Learning to Read - What are the basic steps?
Most parents are thrilled when their child starts learning to read. But many parents are surprised to learn that despite family background, learning to read is often not an automatic or trouble-free process. While many parenting books suggest that if you read to your child at bedtime, they will easily learn to read, the reality is more complicated.
Learning to Read is the Culmination
of Learning Many Diverse Skills
Learning to read is the culmination of many new skills and developmental processes. Sometimes, there is no visible progress. At other times, children move forward rapidly. In all cases, show patience and confidence. Be encouraging of new skills.
Learning to read is like a marathon over diverse terrain: it is not a sprint. Most children will need some special support along the way.
Learn about learning to read
There are many great books and websites on learning to read. While you don't need to become knowledgeable about all the latest theories, there are some basics which parents should understand.
While there are many sources, my favorite source of authoritative information is SEDL.
Once you understand the basic steps, you'll have a "map" of the terrain that you need to cover. If your child's development differs significantly from the norm, you should consult with specialists since many children are found to have different sets of strengths and weaknesses which can require some help or intervention.
For instance, some "reading" difficulties turn out to be vision problems which are not caught in the standard eye-chart test (which is designed to only test distance vision).
Learning to Read has a sequence
Just as children start out by playing T-ball, prior to playing baseball with "pitched" balls, there are specific steps in learning to read. Trying to teach the steps out of sequence can frustrate your child (and you).
For instance, prior to trying to learn phonics, the child should master a set of pre-reading skills including: understanding basic print concepts, discerning the sounds, and understanding that words are made up of sounds which they need to think about as interchangeable parts (ie; phonemic awareness), and memorizing the alphabet.
To help parents understand the steps in learning to read, look at The Reading Skills Pyramid. And while most children do follow this sequence, be aware that each child is different and that there are a great number of variations.
Learning to Read is Multimodal
Learning to read is easiest if you involve all the children's learning styles and modalities. They should see the words on wall posters, have toys in the shapes of letters, draw or trace the letters, play letter games on the computer, watch educational programs (Sesame Street) that introduce the letters, and of course, listen to stories in books.
Most children love learning that their name can be written down and are thrilled to learn to recognize their own name. Each of these activities helps develop prereading skills.
A Program to Becoming a Successful Reader
Let's look at the range of activities that children need to master as they learn to read. At the preschool level, a foundation is built of verbal comprehension skills, vocabulary skills, and phonemic awareness.
In kindergarten or once the basic phonemic awareness is in place, children are ready to learn phonics along with more vocabulary, verbal comprehension, and listening skills (recognizing word families and syllables).
By third grade, word decoding is largely accomplished and the reading development focus shifts to building reading comprehension, critical thinking, and literary analysis skills. But reading comprehension skills are built not just on top of decoding skills but also on a foundation of verbal comprehension and vocabulary skills which were developed simultaneously with the word decoding skills.
Helping your Child Learn to Read - Summary
Parents enthusiasm for teaching their children to read should be channelled into useful daily activities. Meaningful education is a marathon and not a sprint; it is not always smooth "road work" but involves working through diverse terrains.
Be very skeptical of any claims by people to find shortcuts. A first step is for parents to learn the basics of the steps in learning to read. Once you understand the overall path, you'll see how to use the array of tools such as learning toys, computer programs, rich daily conversations, daily reading sessions, and a comprehensive curriculum.
About the Author
John Edelson is the father of two. He has long been interested in educational innovation and how technology can improve education. The Time4Learning motto: "It's Time 4 Learning. And Fun. For Everyone." encompasses his view that education is a pervasive life-time pursuit, that education should be enjoyable, and that high quality education should be available to more people than it is today. His primary theme is appropriate use of technology for education.
John Edelson previously worked in computer graphics, technology, and computer games. He has a BA from Yale and a masters degree in business. He served in the Peace Corps, 1980-82 in West Africa.
© Time4Learning, 2006
Additional Learning to Read Resources
- Valentine's Day Reading List
- Building an Enthusiastic Reader From Scratch
- The Road to Homeschool: Making The Big Decision
- Reading: The Easiest and Best Homeschool Curriculum
- Reading Curriculum Ideas
- Links to Free Online Books
- Children's Books
Posted: February 03, 2007