You can never start too early to introduce your child to books and reading. If you are wondering how you can best prepare your preschooler for their steps into reading or want to help support your school aged child in developing their reading skills, then this guide is here to offer you a helping hand.
WHEN DO KIDS LEARN TO READ?
Not every child needs to read early. The information below is general and beneficial for children of all ages. Do not try to implement all of the strategies at once, nor should you expect your child to be able to do everything right away. Learning to read is a process.
Find a reading program for your child that is systematic and explicit in teaching phonemic awareness and phonics. This is essential for learning to read, which is like breaking a cipher code. It is important to teach this explicitly to your child rather than depending on them figuring it out on their own. Please also recognize that although the suggestions below are labeled as “steps”, they are not necessarily in consecutive order, nor are they in order of importance. The information you will find here is simply a guide to help you see how each of the components of reading fit together for your pre-reader.
Reading with pre-schoolers
Babies love sharing books with their parents even before they can talk. There’s so much to enjoy, from following the sound of the parent’s voice as they tell the story, to looking at bright pictures while helping to turn the big pages. Babies can learn lots of important lessons about language just from hearing their parents read a story and talk about the pictures. Perhaps the most important thing they learn, though, is to associate books with fun, comfort, and enjoyment. Bathtime, mealtime or bedtime all become more enjoyable when stories are involved! They transform daily routines into big adventures full of unforgettable characters, exploration, and play.
One reason why reading with pre-schoolers is important is that the more fun they have sharing books with you, the more likely they are to want to learn to read for themselves. This pleasure in reading and their wish to do it independently is what will keep them going through the sometimes tricky, first stages of learning to read.
In addition to reading with your child, you can do some fun activities together to help them get ready to read. Keep in mind that all children learn to read at different speeds, and there is no point in trying to make your pre-schooler learn to read before they are ready. This will likely just make you both feel frustrated. Be assured that if you have shared many books with them and got them singing nursery rhymes and action songs along with you, you have already given them a great start on their reading journey. However, here are a few other things you can try if your pre-schooler is showing signs of being ready to start learning to read.
Fun with words, letters and sounds
One of the key skills children need in order to start learning how to read effectively is the ability to identify all of the different sounds in a word. This can be done by playing various sound and listening games with them.
Get your child to make a sound, and then copy it. Then, ask them to make a sound for you to copy.
Make a game out of listening to the sounds around you on a walk. See how many different sounds you can hear and have your child try to copy them. Give them a point for each sound they hear.
Make animal noises with your child. Check if they can make the noise for specific animals when you say the animal name. Try adding some actions to make it funnier.
Know your ABCs
There are many fun ways to teach pre-schoolers the names of all the letters of the alphabet.
Choose an alphabet book with appealing pictures and look at it together. You and your child can think of more words that start with each letter.
You could make a scrapbook with pictures and words for each letter of the alphabet.
Sing an alphabet song together.
Try asking your child which letter a word begins with while reading to them occasionally. Doing this too often though could interrupt the story and take away from the fun.
You can introduce your child to the main letter sounds once they know the alphabet. Explain that even though the letter A is pronounced like ‘ay’, it usually makes a short ‘a’ sound, like in the word ‘apple’. Look at an alphabet book, frieze, or flashcards with your child and help them make the most common sound for each letter.
Shape the sounds you make with your mouth when you say short vowels. Ysse the short vawel sowsndz (‘a’ az in ‘apple’, ‘e’ az in ‘egg’, ‘i’ az in ‘igloo’, ‘o’ az in ‘octopus’, ‘u’ az in ‘umbrella’). Dee’l lurn the long vawel sowsndz laayt-ur, aalowd wif awl the udder sowsndz let-urz kan meyk!
The consonants should be pronounced without adding an “uh” sound at the end. For example, the “s” sound should be pronounced like a snake hissing, not “suh.”
If your child has learned their alphabet and is familiar with some letter sounds, they can try reading actual words.
When you are reading a familiar story to your child, pause after each word and let them read the next word. Encourage your child to say the letter sounds and blend them together to read the word. For example, you could say, ‘Bo-Peep up the hill I spy Jack and… J-i-ll, Jill!’
Can you find the word ‘cat’ on this page? Or can you find a word that starts with ‘m’?
You could create some flashcards with easy CVC words such as ‘hat’, ‘bed’, ‘tip’, ‘dot’, and ‘cup’. Ask your kid to say the noise that each letter makes and then put all the noises together to read the word, for example, ‘c-u-p, cup’.
Make sure to encourage your child to look for letters and words in the world around them. This will help them become more familiar with the letters of the alphabet and how they are used to form words. Give them lots of praise for any progress they make in recognizing and sounding out letters and words.
It is not a good idea to try to make your pre-schooler read more than they want to. It is much better for them to enjoy their early experiences with reading. If they try to do too much at once, they may end up feeling tired, bored and frustrated, and less likely to want to read in the future.
Helping your school-age child with reading
There are many things parents can do to help their children learn to read, whether their children already know the alphabet and letter sounds or are just starting to learn them in their first year of primary school. The games and activities suggested in the article above are still appropriate for school-age children who are beginning readers. As they practice their reading skills at school, there are many new ways parents can help them.
