It’s not surprising that the question of how to support your child’s reading at home, is one that many parents ask. Learning to read is the most important skill that your child will need to master for success at school and later on. Unlike learning to walk and talk, becoming literate is not a natural development. It doesn’t just happen or happen at a given age. To become literate, children need a lot of input, instruction and practice.
Just as children reach their developmental milestones at different ages, they will also learn to read at different ages. Children entering Year/Grade 1 for example, will be at different levels in their reading ability. Some children will find the process relatively easy, while others will find it more difficult
The years before children receive formal instruction on reading however, are fundamental to how successful they will be at reading themselves. During these years, a child who has been exposed to language and literacy skills, will be at an advantage when they start to learn to read.
And this is where parents can play a vital role in ensuring that their child has the necessary skills early on, in order to read successfully later. Throughout the post we’ll look at how to support your child’s reading at home.
Helping your preschooler’s literacy skills
Parents can do a number of activates with their young children before they start school. What children learn through these activities will form the basic building blocks for learning to read. Examples of activities include:
- Reading aloud to your child frequently. This is considered the single most important activity that you can do for your child’s literacy (see:
Reading Aloud: Giving Children the Best Start).
- Exposing your child to a rich variety of print
- Singing songs and nursery rhymes
- Talking to your child often and playing letter games
- Tracing letters in sand, flour, sugar, shaving foam or any other fun way
- Re-reading your child’s favourite book again and again
- Having fun saying tongue twisters together
- Letting you child see you read for pleasure and establish reading as an enjoyable activity in the home
- Encouraging your child to tell you stories
Through these kind of activities, children will begin to understand that language consists of discrete sounds (phonemes), and syllables. Research has shown that this phonemic awareness is the best predictor of early reading skills (D. Koralek & R. Collins).
(For a more detailed parental guide on activities to support your child’s literacy before Year/Grade 1, please see: Reading Aloud: Giving Children the Best Start and Learning to Write: Supporting Your Child From the Start).
Learning to read – what’s the best age to start?
Some experts believe that children should receive formal teaching on how to read at the developmentally appropriate age of six or seven. Other experts are in favour of providing children of 4-5 years old, with limited amounts of literacy instruction. It’s interesting to note however, that research has shown that learning to read at an earlier age does not result in better reading skills later on.
There is no solid research demonstrating that early academic
training is superior to the more traditional, hands-on
model of early education
D. Elkind (2001)
Elkind also argues that educators should use approaches suitable to a child’s development; giving children plenty of time and opportunity to explore their environment the way they wish to. He emphasises that, early education must start with the child, not with the subject matter to be taught.
Research has also noted that there isn’t a correlation between the age a child starts school and their reading achievement by the time they are 15 years old (PISA 2007). Moreover, a study of 50 kindergartens in Germany, compared two groups of five year-old children who had been ‘academically focused’ or, ‘play-arts focused’ for a year. The finding was that, in time, the two groups were exactly the same in reading skills. According to, Suggate (2013), the effects of early reading are like:
Watering a garden before a rainstorm; the earlier watering is rendered undetectable by the rainstorm, the watering wastes precious water, and the watering detracts the gardner from other important preparatory groundwork.
(S. P Suggate, 2013)
What methods are used to teach children to read?
There has been disagreement amongst experts on what is the best method to teach children how to read. For the English language, there are two main approaches. Some schools will favour one, while others will use a mix of the two. The two methods are, Phonics and Whole Language.
Phonics: This method focuses on the sounds of the letters. The child first learns the sound that is associated with the letter. They then move from sounding out individual letters to blending letters together and sounding out the syllables. This approach doesn’t teach children the complete word as a shape and doesn’t involve the child guessing the word from clues such as a picture or the context.
Whole Language: This teaches children to look at words and sentences as a whole, rather than as individual letters. Children are expected to learn to read gradually without lots of direct instruction. In this method, the teacher is seen more as a facilitator of learning, rather than an emphasis being put on teaching. Reading, writing and speaking are not seen as separate. Children will both read and write every day in a variety of contexts.
Children today will often be taught using aspects of both approaches, with educators arguing that being used together is more powerful than just using one.
How do children learn to read?
Learning to read is developmental. Most children will follow the same pattern, but as with other skills, they learn at their own pace.
There are five stages of this development:
1. The Emergent Reader
This is the stage where children sit on the laps of their parents/caregivers and enjoy listening to a story being read to them. Here, they are exposed to a vast vocabulary, the sounds of different words, the print and the images.
At the end of this stage, a child will pretend to read a book and be able to re-tell a story that they are familiar with by looking at the pictures.
2. The Novice Reader
At the novice stage, children are learning to decode words and understand the word that has been decoded. They are beginning to learn that there is a relationship between the letter and its sound. They can start to read simple, high frequency words and ‘sound out’ words they get stuck on.
At this stage children are receiving direct instruction. The hard work however, comes from the child and it’s therefore important to maintain their motivation.
3. The Decoding Reader
By this stage, a child has become a more confident reader without the hard work of pronouncing each letter or sounding out each syllable. They are reading simple stories with greater fluency, and will add around 3,000 words to what they can already decode.
A child at this stage will know about common endings, such as, ’s’ and ‘ed’, as they appear frequently in their reading. They also begin to learn about the inner workings of words, such as prefixes and suffixes.
At the beginning of this stage, the child will be devoting so much energy on decoding that they will not always understand the words that they are reading. This practice however, is important as it allows them to practice their decoding skills. Once they become quicker at decoding, they can then devote more energy to understanding what they are reading.
4. Fluent, Comprehending Reader
By the time children reach this stage, they are reading to learn. They accumulate a lot of knowledge about spelling, and as a reader will sound fluent. This fluency however, does not necessarily mean that they are understanding what they are reading. Someone can sound fluent, but fail to understand what it is they have read.
5. Expert Reader
At this stage, it usually only takes half a second to read most words. How their reading will change over their life will depend on what they read and how much they read.
How to support your child’s reading at home
As noted above, learning to read is not a natural occurrence and, for many children, a skill that they find difficult. When your child starts formal education, they will receive reading instruction from their their teacher and other classroom helpers, such as a teaching assistant.
As parents however, we can play a vital role in helping and supporting our children in this process. At the beginning of this post, I outlined various activities that parents can do to prepare their child for reading at preschool/kindergarten age. Here, I have produced a guide to help parents support their children from the moment they start to read.
Below is a video by the popular author, Julia Donaldson, talking about some of her tips for children reading.
Reading is clearly an essential tool for our children in order to succeed both in school and in later life. It is the tool that will give them access to all learning and provide them with limitless opportunities to expand their minds and pursue the life that they desire.
The key to all of this lies in their early years. As such it provides parents with a golden opportunity to help their child become accomplished readers. We can do this from the moment they are born and continue throughout their schooling. I hope the above tips provide you with ways in how to support your child’s reading at home.
Over to you…
What have your experiences been with your child reading? Are there other tips you would add to the above for other parents? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.