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How to Get a 4-Year-Old Ready to Read

The market is flooded with products claiming to teach toddlers how to read. The commercials and media buzz can make even laidback moms feel pressured to get their child reading as soon as possible. Many preschoolers, though, just aren't ready to begin reading. While a few 4-year-olds sincerely want to learn to read, “there’s no need to push your child to do so," the American Academy of Pediatrics notes. Instead, focus on establishing a good foundation for reading so your preschooler will be well prepared for formal reading skills.

Encourage Curiosity About the World

Preschoolers need to have a certain fund of knowledge about the world before they can be successful at reading. Encourage their imagination, show them how things work and provide them with rich life experiences, and they'll want to keep on learning. "Rather than discouraging them from asking why, encourage them,” suggests Matthew Morrison, a school-based literacy specialist in Bucksport, Maine. “Curious kids will eventually reach the stage where they embrace reading -- the biggest reading hurdle, by the way -- because they just need to know more about the world."

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Teach Vocabulary

A wide vocabulary can be an excellent building block for reading. "Introduce and use new and challenging vocabulary words throughout the day so children begin to use them in conversations with each other," advises Cindy Hoisington, a literacy coach and the science advisor for PBS' “Curious George.” Instead of continuing to use baby words, such as "horsie," teach your child the difference between a colt and filly. Take turns telling stories to one another to help your child practice hearing and using his new vocabulary words.

Read Aloud

Reading aloud teaches preschoolers the basic rules of reading. Show them how to hold a book, read from front to back and keep the pictures right-side up. Point to the words as you read them to show them that words are read from left to right, The Nemours Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of children, suggests. Choose a variety of books, poems and nursery rhymes to help kids learn more about various sounds words make. Allow them to ask questions and give them opportunities to make up stories based on the pictures.

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Surround Kids with Words

Make written words a part of your child's daily life. "Put up pictures and photos of children's daily activities to stimulate conversation," Hoisington recommends. Add your child's commentary as a caption to teach your child that words help make meaning from the pictures. Give your child magazines, books and newspapers to incorporate into his pretend play.

Teach the ABCs

Teach your child to sing his ABCs so he can recognize the name of the letters. If you decide to teach him about specific letters, get creative. Make the learning as active as possible. Instead, of using paper and pencil, work with clay, sidewalk chalk, finger paint or anything that uses large muscles. Concentrate on one letter at a time to help your child really learn about each letter. "At the grocery store, buy foods that start with that letter. In a newspaper or magazine, use a magic marker and circle the letter as many times as the child finds it," suggests Guinevere Durham, author of "Five Skills Between Confusion and AHA!"

Formal Reading

Certain 4-year-olds can benefit from learning formal reading skills. If he’s interested in learning more about letters, wants to practice writing and enjoys looking through books on his own, he may be ready to learn more about reading. "If not, he's like most preschoolers, and will take another year or two to develop the language skills, visual perception, and memory he needs to begin formal reading," the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

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