How to kick start reading for your child – Part 1

As a parent, you are your child’s first, and probably most important, teacher. Your child will mirror many of your behaviours and values as they grow and learn providing you with one of the deepest human connections you can experience. Many people describe parenting as one of the most rewarding and joyful, yet challenging roles they take on in life. It’s largely a ‘learn on the job’ role that occasionally confronts even the best prepared and committed among us.

Parents, like you, try to do everything in your power to give your child every advantage in life, and one of the simplest, low-cost, time-efficient, and most effective ways of giving your child a kick-start in life and in learning is reading to and with your child.

The early years of a child’s life are the most significant learning period. Research has shown that 75 per cent of brain development occurs in the first three years of life.

By reading aloud to your child, as you nurture him or her, you will help build your connection to your child and contribute to a deeper bond between the two of you – you’ll share the fun of language and stories together, enjoy your shared time, and show you value reading and books. The most active period of brain growth and development is from birth to three years and it is widely recognised that sharing books with young children before they go to school greatly improves their chances of developing good literacy skills.

Benefits of reading aloud with your child

Research studies consistently report the benefits of reading aloud to your child. Here’s just a few of the many, many reasons to do so:

  • Literacy is the cornerstone of the curriculum in early childhood education and primary and secondary schools
  • Helping your child’s development
  • Encouraging a love of reading
  • Establishing a reading practice
  • Kick-starting your children’s literacy learning
  • Giving your child a good start for school
  • Demonstrating your value of reading and learning
  • Being involved and engaged in your child’s education
  • Helping your child’s social-emotional wellbeing
  • Establishing a deep and warm connection with your child
  • Enabling your child to form connections with others through reading
  • Reading with your children is easy, rewarding and can be life-changing
  • Sharing precious time together
  • Helping your child understand values and principles through stories
  • Encouraging your child’s learning through reading
  • Developing reading as an enjoyable and inexpensive leisure and entertainment pursuit
  • Helping your child meet the demands of everyday living and work
  • Giving your child the means to acquire future knowledge and self-development as the foundation for lifelong learning
  • Reading has never been more important because new technologies use reading – full participation requires literacy skills,
  • Bedtime reading is considered one of the best private investments you can make in your child’s education and it’s free!

Tips for reading aloud with your child

  • Do begin reading to your child as soon as possible.
  • Use Mother Goose rhymes and songs to stimulate an infant’s language, and other books that include repetitions.
  • As your child grows, add books that contain storylines that they can guess at, but continue reading rhyming and song books.
  • When you begin reading picture books, choose those that have only a few words on the page, and then shift to picture books that have a few sentences. Gradually, your child will be ready for books with fewer pictures and more text, but don’t rush this.
  • When your child is old enough, get him or her to turn the pages for you. This will get and keep your child more involved.
  • From time-to-time, stop at a word so that your child can provide the word.
  • Reading together is an acquired habit, just as listening is, so give your child time to get used to it, just as you will need time to get used to reading aloud.
  • Choose books that you liked as a child when you begin reading aloud. This will help you get used to reading aloud – the more you do it, the better you get at it.
  • Read slowly when you read aloud, and if you feel comfortable doing so, try to vary the tone, volume, and kind of voices you read in to your child. He or she will love it.
  • As you get more experienced with reading aloud and with the books you and your child select, you can vary your pace at various parts of the book as you read the story.
  • Create a wall chart or list of the books that you and your child have read together, so your child can see his or her progress and mark down favourite books. This idea works well if you are using books that you’ve borrowed from the library.
  • Research has shown that it’s valuable for fathers to read to their children too, not only mothers. A father’s early involvement in his child’s reading, can show children positive male role modeling.
  • Let your child see you reading for learning and pleasure. Have books and magazines around the house for all family members. It doesn’t hurt to turn off the TV occasionally too.
  • Everyone has used the television as a ‘babysitter’, but it’s really valuable to involve your child in your activities and explain what you’re doing. While this can slow you down, it will help your young child’s language and literacy skills immeasurably
  • Allow children to settle down before you begin reading. Asking them if they are ready is a good idea, don’t take on the role of authoritarian teacher at home.
  • Where possible, avoid long descriptive passages and large sections of dialogue. This kind of reading challenges both the listener and reader too much, and becomes tiring

How do children learn to read?

Start to make word-sound associations.

