Many parents wonder whether their children are ready to learn to read.
Different children grow at different paces, and while not every child will achieve the same milestones at the same time, here are some signs to look out for as you assess if your child is ready to take the next step in word recognition.
1. Your child can recognise most of the letters of the alphabet
The first and most obvious step is that your child knows almost all 26 letters of the alphabet.
You might ask, why not ALL the letters of the alphabet?
This is because there are certain letters that do appear much less frequently than others, such as q, x or z. Although it would certainly be a good thing if your child knows all his letters, many children are able to start mastering reading even if their recognition of these rarer letters might still be a little shaky.
Children also need to be able to identify both uppercase and lowercase letters as most books are not exclusively written in capital letters.
Some of the simplest ways to help your children on this path include:
- Singing the alphabet song with your children frequently so that they are familiar with the letters
- Playing a game to identify letters while you are out and about by referring to road signs, shop signs, or even cereal boxes (tip: this works well with numbers too!)
- Getting refrigerator letter magnets or letter board toys (the kinds with wooden letter pieces your children have to match with the corresponding shallow slots on the board)
2. Your child has phonemic awareness
Being able to identify all the letters of the alphabet is only the first step towards literacy. In order to be able to start learning to read, your children also need to know what sounds each individual letter makes. This is not always as easy as it sounds; for example, the letter g makes two different sounds: the hard g sound as in ‘guitar’, and the soft g sound as in ‘giraffe’.
You can work on your children’s phonemic awareness by:
- Singing or reciting nursery rhymes together
- Asking your children to identify the beginning letters of words; e.g. ruh, rock! What letter does ‘rock’ start with?
- Playing games such as ‘I spy’ which encourages children to refer to their environment and identify things that begin with the letter you choose
- Participating in phonics classes to kickstart your children’s understanding of phonemic sounds
3. Your child has print and book awareness
In order to start learning to read, your children should be thoroughly familiar with how print works; they should know that words represent meaning. They should also know how books work. They should be aware that the English printed word goes from left to right: letters are read left to right, words are read left to right, and that pages move from left to right.
In order to develop this print and book awareness, you can:
- Develop a habit of reading to your child
- Point to words as you read them so that your child links the sound you make to the word you point at
- Ask them what they think is written on the packaging of products in the store so that they can logically connect the contents with the labels
4. Your child listens and understands
Comprehension is an important part of literacy.
Are your children able to follow storylines? Do they answer logically when you ask them questions about how characters might feel or what they might do next?
A child with good listening comprehension has a wide vocabulary and a growing understanding of how the world generally works.
To build comprehension skills:
- Ask your children questions about the characters in the books you read together
- encourage your children to speak up about their own feelings, likes and dislikes, needs and wants (Tip: This is also a healthy way of regulating their emotions!)
- Use the 5W’s and 1H (who, where, when, why, what, how) often in your conversations with your children
5. Your child is motivated to read
A great way to show that your children are ready to tackle reading is that they show lots of eagerness to read.
Children may start pointing at signs or books and ask what the words say. They may be able to identify certain simple words by rote (recognising the visual shape of the word rather than being able to read it independently) especially familiar words such as their own names, and are proud to show you when they see the word.
Motivate your children to read by:
- Leading by example: read voraciously and widely yourself and let them see how you enjoy it
- Encourage creative play and imaginative interactions; many children like to make up their own stories. Listen, appreciate and ask questions to help your children expand these tales
- Praise them when they correctly identify words and correct them gently if they are mistaken
- Attending fun reading programmes for young kids at local libraries where books are read together in a social environment
Are phonics classes suitable for developing reading readiness?
Now that you know your child is ready to take the plunge into learning how to read, let’s move on to the next step.
Many parents like to sign their kids up for phonics classes, but in fact, phonics classes in isolation are not always effective in helping your children understand what they are reading. Reading is not a single skill; it is a collection of skills and phonics is just one of them. What you are looking for, rather, are reading programmes for kids.
How can reading programmes for kids help?
Reading programmes such as the MindChamps Reading Programme have a much broader outlook than regular phonics classes. They integrate phonemic awareness into their curriculum and encompass a wider range of skills and learning goals, such as storytelling, phonics, as well as comprehension and discussion skills.
A good reading programme for kids generates a sincere interest and desire to read, showing children that reading by itself is rewarding. In fact, children who read for pleasure are much more motivated to read, and are much more likely to acquire language skills without having to put in much effort.
Reading starts at home! Take these steps to encourage your child along the path to becoming a fluent, avid reader.
Written by JoBeth Williams