Preschooler Struggling with Reading Literacy, Here is What You Can Do

Literacy skills

Chances are you have in your family or know a little girl or boy who is about 4-5 years old and struggling with his or her oral language and reading literacy skills. I had many children who displayed this problem, becoming frustrated with their inability to be on the same level as their peers, be able to read as their friends did, play games like the rest of the class.

Here is what I realized. Many of these children required specific attention to catch up with the rest of the class. They needed some form of intervention. Oftentimes, parents or guardians were unable to provide this prevention, either for lack of time or lack of knowledge in how to do so. In a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 180 children from 15 schools in the United Kingdom were taken into a 30 week intervention, randomly assigned to the group or the control.

The results?

Let's simply say that what I had witnessed in my classrooms is supported by research. Children who were in the intervention group showed much better oral language and narrative skills, as well as reading comprehension. Vocabulary skills didn't see much benefit but any increase in skill is accepted. What does this mean for teachers and parents alike, though? What exactly was done during this intervention to help these children so much?

Grammar: Matching pictures to a sentence, using the proper sequence.

A great game to play is to write out a sentence, cut out the words and have the children stick it in the right sequence. Using a Velcro belt comes in handy, because mistakes can easily be fixed thus. Having the child figure out a few different sentences to make out of those words can get more challenging and even more fun, especially if a parent or teacher sits beside the child and guides them slightly. Great way to build confidence levels too!

Vocabulary: Children were asked to describe pictures using different vocabulary, both those that had been taught in school or otherwise.

Something that can be done at home or in school is the creation of a word wall. Many teachers use this to teach sight words, words that are common in the English language and are used both in speech and in text all the time. Another form of word wall can also be started, one where the child adds a new word they learned that day to the wall, 1-2 a day, and can use it for reference. Makes learning any language easier, as you associate visual to context and it is done by choice which only solidifies the new vocabulary in a child's mind.

Listening Comprehension: 2 short stories were listened to after which questions were asked.


Parents and teachers can use this technique on a daily basis. What I did with my grade 2 children was read chapter by chapter, after which I would stop and have them recount what was read, make predictions based on the details and ask their own questions. This allows for engagement as well as assessing how well they understand what is being read to them. Parents can use the same technique every night before putting their children to bed. They may read together and ask each other questions perhaps. The more a parent allows the child to think about what is read or heard, the better the literacy skills will develop.

Narrative Skills: Storytelling tasks were given, from which number of uttered words, length of those words and use of different words were measured.

Great tips for these are to have children tell a story based on a picture or place they go. Encourage them to use as many words as possible. Make them retell the story from another person's point of view. Ask questions about the words that were used and how person A might not use what Person B uses. Have them using their imagination while creating amazing stories that you can transcribe for them. The point is to develop their language skills as a whole and not their writing alone. Once they are in grade school, focus on writing should become priority as well. For preschoolers though, simply having them orally communicate their thoughts is perfect.

Phonological Awareness: Alliteration matching and phoneme awareness tasks were used, where the former was measured by matching pictures based on the first sound of a word and the latter by having children figure out the first and last letter based on the sound it makes.

Great games to play in a classroom could be to have the children find the next person in line by matching the last sound of their name to the first sound of a peer's. For example, Abel would point to Lina and Lina would point to Armen who would point to Nona. At home, a parent can go hunting around the house for items where the first sound matches the last sound of the last item. Start with a spoon and go to a napkin and then pick up a knife before racing to the fork. Then you can pick out a letter and hunt down as many items in the home or classroom that begin with that letter. Great games that are lots of fun and help a child learn to associate letters with sounds and vice versa, all of it while in a real world context.

Reading: Single word and text passage reading were assessed alongside reading comprehension.

Have a child read out as many things around a room as possible. A great game to play while outdoors is to find advertisements and see how many single words you can identify. The winner gets to choose the next game, gets to hop two steps or whatever creative reward you can imagine. It's a known fact through research that children who spend time reading or being read to have less behavioral problems as well, while comic books engage attention and increase literacy skills, all of which only makes for a win-win situation.

Spelling: 5-10 pictures were given to name and spell out, with assessment on how many consonants were correct.

Playing spelling games, including spelling bees, is a great way to have the children learning how to spell. Get them writing more, finding their own mistakes and fixing them themselves. Give them a hand when needed but let them feel empowered by combating their literary inabilities. Great game to play is giving a bag of magnetic letters and a children's dictionary or a group of words they need to make. Letter recognition and spelling are both improved thus.

In essence, early intervention has been found to greatly increase literacy skills, including oral communication and reading, pulling a child's abilities up to that of his or her peers.