Teaching Children To Read: Where to begin?

Teaching children to read is one of the most rewarding and challenging things a home educator can do. Watching the love of reading turn into hours of pleasure and learning while curled up with a good book is such a joy, not to mention the importance of being able to read God’s word. So where do we start?

Reading good literature to children is an excellent beginning. Spend a good amount of time every day reading to your children from a young age and they will reap the benefits later.

Apart from being exposed to the written word through books, there are many different stepping-stones along the path to reading – phonetic awareness skills that build on top of each other until competent reading is achieved. We tend to head straight for learning the letter names and sounds, but what many parents don’t realise is that there are several pre-reading skills that need to be in place before a child has that light-bulb moment as they realise they are making sense from the written word.

There is a great article by Diana Rigg here that identifies the sequential steps on what has come to be known as the phonological awareness ladder. She cites research that identifies a direct correlation between children’s grasp of each of these steps and later reading success. Spending some time with your child in the early years ensuring that their ears have been trained to hear sounds in words and have mastered each of the steps on the phonological ladder will set them up for success later.

If you are an educator (and all parents are), the small amount of time spent familiarizing yourself with these concepts will be well worth it. You may be able to skim through them with a child who easily picks them up along the way. However you just may save another child from years of frustration and difficulty in their reading journey by plugging those holes now. It’s worth the effort.

Take a moment to read through Diana’s article first, then with the couple of ideas below and your own methods, you can easily cover these skills with your child. Why not use some of the time spent travelling in the car to play some word games? Be careful to use the sounds that letters make, not their alphabet names. The letter B is called “Bee” but it’s sounds is “b” as in bat.

Level 1 – Participation in rhymes

  • Listen to nursery rhyme CD’s and books
  • Sing rhyming songs and recite fun poetry
  • Read books with obvious rhyming patterns

Level 2 – Words in sentences

  • Ask the child to put up a finger, clap each word or set out a small object for every word they hear

Level 3 – Identifying and Producing Rhyme

  • Use rhyming picture cards and find pairs of objects that rhyme
  • Say 2 words and have children tell you whether or not they rhyme
  • While reading a rhyming story, leave off the rhyming word on the end of a sentence and have the child guess what it could be
  • Make up strings of nonsense words that rhyme
  • Say rhyming words around the circle until no one can think of another rhyme
  • Play rhyming “I spy” (I spy with my little eye, something that rhymes with… )

Level 4 – Syllabification

  • Break words up into syllables or parts. Clap each syllable in words and say how many parts there are. For example, “el-e-phant” has 3 syllables, “app-le” has two, “ant” has one.
  • Sort picture cards or little toys and objects into groups according to the number of syllables
  • Put out coloured chips for each syllable in a word

Level 5 – Recognition of initial sounds in simple words

  • Aurally identify the first sound in words. Ask children to listen for the first sound that comes out when they start to say a word. Find as many things around the house as you can that start with the given sound
  • Find the odd one out within a group that all start with the same sound
  • Sort pictures or objects into their initial sound groups, focussing on 2 obviously different sounds to begin with.
  • Play “I spy.”
  • Remember, this is about training the ear to identify the sounds, not matching sounds to letters at this stage.

Level 6 – Recognition of final sounds in simple words

  • Use the same ideas that the child is already familiar with for initial sounds, focussing on the last sound in the word instead.

Level 7 – Blending

  • Say two or three sounds that make up a word for children to join together. Stretch out the sounds to make them very obvious. For example; d-ooooo-g The child blends the sound together to identify the word.
  • Play the blending game. I do use letter cards for this, but the focus is still on the sounds, not the letters. Hold 2 letters as far apart as you can. The child uses a pointer or fancy stick of some kind (just to make it fun!) and points to each letter in turn. Say the sound each time she points to the letter, moving the letters sightly closer together each time until the letters are touching and the word is blended.

Level 8 – Phonemic segmentation

  • Give lots of practice in segmenting words into sounds. For example, you say dog and the child segments it into d-oooo-g
  • Have a bag or decorated container of pictures or objects that have three obvious sounds. The child takes a lucky dip and segments the word.

 

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