Vickie Leung, Speech Pathologist and former director of the Multi-Lit Literacy Centre at Macquarie University, explains how and when to help your child start learning to read.
As a speech pathologist and literacy specialist, many parents ask me questions about when they should start to teach their child to read.
Children enjoy being read to and to really give your child the very best opportunity to learn to read well, I encourage you to read daily to your child from birth.
But when it comes to being able to read for themselves, most children develop pre-reading skills between the ages of 4 and 5.
This is when they have mastered spoken language and are starting to notice written words in the world around them.
Getting ready to read
But before your child learns to read and write, they must first pick up foundation skills for literacy, and these include speaking, listening and understanding.
Your child will also need to develop their phonological awareness skills, which means learning about the sounds, words and language they see and hear in books, stories and the world around them.
As a parent or teacher, you play an important role in building these pre-reading phonological awareness skills.
When you are helping your child get ready to learn to read, pay attention to:
Beginning sounds– being able to listen for the ‘onset’ or beginning sounds in words is a crucial pre-reading skill. (eg. Goat starts with a ‘g’ sound).It is important that your child is able to identify, remember and hear the first sound in words as this will help reading development later on.
When your child is just starting to recognise and learn new words, give them lots of clues to help them remember (eg. That word begins with the sound ‘h’, you go there if you are very sick, what do you think it could be? H forHospital).
At home hint – help your child identify the first letter of their name, and listen for words that start with the same sound as the first sound in their name. Games like ‘I spy with my little ye, something that begins with …’ are great too.
Syllables – before your child is ready to read, they need to understand that words have ‘parts’, and to be able to identify these components in longer words.Identifying syllables becomes an important skill when your child starts learning to spell, as it helps ‘chunk’ the parts of the words into smaller pieces which are easier to spell than an entire word (eg. Hippopotamus can be broken down into its syllables hip-po-po-ta-mus).
At home hint – point out signs, grocery packaging, other words and pictures when you shop and clap out the syllables in each word.
Rhyming– being able to listen and identify patterns in words in part of the process of learning to read.Rhyming words have the same or similar sounds at the end. Rhyme is vital for learning because the sing-song quality of rhyme helps your child to remember, recite new words and spot patterns in the sounds.
If your child can understand rhyming as a pre-schooler, this skill will be particularly helpful later on when they need to apply similar rules to words when spelling.
At home hint – make up actions to go with the rhyming words in songs (eg. I’m a little teapot short and stout, here is my handle and here is my spout).
Blending– as your child learns to read, they will learn to use their listening and memory skills to ‘hold’ sounds in their mind and then combine them to make a word (eg. The sounds S-a-n-d come together to make the word sand).This is a fundamental skill for learning new words and helps to develop your child’s auditory skills and working memory.
At home hint – read a book together, and as you read, run your finger under the shorter words, sound out each sound and ask your child to blend the word together.
Segmenting – to be ready to read successfully, your child will need to be able to pull words apart and put them back together again. When your child is just beginning to read, they will be required to sound out words, they slowly say each sound in a word (eg. B-o-x) and then they have to say the sounds quickly together to blend or “read” the word (eg. Box).
At home hint – share eBooks and apps to help your child learn about sounds and letters in words, encourage them to sound out words and break up the words into its sounds so it is easier to work out.
Ways to help your child get ready to read
Expanding your child’s collection of books is a terrific way to get them interested in learning to read. Books make great gifts and you can often pick bargain books up at charity shops.
Encourage the excitement of stories by visiting your local library regularly and allowing your child to borrow new books to practice all of these phonological awareness activities with.
Once your child becomes more confident with these early literacy skills, they will be better supported to start learning how to read.
If, no matter how many different strategies you try, your child still struggles to grasp the concepts of listening for and manipulating sounds in words, consider making an appointment to discuss any issues with your child’s preschool/school teacher, paediatrician or a Speech Pathologist.