Helping your Child Learn to Read
It’s never too early to start reading to your child – even young babies enjoy being read to! Reading aloud prepares your baby’s brain for language. It teaches them about words and sentence formation, and introduces them to concepts like stories, colours, letters and numbers.
Inspiring a love of books is one of the best ways to prepare children for a lifetime of learning and enjoyment through reading. It will bring huge benefits at school and beyond, because being read to early on helps children to understand language, making it easier for them to learn to read themselves later on. Once your child starts primary school they will be learning to read for themselves, but it’s still important that you enjoy books and reading stories together as a family. Your child will learn their letters and sounds at school, but reading together at home will really inspire them to enjoy and value reading and all the benefits it brings.
Making story time part of your daily routine is a great way to make sure that books and reading are a familiar and fun experience for your child. Get them to choose a book (or two) to read with you on the sofa or in bed at the end of each day. Encourage them to tell you why they’ve selected the book, and what they like and dislike about it. If you can, store children’s books with the covers facing outwards so that your child becomes familiar with books that they enjoy, and can choose for themselves.
A visit to the local library can be a real treat for children – with the reward of borrowing a book at the end of it. It won’t cost you a penny, and they’ll love the experience of having their very own library card (which you can also use to borrow story CDs and DVDs). Taking care of a special book (which will eventually be returned) also helps children gain a sense of responsibility.
Be warned – small children do enjoy the repetition and familiarity of reading the same book over and over again. This is perfectly normal, and they will move on to something else eventually!
Starting to read
Before they can read for themselves, encourage your child to ‘read’ the pictures in their books by asking simple questions about what they can see.
After you’ve read or listened to a story together, try asking your child about what happened. Retelling a story is great for developing their speaking, listening and memory skills. Asking questions about how the characters might have felt, or how they reacted also helps your child understand different points of view.
What is Phonics?
There has been a huge shift in the past few years in how we teach reading in UK schools. This is having a big impact and helping many children learn to read and spell. Phonics is recommended as the first strategy that children should be taught in helping them learn to read. It runs alongside other teaching methods such as Guided Reading and Shared Reading to help children develop all the other vital reading skills and hopefully give them a real love of reading.
So what exactly is phonics?
Words are made up from small units of sound called phonemes. Phonics teaches children to be able to listen carefully and identify the phonemes that make up each word. This helps children to learn to read words and to spell words
In phonics lessons children are taught three main things:
They are taught GPCs. This stands for grapheme phoneme correspondences. This simply means that they are taught all the phonemes in the English language and ways of writing them down. These sounds are taught in a particular order. The first sounds to be taught are s, a, t, p.
Children are taught to be able to blend. This is when children say the sounds that make up a word and are able to merge the sounds together until they can hear what the word is. This skill is vital in learning to read.
Children are also taught to segment. This is the opposite of blending. Children are able to say a word and then break it up into the phonemes that make it up. This skill is vital in being able to spell words.
What makes Phonics tricky?
In some languages learning phonics is easy because each phoneme has just one grapheme to represent it. The English language is a bit more complicated than this. This is largely because England has been invaded so many times throughout its history. Each set of invaders brought new words and new sounds with them. As a result, English only has around 44 phonemes but there are around 120 graphemes or ways of writing down those 44 phonemes. Obviously we only have 26 letters in the alphabet so some graphemes are made up from more than one letter.
ch th oo ay (these are all digraphs - graphemes with two letters)
There are other graphemes that are trigraphs (made up of 3 letters) and even a few made from 4 letters.
Another slightly sticky problem is that some graphemes can represent more than one phoneme. For example ch makes very different sounds in these three words: chip, school, chef.
How is phonics taught?
Some people worry that phonics is taught to children when they are too young. However, those people might be surprised if they stepped into a phonics lesson. Phonics sessions are entirely made up from games, songs and actions and these sessions only last for 15-20 minutes per day. In my experience, (when phonics is taught well) children generally enjoy phonics so much that they beg their teachers to play phonics games with them at other times of the day.