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Children reading books

5 simple ways to teach reading with a whole-child approach

Author: Anita Vermeer

A lot of people want to make sure their child has the right start to be reading so they don’t get behind in school. But did you know that you can teach reading through a fun whole child approach? 

Two children reading a book

Developing the whole child is an important factor because children don’t learn subject areas in isolation. Rather, they learn through a hands-on integrated approach. And when experiences are intended to develop the whole child, you’re likely to see a bigger difference. This is especially true as you think about the way that toddlers and preschoolers interact with their environment to learn.

Think about reading. A lot of people think this is just about the academic side of things as it relates to literacy and language. However, there is so much more to reading that can be integrated by teaching a whole-child approach. 

An easy way to think of the whole child is to split it up into different developmental domains. The acronym PILES is a simple way to remember. This acronym represents P for Physical, I for Intellectual, L for Language, E for Emotions, and S for Social. And when you examine how each of these 5 areas connect to reading, there are simple ways you can teach kids through play before they go to Kindergarten. 

P – Physical

Kids need to touch, hold and manipulate books. Did you know a reading skill that is often assessed in Kindergarten is if your child can manipulate a book properly? For example, does your child know how to hold the book right side up and is able to turn pages one at a time from left to right? Also, an often-overlooked skill you can develop is that you don’t just read when you’re sitting! There are words and letters everywhere. A fun game to play could be with some blue taped letters on the floor and let the kids jump or hop away. For example, you can write the letters of your child’s name and a few extra letters on blue tape and spread the letters out on the floor. And then play a freeze dance game that when the music stops they have to run to a letter that’s in their name!

I – Intellectual 

Knowing how to identify similarities and differences in shapes and lines helps to set a foundation. The ability to recognize letters starts with your child being able to notice not necessarily what letter is what, but just that there are letters and words to read. And if your child knows that a bunch of letters makes up a word or a bunch of words makes a sentence. the better! It’s the recognition that print has meaning and can be read. These can be more useful skills to a 3-year-old than focusing on naming all the letters. A simple activity to build in print awareness is to talk with your child about what he or she draws. For example “Oh I noticed this is straight and this is curvy.” Or you can write down their words when they describe their drawing to you. 

L – Language 

This is an area that seems obvious to reading skills. So naturally, knowing the sounds and having language experiences fits into this area. But did you know it doesn’t have to be just about books? Sure, you can and should read a variety of books. But when you also can focus on opportunities for conversations, that will make a significant difference in building vocabulary and making connections with what is read. And when you can, adding in songs, rhymes, and describing the differences in the sounds or words that can help. For example, you can sing this “Willabee” song with all of the different long vowel sounds. 

Anita singing the Willabee song

E  – Emotions

This area can be integrated in two ways. First, reading books about the feelings that characters experience is a great way to help your child connect with emotional development. Making connections with the characters and extending the topic throughout the day as it relates to your child can help them learn. For example, You love the wig just like the pig did in the book we read this morning. A second way to support emotional development is by discussing how you and your child feels when you read a book. For example, tell them how you love it when you’re sitting and reading a book together such as feeling happy and relaxed. 

The Pig and the Wig personalized early reader book

S – Social

There are a lot of reading conventions that are learned over time. Some are explicitly taught in Kindergarten as teachers spend a lot of time modeling how to read a book, read the room, read lists and schedules. You can do this too. At home, or on the go, you can model the conventions of reading. The behaviors of how to sit and attend, or talk about books and ways that you read other forms of reading. Not just with a book but in the environment. Like when you see a sign you stop to read to get new information or directions. For example, imagine a trip to the grocery store. There are lots of signs and food labels to read. Or at a doctor’s office, you’re reading the check-in paper, the magazines, or the directional signs on the wall. Signs influence our social behavior and you can create signs for play or directions at home too!

Anita Vermeer, M.Ed. is a parent, author, coach, and certified teacher with over 25 years of experience working with and for young children. Becoming a working, single mom at 40 without any family in the same country, Anita learned how to deal with her anxiety to balance a busy mom’s life. Today Anita is a confident parent that helps thousands of moms and kids build connection and enrichment through simple ideas. Follow her on YouTube or Instagram @KidsMoveandLearn or @AnitaVermeer27.

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