When your children start school, and quite possibly in earlier educational settings, they will begin to learn how to read. Learning to read is a complex and challenging task but is such a vital skill that the more practice and the more little ones can be encouraged to read, the better. As a parent, you will play an important role in the journey to becoming a reader, but the overall burden falls on the teachers working with your children.
There are various approaches to learning to read, and you will probably hear different terms. Most methods are based on on of two fundamental approaches:-
Phonics: requires words to be broken down into sounds in order to help sound out whole words.
Lexical: reading teaches recognition of whole words.
Since 2005, the UK government has stipulated a phonic approach to learning to read, employing a particular model known as synthetic phonics. This encourages words to be broken into phonic sounds which are then blended together in order to sound out complete words. Other phonic and lexical approaches play their part - for example, teachers will encourage the learning of 'high frequency words' so that young children can recognise some of the most common words in the language.
The emphasis on synthetic phonics does not mean that other approaches to reading are invalid, and as a parent you do not need to worry about the intricacies of different learning models. The best contribution that you can offer as a parent is to ensure that you read regularly to your little ones, and that you support them in their reading when the time comes.
Learning phonics and understanding the sounds that different letters make is essential for reading and the earlier you start introducing letters to the children the better because as they become more and more familiar with the sounds, so they will find reading all the more easy. It's understandable to want to get children reading early, but in fact, it's better to get them 100% confident with the phonic sounds first, even if they can read whole words already. That way, once they see words, they will be able to easily combine the sounds to read the word.
Here are some easy and fun ideas to get phonics into your daily routine and introduce them to little ones in game format:-
- Pick a different letter each week to focus on. Start by drawing the letter on a big page and colouring it or decorating it. Say the sound together.
- Found a Sound Telescope: Make a telescope to look through to find the sounds. Simply decorate a kitchen roll tube and use it for hunting.
- Say the sound the letter makes and go on a sound hunt. Find things beginning with that sound.
- Sound box. When you find something beginning with the right sound, collect it in a box. Put any things you find that are not actually the right sound into a 'bin' box.
- Give masses of support, guidance and help as its hard to begin with, but once they get it the children will be off on an adventure with no trouble at all!
- When you have a few items, gather them onto a table and look at them and say the sounds and the words together to reinforce that the correct letter and correct item has been found.
Have fun, and expand this sound game with your own ideas too!
One day your child will learn to read, and there's a lot that you can do to prepare them and make learning to read an easier task. Before children can read there are some fundamental principles that they must understand. They must be able to differentiate letters, words and numbers from pictures, they should be familiar with books and know that pages read from top left to bottom right and they should be able to identify each letter and know the sound that each one makes. Even with all this there is still a lot more to learn before they can read, but at least they are in good shape to learn more easily.
Teach your child letters from an early age, sing the ABC song so that they learn their alphabet, and have them recognise their name. Spot letters when you are out and about and play phonic games to help grow familiarity with the sounds of letters. Write labels for things around your home and put signs up for your child to be able to spot different words. Part of reading is about being able to read letters and make out a word, but many words have irregular letters and sounds and are more easily learned through recognition by exposure to them over time.
There's no doubt that reading encompasses a lot of different skills and knowledge, but being surrounded by letters and sounds, your child really will absorb the knowledge required to learn to read, and you'll find that they will learn to read more quickly than other children who weren't given this encouragement.