Education, Parenting

Teaching a Preschooler to Read: Concepts of Print

My last article, Teaching a Preschooler to Read:  A Crash in Phonemic Awareness, was a bit verbose.  Fortunately, teaching your child concepts of print (aka print concepts) is fairly simple.  A lot of what I have done to teach my child about print has been rather implicit.  I do advocate that the best way to teach these notions to your child is by reading aloud with him/her.  Before I get into how I taught my child about concepts of print, I need to provide you with a few definitions.  Keep in mind that children do not have to be able to read to have mastered concepts of print.

  • Concepts of Print: is the “‘understanding of how letters, words, and sentences are represented in written language’…they should be learned by the time the child leaves kindergarten” (Zarillo, 2005, p. 19).

To master concepts of print, the child must be able to understand the following:

  • Print Carries Meaning:  The child should understand that words convey information.  While a child may not be able to read, they can retell the story of their favorite picture book to demonstrate understanding.
  • Directionality of English and Tracking of Print:  The child should understand that we read from left to right, top to bottom in the English language.  He/she also understands that a book is read from left to right.
  • Sentence, Word, and Letter Representation:  The child should understand that there is a difference between letters, words and sentences.
  • Book Orientation:  The child can identify the various components of a book (e.g., front vs. back cover).  He/she can tell you where a story begins and ends as well as the location of the story’s title and author.

(Zarillo, 2005)

Teaching Concepts of Print

The best advice I can give to you is to read to your child.  Your child will naturally pick up some of these concepts through your shared reading experiences.  For example, I never explicitly taught my son that we read left to right or the location of a book’s title.  He learned simply through watching me read to him.  As he approached his fourth birthday, I did start to make a more conscience effort to introduce to him terms like author and illustrator.  The librarian in me even taught him where the title page and verso are located in a book (no, a preschooler doesn’t need to know these two).  We are now (as he approaches his fifth birthday in a few months) talking about punctuation.  He knows that “., ?, and !” come at the end of a sentence, but he doesn’t yet know their individual meanings.

Methods for Teaching Concepts of Print

  • Prior to reading your bedtime story, have your child look at the front cover of the story.  Model for your child where the title, author, and illustrator are located.  Read the title aloud to your child and have them look at the picture on the front cover.  Ask him/her to predict what the story will be about.  Ask your child questions during and after the story.  Have them say aloud repeated/predictable text with you (Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? is an excellent book for predictable text).
  • Let your child create their own book. (My son loves to do this activity).  They can make a book with just pictures or they can dictate the story to you.  If they are beginning to write, you can have them use inventive spelling (i.e., when they write how they think a word is spelled) and then you can write down the correct spelling underneath the word.
  • I often use environmental print with my son.  This can be anything from a name on a box of cereal to signs in a grocery store.  Essentially, environmental print helps children learn that text carries meaning.
  • Create signs and label items around the house.  For example, I labeled our trash and recycling bins for our son.  (I got tired of him mixing up the two and having to fish out the recyclables from the garbage can.  Yuck!) While he can’t read a large word like recycle, he can tell the difference between it and the word trash.
  • Sing the alphabet with your child and read ABC books.  We like Animalia by Graeme Base and Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty’s Tasty Treats:  A Slide and Find ABC.  You’ll find that alphabet books are often repetitive.  While you may find this a bit annoying, remember that young children need repetition to help them learn.
  • Write out your child’s name and have them identify each of the letters.  You can use magnetic letters, alphabet bean bags, letter tiles or felt board letters in place of writing out the letters.
  • Take advantage of your child’s natural interests.  If you have a kid that is obsessed with sharks, look for books on sharks.  If they play video games, you can use the text in video games to teach them.  My child is currently in a Pokemon phase.  We are taking advantage of this infatuation by using his Pokemon video games and books to encourage his reading development.

Zarrillo, J. J. (2005). Ready for RICA: A Test Preparation Guide for California’s Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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