking a bath. If you make it fun (which we addressed in a previous post) you will have very little trouble getting them to sit with you for a few minutes to read book. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but most young children will love the fun and attention they get when reading a book with mommy or daddy.

This is one of the goals of the skill Notice Print All Around You. The card about this skill states, “Noticing that print in the environment is meaningful and knowing how to handle a book doesn’t just happen. Children need many experiences handling books in their everyday world….” It doesn’t just happen. As parents, we need to show and teach. This means sitting down with them, and having them sit still on our lap once in a while so we can read a short book.

What are some ways we can work with our children to notice print? Point out street signs and talk about the letters on them and what they mean (my oldest loves this one). Do puzzles with them that have words and letters. When you make a shopping list show them the list and talk about the items on it. Read while in the store. Show them the word bananas on the list and have them point which way you should go to find them. When you write anything, rules, chores, recipes, talk with your kids about it and tell them what you are doing. Let them help you cook and read recipes. Have them find certain letters downtown on signs or t-shirts. When you are at a restaurant look at the menu together. Point to and read the items out loud, then let your child pick which one he wants. You don’t have to do these activities all the time, just once in a while. They will start noticing on their own before you know it.

Information for this post and other 6×6 posts is adapted from the 6×6 READY TO READ cards provided by the State Library of Kansas through a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.