Before you even start getting into the alphabet and sound specifics, help your child to recognize that the lines on the page are directly correlated to the words you are speaking. As you read aloud to them, point to each word on the page at the same time you say it. This will help your child to grasp the pattern of words/lines on the page relating to the words you speak in terms of length and sound

Teach your child the alphabet.

 When your child has developed word awareness, begin breaking down words into individual letters. Although the alphabet song is the most classic means of teaching the alphabet, try getting creative. Explain each of the letters with their name, but don’t worry about trying to incorporate the sounds the letters make yet.

Teach lower case letters first.

Capital letters account for only five percent of all letter in written English. Therefore, pay more attention to teaching the lower case letters. Lower case letters are far more important in developing reading skills.
Try making each of the letters out of play-dough, playing a toss game (where the child tosses a beanbag/ball onto a specific letter on the floor), or fishing for foam letters in the bathtub. These are all interactive games that encourage development on multiple levels.

Develop phonemic awareness.

 One of the most important steps in teaching reading is associating a spoken sound with a letter or letter-pair. This process is known as phonemic awareness. There are 44 speech sounds created by the 26 letters in our alphabet, and each sound must be taught paired with its letter(s) counterpart. This includes the long and short sound produced by each individual letter, as well as the specialized sounds some combined letters make (like ‘ch’ and ‘sh’).

  • Focus on a single letter/part/sound at a time. Avoid confusion and build a solid foundation by working at a steady pace through all of the speech sounds.
  • Give real life examples of each speech sound; for example, state that the letter ‘A’ makes the ‘ah’ sound, like at the beginning of the word ‘apple.’ This can be turned into a guessing game, when you speak an easy word (like apple) and have the child guess the letter that it starts with.
  • Use games similar to those used when teaching the alphabet, that combine critical thinking on the part of the child in order to determine sound/letter correlations. See the aforementioned list for ideas, but substitute in sounds.
  • It is easier for children to develop phonemic awareness when words are broken down into their smallest parts. This can be done with the clapping game (clapping out each syllable in a word) or by sounding-out words into their individual letters.

Teach your child rhymes.

 Rhyming teaches phonemic awareness and letter recognition, in addition to the most basic English words. Read nursery rhymes to your child, and then eventually make lists of easy-to-read rhymes such as mop, top, flop, pop, and cop. Your child will begin to see the patterns of sounds that are made when certain letters are combined – in this case, the sound ‘o-p’ makes.

Teach your child to read using explicit phonics.

 Traditionally, children are taught to recognize a word based on its size, the first and last letters, and the general sound. This method of teaching is known as implicit phonics – working from the largest piece down. However, studies have shown that readable vocabulary dramatically increases (from 900 words to 30,000 words by the third grade) when taught in the opposite fashion: breaking each word into the smallest parts, and building them up into a full word – explicit phonics. Help your child to begin reading by having them sound-out each individual letter without looking at the overall word first. Don’t move onto explicit phonics until your child has developed adequate phonemic awareness. If they cannot associate sounds with letters or letter pairs quickly, they need a bit more practice before moving onto complete words.

Have your child practice decoding.

 Classically known as ‘sounding out’ words, decoding is when a child reads a word by making the sounds of each individual letter, rather than trying to read the whole word at once. Reading is broken up into two primary parts: decoding/reading a word, and comprehending its meaning. Don’t expect your child to recognize and comprehend words just yet; have them focus on decoding and sounding out word parts.

  • Don’t use whole stories or books yet; have your child read from word lists or from basic story (not focusing on the plot). This is another great time to use rhymes for practice.
  • Decoding aloud is typically easier for the child (and you) to learn how to say the word. Have them break it into parts with clapping if necessary.
  • Do not be rigid in how the child pronounces the sounds. Regional accents and weak auditory skills make it hard for children to say most sounds in an academically correct way. Accept a reasonable effort. Recognize that learning sounds is only an intermediate step to learning to read, it is not the goal.

Build up an archive of sight words.

 Certain words in the English vocabulary are spoken often, but don’t follow the typical phonics rules. These words are easier to memorize by shape association than by sound, and are therefore known as ‘sight words.’ Some sight words include ‘they,’ ‘she’, ‘an,’ ‘said,’ and ‘the.’ The complete list of sight words, called the Dolch list, can be found online and broken down into sections to work through.

Your everyday interactions and involvement with your child can make an invaluable contribution to your child’s development. Turn everyday activities into literacy opportunities for your child.