One of the most important and fundamental skills a child must learn in the development of reading skills is visual tracking. As experienced readers we have developed the habit of scanning a line of text from left to right and from the top of the page to the bottom, but for a young child just starting out this ability to track automatically is something they will have to learn from scratch and practice until it becomes second nature, preferably preschool.
Although some children will pick up the skill of tracking, many will not take to it intuitively and may even have difficulty acquiring the discipline to eventually become competent readers.
Since visual tracking is such an important aspect of literacy and the skill is really only mastered when it becomes automatic, helping your child become unconsciously competent at tracking should begin as early as possible with simple, fun activities.
Try some of these simple ideas to help your child develop their tracking skills:
- Children usually love it when you read to them, so when you do, sit close so they can see the page and move your finger along with the words you are reading.
- Supply your child with lots of books they can explore on their own so they can mimic your behavior when you read to them, moving their finger from word to word as they pretend to read and relate their own version of the story.
- Make an activity out of creating patterns on a chalkboard or whiteboard or even with some of your child’s toys like blocks or Lego, trucks or trains, anything that will hold a child’s attention and allow them to experiment and take turns making patterns.
- Play games with your child that involve moving a piece along a path, like “Shoots and Ladders” and other kinds of board games that involve linear movement towards a goal. Make up your own games as well that can be played outside as well as indoors.
- Point out patterns in nature to your child, like a caterpillar crawling along a leaf, a bird flying etc. There are an infinite number of things to watch like cars, trains, planes even watching a ball rolling is an excellent exercise in visual tracking
All of these activities, although seemingly mundane provide the essential training to develop a child’s visual tracking skills.
After a little while your child will be ready to begin more precision exercises that have been developed by experts to firmly embed the automatic skill of left to right, top to bottom visual tracking that is essential to develop good reading skills for a lifetime.
When that time comes you can rely on one of the pre-k reading programs like Hooked on Phonics to insure that your child will be one of the lucky ones who start school already able to read and thanks to your help, will statistically do far better in school and in life than children who are unable to read when they enter school.