By the age of five or six, most children are able to begin a formal introduction into the world of reading. For some children this process may begin at four or seven and that’s ok. Most children have already been engaged with books and environmental print for years and have acquired a lot of background knowledge about books.
Reading is an arbitrary and complex activity. Children need to learn to distinguish seemingly random marks on a page to represent various sounds. That sound correspondence develops into letter recognition and the ability to learn the alphabet, and environmental print. Pointing out the sounds that go with letters is an important launching point. Having a child’s name on a wall, on their books and supplies and taking apart their name to talk about the letters and the sounds they make is a great beginning. Once your child is familiar with the letters in their name you can branch out to others in the family, mom begins with the /m/ sounds like mmm, “mmm”. Can you say that? Relatively quickly, your child will know the entire alphabet. Hang up environmental print in your home in the form of alphabet banners, labels and art with your child’s name on it to reinforce what they are learning. Point out street signs and billboards etc and the sounds those words begin with. Say things like,, “Oh look a stop sign. Stop sign begins with an sss sound.”
Once a child knows the alphabet or even while they are beginning to recognize most of it, children can begin to sound out short CVC (consonant vowel consonant) words like the word “bat”. Tell your child to think of a stretchy snake while pulling apart the word to hear all of it’s parts. Say the word slowly, enunciating each sound. /B/ is the initial sound and then we look at the middle sound and say /a/ now let’s look at the ending sound /t/ and make that sound together. Now, the snake comes back together and say the word, “bat”. Once a child has the individual sounds they can move onto chunky monkey and look for chunks and blends in words to help them decode. Looking for word families within words is another strategy to get kids reading. I used Dog Man as a teaching tool with my son since every page is endless /an/ and /og/ word family lessons combined with tons of sight words. Once a child can recognize letters and environmental print they will begin to recognize sight words quickly and easily. Books like the Bob series, First Little Readers, and familiar series like Pete the Cat can help children quickly develop phonemic awareness and sight words.
While phonemic awareness is a crucial part of learning to read the ultimate goal is for your child to be reading to learn and for pleasure. Comprehension plays a very important role. Comprehension has two types, literal and inferential. Literal understanding means exactly that. Inferential comprehension requires the child to use clues and prior knowledge to understand what is not explicitly stated. One way to establish prior knowledge is with a picture walk. Look through the book and talk about the cover, the illustrations and pictures to help the child develop familiarity and content knowledge within the story. To improve comprehension, discuss your child’s favorite part, the problem/conflict/resolution and retell the beginning, middle and end of the story (not all at the same time). However, the most important thing you can do to teach your child to read is to model this for them. Does your child see you reading books for pleasure as well as for information? Grab a cheesy thriller for the beach or keep a book or magazine in your bag at all times for those free moments where you can show your child that reading is important, fun and one day they will be a reader too.