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Helping Toddlers Read their first Words


What words do toddlers read first? Are they the common words we see most often when we read: is, from, the, I? Not usually.

Do they begin by reading the names of important people:Dad, Mom, Opa, Nana? Not usually.

But sometime before they are three years old–without any coaching–children typically read the first word that really catches their attention. And with a little encouragement toddlers begin to read words soon before they’re two. Few words are as noticeable as the brand names advertisers shout from billboards and TV commercials. That’s why many toddlers begin to read by identifying the sign at aMcDonald’s fast-food restaurant.

“Oh, that’s not really reading,” some parents say when children point to the display and call out for Fruit Loops in the supermarket. “They’ve just memorized that word.” That’s right: They have memorized the word. And that’s reading. When you support this emergent reading, you’re helping your youngster continue to learn to read. 

But here’s the exciting part! You don’t have to wait to discover a child has learned to read a word; you can teach one. Most kids can easily learn to read the word stop as displayed on a stop sign. Talk about the word just like you do when reading a picture book. When you’re near a stop sign–perhaps walking, perhaps in a car–casually point out the sign and say something like, “That sign says stop. If you’re driving a car, you must stop. If the way is clear, then you can go. You don’t go if someone is crossing the road. You really notice a stop sign, don’t you? The colour red catches your eye. Look at how big the letters are. Look at those big white letters that say stop. What’s that sign say? Right. It says stop. You’re learning to read.”

As soon as your child can read the word stop, download and print the picture book Stop. Just chat about it: “Do you see a picture of a stop sign? Can you put your finger on the word stop? Let’s look at all the vehicles that must stop when they come to this sign. ‘Stop, car.’ ‘Stop, bus.’”

Street signs