It makes sense that some of these Early Literacy Milestones are similar to some traditional spoken language milestones. For example, babies generally say their first words around 12 months of age in the US (on average) and about six months later the same child may be saying two- and three-word phrases. After another six months of saying phrases, babies can often speak in complete sentences. The expected ages for the milestone of talking in complete sentences can even vary greatly from author to author. Every child progresses at a different rate based on many factors, but don’t be surprised if your child isn’t reading sentences right away even if he can read a couple of hundred individual words.
Unlike infants who are just learning to talk, preschoolers can already speak in sentences, and the ability to speak in complete sentences should assist them in not having an additional difficulty when reading words in sentences. On the other hand, many babies may have great difficulty with longer sentences or saying written words from pages with words close together, even if they can read all of the words on the page individually. It is possible that learning to read sentences could help very young children’s verbal abilities in part because the child would not need to think of the words to say in the sentence. In addition, the very young children get extra talking practice by reading sentences aloud.
Having a language-rich environment is very important for developing language skills. You can create a fantastic written language environment by using the tips in these milestones.
Part of the reason that I wrote these early literacy milestones is so parents can focus on helping their children (babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, or elementary students) learn important skills that are appropriate based on their children’s literacy skills – not simply based on the child’s age.
This milestone can be viewed as an important transition between reading phrases and reading books.
Try the following activities to help your child read longer sentences:
- Find books with no more than 4 to 7 words on most pages and read them with your child. Still check out many other types of books from the library, but the books with about 4 to 7 words per page will help your child transition from reading two- and three-word phrases to longer sentences.
- With books that have more words per page, try covering up most of the page with a blank sheet of paper so only one or two lines of print appear.
- Take turns reading sentences with your child. You may want to start off reading most of the longer sentences.
- Help your child by reviewing some of the words or phrases in the sentences immediately before you read the sentences. For example, you could write out some of the more challenging words on a whiteboard individually and allow your child to sound the word out phonetically – helping your child when needed. In addition, write out some phrases from pages of books that have the most words. You may see whether or not your child can read the words when they are more isolated and whether or not having too many words on the page is a problem.
- Gradually transition from alternating reading words or phrases with your child to alternating longer sentences, then pages, and groups of pages. Eventually, you can take turns reading books with your child.
- Choose a wide variety of types of text of interest to your child so your child is highly motivated to read the sentences. In addition to reading books, it could be reading signs, posters, sentences on websites, texts, birthday cards, etc.
- Turn on the closed captioning if you are watching other videos with your child. Try turning off the volume to make the experience more like reading a moving picture book. You can read most of it aloud and ask your child to read aloud with you.
- Use the Your Child Can Read videos, which have many sentences in them. They are designed to help children transition from reading short phrases to sentences and books.
The Infant Learning Company also has new language cards with sentences called Shape Bias Language Cards and Lift-the-Flap Language Cards. Both of these have sentences that include many words from the Your Baby Can Learn series. You may also want to use the Your Baby Can Learn Lift-the-Flap Books, which also contain sentences with many words from our videos.
- Write out sentences frequently on whiteboards, paper, on your computer, etc. and read the sentences together.
- Ask your child to say a sentence while you write it out or type it in a large font size as quickly as you can. You could take turns where you ask your child to say a sentence, then you quickly write it. Next, you can make up a sentence and write it out and ask your child to read it.
- Play a game where you write a short sentence and see if your child can add words to the sentence that make sense. We do this in the Your Child Can Read videos. For example, write out the first phrase, then either you or your child continue to add on more words.
- “Michael is reading.”
- “Michael is reading a book.”
- “Michael is reading a book about dinosaurs.”
- “Michael is reading a big book about dinosaurs.”
- “Michael is reading a big book about different types of dinosaurs.”
- You could also change parts of the sentence by making it even longer, for instance:
- “Michael enjoys reading thick books about many types of dinosaurs as well as about primates, birds, and other animals.”
- It can be fun to have three or more people adding on to the sentences.
- Act out sentences. Write out a sentence that your child may find interesting, then demonstrate what you wrote. For example, write out, “I am going to hide a toy under the pillow on your bed.” then show it to your child, read it, then act it out. You could vary how you read the sentences using the earlier suggestions about your child pointing while you are reading, alternating, etc. With all of these activities, try to find the right balance where the activity or game is fun and challenging, but not too difficult.
- Narrate what is happening from your child’s perspective and write it out. For example, write and say sentences simultaneously that are similar to the ones below. Make it interactive some of the time by asking questions. Even if you child does not know all of the words in the sentences you are writing, you are giving your child opportunities to learn more words and the intent is to do this in a very fun way.
In this example, a parent is talking to their child named Maria, who is playing with blocks. Try to use your child’s name as well as pronouns.
- “Maria is playing with blocks.”
- “Maria has two red blocks and one purple block.”
- “Now, you have five yellow blocks and three blue blocks.”
- “You have 8 blocks. Five yellow blocks and three blue blocks. How many blocks will you have if you add one more block?”
- “Do you see the orange car?” [If there is an orange car that your child can see.]
- “Daddy is holding a big green block and two little black blocks.” [Only say this if this is happening at the moment you say it.]