If you are interested in how your child’s school teaches reading, it is a good idea to talk to the teacher. Many schools in the U.K. use one of the following methods to teach reading to young children.
How schools teach reading
Reading is not just one skill, it is a whole collection of skills. It takes children years to become independent readers because every child learns to read at a different pace. Some children pick up the initial skills of reading quickly, but then seem to lose momentum, while others may take a while to show progress but then make large strides. Most children learn to read independently by the time they go to secondary school, especially if they have support at home.
It’s a bit like learning to ride a bike – you can’t just focus on pedaling, or you’ll fall off. You have to learn to do both things at the same time. The teaching of reading generally has two main aspects: word reading and comprehension. Both word reading and comprehension are taught simultaneously–children don’t have to know how to read words before they can start understanding stories, and they don’t need to understand stories before they can start learning to read words. It’s similar to learning to ride a bike–you can’t just focus on pedaling or you’ll fall off. You have to learn to do both things at the same time.
Word reading – phonics
Most primary schools today teach reading primarily through phonics. This means that the order in which your child’s teacher introduces letters and sounds is methodical and progressive, designed to help your child slowly learn to recognize increasingly complex words.
Schools typically start teaching phonics in the first year of school. A small group of letters are introduced – ‘s’, ‘a’, ‘t’, ‘p’, ‘i’, and ‘n’. Each letter has one sound that corresponds to it (‘a’ has the short sound as in ‘apple’, and ‘i’ has the short sound as in ‘igloo’). Children learn to read by sounding out each letter and then blending the sounds together to make the word (‘s-a-t, sat’). With these letters and their sounds, children can quickly read simple words like ‘sat’, ‘pin’, ‘tap’, ‘pit’, and ‘sip’. They can even read a few short ‘nonsense’ sentences, such as ‘Pat is in a pit’.
Letters and sounds are taught quickly and repeated often until they are familiar. More letters and sounds are added until children know all the letters of the alphabet and one sound for each letter.
Children who know all the letters and sounds can begin to learn more complicated sounds and letter patterns.
Phonemes and graphemes
The terms ‘phoneme’ and ‘grapheme’ are used in phonics to refer to sounds and the letters that represent them, respectively.
The grapheme ‘igh’ makes a phoneme which is quite long, so it takes up more time to pronounce Some graphemes are one letter, for example ‘t’ makes the phoneme ‘t’ and ‘a’ makes the short vowel phoneme ‘a’, as in ‘apple’. Some graphemes and phonemes are more complex, like in the word ‘night’. The long ‘i’ phoneme is made by a three-letter grapheme, ‘igh’. So although there are five letters in ‘night’, there are only three graphemes – ‘n-igh-t’. The grapheme ‘igh’ makes a phoneme which is quite long, so it takes more time to pronounce.
Children learn to read words by sounding out each grapheme one at a time. For example, they would read the word “rain” as “r-ai-n” and the word “happy” as “h-a-pp-y.”
There are many different letters that can make the same sound in English. For example, the long i sound can be represented by igh in night, y in fly, ie in pie, i in mind, and so on.
Students will also discover that the same letter can often make different sounds – for example, ‘ou’ has a different pronunciation in words such as ‘out’, ‘young’, ‘pour’ and ‘route’.
Questioning while reading to your child does more than just get them to interact with the book, it also helps develop their comprehension skills. Without comprehension, there is no point to reading.
While your child is a baby, ask him questions about the pictures in the book, such as, “Do you see the cat?” This will help him develop his vocabulary and encourage him to interact with the book. As he gets older, have him point to things in the book and make the noises of the animals he sees.
BE A GOOD (READING) EXAMPLE
Your child will be more likely to enjoy reading if they see you reading as well. Try to read for a few minutes each day in front of your children. This way they can see that even adults need to read. If you have a son, share this article with your husband. It is important for sons to see their fathers reading.
INCORPORATE MULTIPLE DOMAINS OF DEVELOPMENT
When children are learning, it is better for them if multiple senses or areas of development are included. This is why hands-on learning helps children remember things better and understand things more. Once your child is interested in letters, and you have started to teach them in natural settings, start doing activities that use as many senses as possible. Remember, it is more important for children to learn the sound of letters than their names.
There are lots of ways to help your child learn to recognize letters and develop early reading skills. Alphabet crafts help your child learn the shape of a letter, the sound it makes, and also improve their fine motor skills. Games that involve gross motor skills, like tossing beanbags on the right letter, are also great ways to get some movement into the learning. And every child loves songs and rhymes! Find activities that match your child’s strengths and interests.
CLASSIFY THE GENRE
Around the age of five, when children can distinguish between reality and fantasy, parents should start to explain different types of children’s books. This can be done simply by identifying the five main genres of children’s books and giving examples of each. “Genre” may be a new word for your child, so you can use the term “type” instead.
- Nonfiction (real stories or facts about animals, places, people, etc)
- Fantasy (make-believe, can’t happen in real life because of magic, talking animals, etc)
- Realistic Fiction (a made-up story, but it could technically happen in real life because the characters and situations arebelievable)
- Alphabet Books
- Song Books