Reading Skills for Children

Ask the Experts by Melissa Sharp

I am a mother of twin preschoolers seeking knowledge on the early phases of reading and writing.

Preparing a child to read and write begins with the first book read in infancy.  From that point, children need experiences that foster oral language, content knowledge, literacy skills, and thinking.

What understandings and skills does my child need when learning to read?

Print conventions:  reading left to right and top to bottom, spaces between words, using upper and lower case letters, and punctuation. Alphabet and phonological awareness:  translating letters into sounds.

Oral language:  oral vocabulary and background knowledge, access to interesting books.

What understandings and skills does my child need when reading to learn?

  • Good decoding skills, good oral language, solid background knowledge, and reasoning skills.
  • Oral vocabulary and other oral language skills:  understanding that a word can have 2 different meanings, skill with grammar and syntax, and good language skills.
  • Background knowledge:  Reading informational texts helps children prepare for reading to learn along with a variety of family experiences.
  • Reasoning:  Using background knowledge in conjunction with information provided in a text and illustrations.

How can I help improve my child's reading comprehension?

Reading comprehension is the most important goal; reasoning should be used to fill in the gaps. Choose books with appropriate complexity and interest, a richness of language, diversity and appropriate illustrations. 

To promote interest, stories should not be too complex, but should provide new information and wonder.  The plot should be complex and describe mental states of characters.

To support reading comprehension,

  • Introduce the story to promote interest.
  • Use voice, gesture, pacing, gaze, and expression.
  • Point to illustrations.
  • Provide comprehension asides:  talk about feelings of characters and ask or answer questions.
  • Respond to questions and comments; avoid long discussion during first reading of story.  This causes a break in the understanding.
  • Engaging in discussion after reading deepens understanding and helps maintain the flow of the story.
  • Support vocabulary by selecting words that if not understood decrease comprehension of story.
  • Read over and over to give time to absorb the information.
  • Ask inferential questions - without adult help, children won't engage in reasoning.

What skills are needed to improve my child's literacy development?

  • Alphabet knowledge:  upper and lower case visual recognition, recognizing letters in a variety of fonts, comparing similarities of letters rather than isolated letter study.
  • Phonological awareness:  Recognition of syllables, beginning sounds, rhyming, substituting letters, distinction between starting letter and starting sound.
  • Print conventions and functions:  Rules for organizing and using print, recognizing variety of print materials and their purpose. Read signs, lists, charts Write with children - cards, notes, labels

What are the early phases of writing?

  1. Pre-representational (infants and toddlers) - marks are not intended to convey a message.
  2. Intentional representation with multi-symbol systems (3 to 4 year olds) - marks convey meaning, but children convey much of the meaning orally.
  3. Intentional representation with more balanced symbol meaning (4 -5 year olds) - drawing conveys more meaning, writing is in more letter form, and there is importance of "saying" full meaning.

How can I make sure my child has a good start to writing?

  • Read to young children. Expose children to a range of purposes for writing:  menus, lists, signs, greetings, stories, poetry, labels.  Children should be highly motivated to write regardless of skill level.
  • Provide mark making opportunities early:  scribble writing and pictures lead to attributing meaning.
  • Talk with children about their writing and drawing; they will learn oral language and message creation. Keep the focus on meaning of the drawing/writing. 
  • Meaning needs to be balanced with code-based skills such as letter sounds and handwriting skills.

References:  Schickedanz, J.A. & M.F. Collins.  2013.  So Much More than the ABCs.  The Early Phases of Reading and Writing.  Washington D.C.:  National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Melissa Sharp is the Director at Assumption Nursery School & Toddler Center and has a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with a minor in Early Childhood Education.  She is also a member of the National and Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children.  She can be reached at (586) 772-4477. Assumption Nursery School & Toddler Center is a member of The Family Center's Association of Professionals.


KINDERGARTEN II: 'Making a Successful Transition into Kindergarten' presented by The Family Center

February 7, 2013, starts promptly at 6:30pm
Panel presentation followed by Q&A session Barnes Early Childhood Center, 20090 Morningside Dr., Grosse Pointe Woods
Fee $5 per family
This annual winter school transition program will feature a panel of experts followed by an open Q & A panel discussion.
Melissa Sharp will be one the panelists for this special Ask the Experts presentation that will be offered to help preschoolers make a successful transition into kindergarten.

Enriched Communities Through Strong Families
The Family Center serves as the community's hub for information, resources and referral for both families and professionals. The Family Center is a non-profit organization founded to promote a deeper understanding of the role of parents and others in supporting our youth to become competent, caring and responsible community members.

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To volunteer or contribute, visit, call (313) 432.3832.
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Enriching Our Community Through Stronger Families
The Family Center serves as the community's hub for information, resources and referral for both families and professionals. The Family Center is a non-profit organization founded with a mission to serve our community through programs and resources vital to today's families.

All gifts are tax-deductible.
To volunteer or contribute, visit the 'Get Involved' page, call 313-447-1374.
Email: or write to: The Family Center
32 Lake Shore Drive, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI 48236.