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10 Ways to Build Pre-Reading Skills in Kids

Here are some fun, simple pre-reading activities you can do with preschoolers at home or school. There are everyday activities kids should already be doing at home, as well as some other ideas to try.

What is Pre-Reading?

Before any child can learn to read well and become a competent speller, five pre-reading skills must be mastered in order to lay a proper foundation.

Pre-reading skills are important as they set children up to decode words independently and read with understanding. They need to be developed before teaching a child to read.

They are an important part of a child’s school readiness and early literacy development.

What are the 5 Pre-Reading Skills?

The five main skills that every student must master before learning to read are:

1. Print Awareness

Print awareness is the understanding that letters form words and that these words have meaning when they are read.

It is knowing that the four letters on a stop sign have a message and that the words in a book tell a story or provide information.

Stop sign

There is also an understanding of the order of reading as they watch people read from left to right, and cover to cover.

2. Motivation to Read

The desire to decode words and understand what is in a book is essential before a child learns to read. A baby is too young and does not yet have the motivation to want to decode the words in his plastic bath book.

Older children who have developed print awareness, and have listened to their parents read bedtime stories, will want to start understanding the words on the pages themselves.

This skill must be fostered until children develop a healthy desire to read.

3. Listening Comprehension

When a child is able to ask and answer questions about a story or summarize what they have read or heard, they have developed listening comprehension.

4. Letter Knowledge

Knowing the difference between upper-case and lower-case letters and recognizing letters and their sounds, forms the basis of letter knowledge.

Without this, words cannot be decoded and sounds cannot be blended together.

Boy holding letter A

5. Phonological Awareness

This refers to hearing the different sounds in words (beginning sounds, end sounds, rhyming patterns, middle sounds and individual sounds).

Good phonological awareness means children are able to blend sounds together, decode them and manipulate them.

These five skills can be developed from a very young age in many easy ways.

Here are some ideas, starting with basic activities to develop print awareness, motivation and listening comprehension, and moving onto more advanced activities that build letter knowledge and phonological awareness.

10 Pre-Reading Skills Activities for Preschoolers

Here are some simple ways to build early reading skills.

10 Ideas to teach your kids pre-reading skills - pinnable image

1. Read to Children Every Day

It’s never too early to start reading to your children. Initially, it may just be soothing to listen to you read as your baby falls asleep, but in time he will get used to the idea that the book represents a message.

When reading to your older children, even those who can already read, you will be instilling a love for books and showing that you value time to read together.

Read your kids these fun rhymes about books. They are all about the magic of reading.

2. Ask Questions While Reading

Develop listening comprehension and stimulate higher-order thinking skills by asking questions while reading.

Make sure to incorporate a variety of question types, such as cause-and-effect questions, predictions and opinions.

3. Point Out Print in the Environment

  • Read the road signs as you drive and discuss what they mean. What would happen if people couldn’t read the sign that says “Beware of school children crossing the road”?
  • Discuss the labels on your groceries. Why does the chemical cleaner have warning words? How do you know how much sugar is in your cereal?
  • Discuss books. How do you know who is the author of a book? How do you know what the book is about before you read it? Which cover is the front cover and which is the back cover?
  • Open the mail together (letters and emails). Who are these letters from? What message do they have for me? How do I know how much I need to pay for electricity this month?

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4. Learn the Letters

  • Play with magnetic letters, letter tiles, stamps, letter cut-outs and shapes.
  • Teach your child the letters in their name.
  • Learn the alphabet song.
  • Think of nouns that start with each letter.
  • Use alphabet charts to compare upper-case and lower-case letters.
Letters of the alphabet

5. Learn Rhymes and Poems

Rhymes, songs and poems are a great way to start introducing rhyming words, which are an important skill for reading. Point out the sets of rhyming words as you sing them.

Make up new rhymes with simple patterns such as an (can, man, ran, pan) or ip (tip, rip, lip, sip).

When your child is old enough to play with sounds, move onto rhyming games.

6. Play Rhyming Games

  • Find rhyming words – Say the word cat. What sound does cat end in? What other words end in atmat, pat, rat, etc.
  • Identify words that don’t rhymeSay three words e.g. lap, map, hop. Which word doesn’t fit in?
  • Finish the sentences with a rhyming word – Finish the sentence by finding a word that rhymes with cat: My cat is wearing a _____?

7. Develop Listening Skills

Develop listening skills by asking your child to listen to a word, remember it and then remove part of it, mentally. Use compound words at first. Here is an example of the instructions to give:

  • Say jellyfish
  • Now say jellyfish again but without jelly.
  • Answer: fish

This can be very difficult at first but is an excellent activity for developing listening and the ability to manipulate sounds.

Give the answer at first until the concept is understood, and your child can do it independently.

8. Hear Sounds in Words

Start by listening for the beginning sound in words:

  • Write down two sounds or use two letter tiles.
  • Say a simple, 3-letter word and ask which sound the word begins with.
  • Your child must either circle the letter or point to it and say it out loud.

Then, follow the same procedure and listen for the end sound.

Sounds in PAT

And finally, identify the middle sound.

Vary this activity by saying just one sound (e.g. ‘t’) and asking where the sound is in the word – beginning, middle or end.

9. Manipulate Sounds

When your child is able to identify sounds and hear them at the beginning, end and middle of words, they are then ready to manipulate sounds. Here is an example:

  • Say cat
  • Now change the c to a m
  • What do you hear?
  • Answer: mat

Make sure you are using the actual sound, not the letter name (mm, not em)

  • Say ham
  • Now change the m to a t
  • What do you hear?
  • Answer: hat

10. Blend and Decode Sounds

The final step is sounding out words and blending letters. These activities can be done with letter tiles.

Sounding out/decoding:

p-e-n     pen          c-a-t     cat

Blending: This activity can be done with letter tiles. Place an e and d together to form ed, then add new letters to the beginning to make new words.

b-ed   bed      r-ed   red        l-ed   led

When your child has the phonological awareness to decode words, then he is ready to read!

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Activity Pack for preschoolers

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Monday 6th of July 2020

Thank you so much.

Paula O’Neill

Saturday 8th of August 2020

Thank you so much for all of this, it is very very helpful.

Tanja Mcilroy

Tuesday 7th of July 2020

You're welome Susan!


Friday 9th of March 2018

I'm glad I stumbled across this. I have never really considered the technical aspects of readiness for reading. I have been reading to my son (only 9 months now) since birth and just figured he would pick up on it when ready because it is a shared activity he could learn to do on his own, but this has been interesting and enlightening.


Thursday 8th of March 2018

As a fellow teacher and parent, you are spot on with all of these tips. We just recently started reading poetry to our 3 year old, and she LOVES listening to the words. Thank you for sharing this important message of literacy!


Thursday 8th of March 2018

Pointing out words in the environment is such a good idea! Will be sharing this with all I know that have kids!

John Mulindi

Thursday 8th of March 2018

Learned some new key tips from this post. I believe mastering English is a continuous learning process. Thanks for sharing.

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