What Is an Emergent Reader? 7 Tips for Helping These Children Learn

Posted by Krystie Yeo on

If you're the parent of a child with special needs (or a parent in general) you're going to one day have an emergent reader. Reading is an incredible skill for children. It can help build their empathy, imagination, attention span, and vocabulary. 

All readers have to start somewhere, though, and they should be encouraged and helped along their literary journies. Do you know how to teach or help the emergent readers in your life? 

What is an emergent reader, anyway? 

You can get the answers to these questions and more right here.

Keep reading to learn all about how to help the new readers in your life learn to love books and reading just as much as you do. 

What is an Emergent Reader?

If you're reading this, you might be wondering what an emergent reader even is. It's nothing complicated!

An emergent reader is simply someone who is new to reading. These are often young children with or without special needs. They might not be writing out the alphabet yet and they'll be more likely to use their hands and picture cues to help them read.

Some children need more help with their reading journies than others. A child with special needs may require more encouragement and guidance than a child without. You won't know until you see them start reading. 

All emergent readers should be encouraged to pursue literature. Reading is so good for children. Having them read out loud can improve their speech, and having them read to themselves is great for their imaginations. 

Here are a few tips for helping and encouraging these new readers.

1. Start With Simple Picture Books

Often times, emergent readers will use pictures to help with context when they encounter words that they're not yet familiar with. 

Picture books are great for children that are at this stage.

Not only will they help to engage the child through fun visuals, but they'll also provide a reference for children who aren't fully reading yet.

For example, if a child doesn't yet know how to read the word "kitten", but there's a picture of a mother cat and her baby right nearby, you can easily help the child. Point to the picture when the child gets stuck on the word and ask them what they see. Then explain that the word they were stuck on matches the word that they're used to hearing.

Sometimes children need visuals to help them learn. 

2. Opt for Large Text

Emergent readers tend to follow the words on the page with their fingers. It helps them focus on the word that they're trying to read without getting distracted by the other words nearby. 

Larger text makes it much easier for children (who haven't yet perfected their fine motor skills) to trace the words with their hands without accidentally skipping over any or doubling back. 

The words are also just easier to see. 

3. Use Repeating and Rhyming Texts

Books with repetitive lines may feel annoying to more mature readers, but for emergent readers, they can really help to push forward the reading process.

When a child comes across a new word or phrase, they may be confused the first time. They'll need help!

When it repeats, though, they'll already have it in their head. They'll be able to figure out the word or phrase more easily until it becomes concrete in their head.

Rhyming books have a similar effect. 

When a child learns the rhyming rhythm and understands what sound is supposed to come next, they'll be more easily able to figure out the words. 

For example, if a child sees the word "log" and it's unfamiliar, but they've already seen the word "dog" just before, they already have a framework in which to put the new word.

4. Look for Fun Characters

When a child finds a character that they can connect to, they'll be more interested in following the story.

Finding several books with the same primary character can be a great way to get children to continue reading even when their skills aren't yet solid. 

Choose a book with pictures and characters that are bright and exciting. When children are older they'll be more concerned with the plot and character development. As emergent readers, it's more important for a character to be engaging than well-rounded.

5. Read to the Children

Not every reading exercise has to involve the child reading to you or figuring things out on their own. While you want the child to develop, sometimes watching and listening are the best ways to learn.

Read to your child in a way that will engage them. Pay attention to your intonations and enthusiasm. Make sure that you're reading clearly and fluently. Pretend that you're a storyteller! 

It's best to do this when the child can see the text. They will eventually begin to mimic your reading style and understanding a normal reading cadence.

6. Encourage Active Reading and Listening

Whether the child is reading or not, you can encourage active attention. 

This means that the child should be paying enough attention to the book (whether they're reading, you're reading, or they're looking at pictures) to determine a few basic pieces of it. 

Who are the characters? What kind of setting is it in? What's the main plot?

These might seem complicated for a child, but they're more attentive than you may think. Allowing them to understand a story, even if they're not reading it on their own, will encourage this active attention when they're full-time readers. It can also lead them to read stories on their own. 

If a child knows that a story is set in the jungle, that child will be better able to identify other words via context clues. There's an "m" word they can't figure out? What's an "m" animal that lives in the jungle?

Is it maybe...a monkey? You're building understanding and critical thinking!

Emergent Readers Need Support

As an adult, it can be hard to remember what it was like before you were able to read and understand all of those complicated words on the page. Emergent readers need more help so that they, too, can learn to enjoy reading. 

So what is an emergent reader? It's just a reader who doesn't yet know they're a reader, but they sure want to be!

For more information on emergent readers, or to pick up some books to help out your new reader, visit our site

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