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Adapted from The Early Literacy Kit by Betsy Diamant-Cohen and Saroj Nadkarni Ghoting
Talk about the pictures in a book with your baby. Pause to let the baby babble back. Narrative skills begin with babbling!
Look at the illustrations in a picture book with your child. Talk about the colors, their names, whether they are bright or pastel, clear or blurry.
A nursery rhyme or folktale like "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" may appear in different books with different illustrations. Share different versions with your preschooler. Talk about the similarities and differences.
Toddlers and preschoolers who act out the stories they hear are developing their gross motor skills.
Dramatic play uses a variety of senses and allows the children to experience the story in an immediate way and helps them internalize it.
Pretending fosters your child's imagination. Sing "I'm a Little Teapot", examine a real teapot. Ask, "Where is the spout?" Pretend to drink a cup of tea and discuss what it tastes like.
Use books like Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells to start a conversation about what upsets your child and how s/he can calm himself or herself down. Give them the words for anger, frustration, and sadness so they can express themselves verbally instead of acting out these difficult emotions.
Some nursery rhymes tell a story. Understanding story structure helps young children later when they are learning to read.
Using flannel board pieces helps babies and toddlers remember the sequence of a story and helps them to retell the story in the correct order.
Singing songs about the order in which things occur helps toddlers and preschoolers develop the mathematical concept of sequencing.
By Jenny Foster Stenis, MLIS, PLS Center for Children's Services
Good Night, Gorilla by Rathman, Dog Loves Books by Yates, I Went Walking by Williams and Is Your Mama a Llama? by Guarino are books that tell either in words or pictures a simple story. Narrative skills is expressive language, including being able to describe things and to tell events in order. Being able to tell or retell a story helps children learn to understand what they read. An example of this pre-reading skill is your child's ability to tell what happens on a trip to the zoo, the dentist or the library.
Begin by repeating simple poems and nursery rhymes. Read books with simple stories such as I Went Walking. Sing songs that are stories. Describe the day your child is having, for example, Mom or Dad might say: "First we are going to get dressed and then I will feed you breakfast. After we put on our coat we will go to the library." Presenting the child with an ordered list of activities helps the child to understand sequencing. Dog Loves Books presents a simple story which has a definite order.
Good Night Gorilla is a great book to share with an older child to develop narrative skills. This book is wordless. "Read" this story to your toddler by pointing out the events and main characters with your finger as you tell what is happening. Have your preschooler tell you what is happening in the pictures. There are many books that have places where you can pause and ask the child what will happen next. This helps with a more complex aspect of narrative skills-- prediction. In I Went Walking, each picture contains a clue to the animal that will appear in the next two-page spread. Help your child look for these clues so that they can begin learning to predict what will happen next. A more complex example would be Is Your Mama a Llama?. This book not only provides visual clues on the page, but the rhyming scheme encourages the right answer with descriptions and a rhyming clue before you turn the page.
Use mealtime to help your child develop narrative skills. Let them recount what they have done during the day. Perhaps they can tell you the story of a book, movie or show that they have read or seen. Narrative skills help children understand what they hear and read. Make sure to have opportunities to talk with your child. Have a conversation about what is happening during his/her day or as you are reading a book together. Give your child plenty of time to formulate a response. Wait at least 7 to 12 seconds for toddlers to respond. Ask questions that can't be answered by "yes" or "no". This encourages thinking and increases a child's comprehension. This interaction helps develop the parts of the brain involved in language. As you go through the day with your little one name more than things, talk about feelings, describe actions and explain ideas. Research shows those children who speak well and have larger vocabularies have higher reading scores. Reading is more than being able to say or sound out the words on a page. Reading involves understanding what the written words mean and what knowledge is triggered about that meaning in the reader.
By Valerie Kimble, MLS, PLS Center for Children's Services
When my nephew Christopher was three, his favorite books went everywhere with him-to Grandma's house, to the park, on the train, etc. I was in high school then, and babysat for him a lot. I read those books over and over and over. One summer day we were on the train going to the beach. Chris asked for a particular book, so I reached for the book bag...and realized it had gotten left at home. The extra bag had towels and a pail and shovel, but no books. "Which book do you want?" I asked. "One Fish,Two Fish," he said. So, picturing the small yellow book by Dr. Seuss, I began to recite. After that he wanted The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night. Then he asked for Green Eggs and Ham. I recited or told the story of every book we usually carried for the entire train ride. I threw in some nursery rhymes since those were easy to remember. Chris prompted me when I hesitated over a refrain. When I paused to listen to the conductor announce the next stop, the lady seated behind us leaned forward and said, "I really liked that last book, can I see the cover?" She was astonished when I told her there was no book. Chris told her proudly, "We readed it out of our heads." After that I never carried that heavy bag of books again, and Chris was content to listen to the stories. Sometimes he suggested we tell together. "I'm Sam I Am," he'd begin, "You're the fox."
Telling the story in the correct sequence, turning it into imaginative play, and then inventing new plot twists whiled away many long trips. Little did I know at 16 that these storytelling games were building Chris's narrative skills and helping him become the proficient and voracious reader that he is today.
Zulmara Cline and Juan Necochea in their article, "My Mother Never Read to Me" in the Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy (October 2003) tell how they became readers in spite of the lack of books in their home and never having experienced their parents' reading aloud to them. Both attribute their success to caring families invested in their academic success, and frequent sessions of family storytelling. Zulmara writes, "...the oral tradition of storytelling that is so strong in many Latin and African cultures could be just as important as books to promote literacy and a love for reading and writing within the family." She goes on to recommend music and singing as family activities that are "...just as important in promoting avid readers as the ritualistic 20-minute bedtime story."
According to Beaty and Pratt in their book, Early Literacy in Preschool and Kindergarten (2007), babies remember stories and songs they hear in the womb by the 7th month of pregnancy!
By all means cuddle up at bedtime-or anytime-with your little one and share a story. The story may come from a book or from your heart. Children love to hear about the day they were born, or how their pet joined the family, or other special and personal reminiscences. Storytelling is possible while driving the car and less harmful to paper in the bathtub. Be confident, because those often-repeated songs and nursery rhymes are easily recalled, as are the plots and characters of your child's favorite books, or the favorite stories of your own childhood. Sing silly songs. It's okay to make up new words or hum the missing phrases. Your child will be glad to provide correction and suggestions. Ask him or her to tell you a story. Ask "what will happen next?" Ask him or her to voice one of the characters. S/he may even begin the storytelling telling session unprompted.
To me reading aloud is storytelling with a prop. Put down the prop and tell it from your heart. Or, as my nephew use to say, "Read it out of your head."