Scrolling your finger under text, and occasionally talking about it, can give your kids a head start on their path to becoming strong readers.
Before kids learn to read they must first understand that written words have meaning – a concept known as print awareness. You can help your child master this skill by simply pointing to text, and talking about it, while you read together.1, 2, 3
Pretty simple, right?
This is what the research tells us:
In one study, parents who were taught to use these techniques enhanced their children’s early literacy skills more than parents who were not taught the techniques.1
As part of the study, researchers divided the parents into two groups. Both groups completed a home reading program but only one of the groups learned to reference the print while reading. In the end, the researchers found that parents who used print referencing techniques significantly enhanced their kids’ early literacy skills in several areas.1
Research in classrooms has identified similar positive outcomes when teachers use print referencing while reading with students.2, 3, 4
Here’s what to do:
First, don’t feel bad if you’re not already using this technique — most adults don’t. 5, 6 Second, follow these simple steps and get started today:
1) Scroll your finger under the text when you read together
Pointing to text can help your child understand that the print they see on paper is connected with the words you are speaking. Pointing also helps your child learn the conventions of printed language, such as reading left to right, top to bottom, use of punctuation, and that there are spaces between words.7
2) Talk about the text when you read together
Depending on your child’s ability, you can make comments and/or questions about the text. This may include statements like the following: 8 This is a B. / I’m going to begin reading here. / This says dog. / This letter is in your name. / What letter is this? / Where should I begin reading? / What do you think this says? / Do you see any letters that are in your name?
3) Don’t overdo it
In the study mentioned above, researchers found that some parents overused the techniques during reading, which can become a problem if it lessens the child’s enjoyment. The researchers encourage parents to use the techniques in moderation. 1
One Size Does Not Fit All
All children develop at their own pace. Children with certain developmental delays tend to acquire emerging literacy skills at a slower pace than children without developmental delays.9 If you are concerned about your child’s development, please talk with your family pediatrician and/or contact your state’s Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.
1) Justice, L. M., & Ezell, H. K. (2000). Enhancing Children’s Print and Word Awareness Through Home-Based Parent Intervention. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 9(3), 257. doi:10.1044/1058-0360.0903.257
2) Piasta, S. B., Justice, L. M., Mcginty, A. S., & Kaderavek, J. N. (2012). Increasing Young Children’s Contact With Print During Shared Reading: Longitudinal Effects on Literacy Achievement. Child Development, 83(3), 810-820. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01754.x
3) Justice, L. M., Kaderavek, J. N., Fan, X., Sofka, A., & Hunt, A. (2009). Accelerating Preschoolers Early Literacy Development Through Classroom-Based Teacher–Child Storybook Reading and Explicit Print Referencing. Language Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 40(1), 67. doi:10.1044/0161-1461(2008/07-0098)
4) Justice, L. M., & Ezell, H. K. (2002). Use of Storybook Reading to Increase Print Awareness in At-Risk Children. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 11(1), 17. doi:10.1044/1058-0360(2002/003)
5) Ezell, H. K., & Justice, L. M. (2000). Increasing the Print Focus of Adult-Child Shared Book Reading Through Observational Learning. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 9(1), 36. doi:10.1044/1058-0360.0901.36
6) Ezell, H. K., & Justice, L. M. (1998). A pilot investigation of parents’ questions about print and pictures to preschoolers with language delay. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 14(3), 273-278. doi:10.1177/026565909801400303
7) Suskind, D. (2016). Thirty million words: building a childs brain. Publisher: Dutton.
8) Justice, L. M., & Kaderavek, J. (2002). Using Shared Storybook Reading to Promote Emergent Literacy. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 34(4), 8-13. doi:10.1177/004005990203400401
9) Boudreau, D. M., & Hedberg, N. L. (1999). A Comparison of Early Literacy Skills in Children With Specific Language Impairment and Their Typically Developing Peers. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 8(3), 249. doi:10.1044/1058-0360.0803.249