It’s that time of year again when school starts and we stumble through the first few days of getting back into a routine. Do you remember learning to read? I have a vague recollection of books about a boy and girl whose names I can’t now remember. Peter and Jane? Dick and Jane? Not Tara and Ben though! I remember being puzzled at seeing two hads in one sentence: She had had her dinner didn’t make sense to me! Learning to read is such a milestone. I remember when my little girl started to read independently and it was bitter sweet. I was delighted she could do it but also a little sad that she would now enter other worlds without me. This post is the first in a series of 5 about helping your child to learn how to read. Joining me is my friend and fellow speech and language therapist Phyllis Jordan who has lots of experience of working with children who struggle with reading.
This post is for you if you had trouble learning to read and write when you were a child and you’re a bit worried about your own child learning to read. It’s also for you if your child’s other parent had trouble learning to read and write as a child. Or if any of you in the immediate family struggle with reading and writing now. It’s worthwhile getting in there early and developing pre-reading skills. What are they? They’re not as intimidating as they sound! You can start these from infancy by including books, songs, and nursery rhymes in your home languages during your time together. Spoken language is a critical foundation for learning to read and write. Developing these skills in fun ways will set your child up with a solid foundation for what they encounter in school.
Here are 14 ideas to get you started:
Toddlers & Infants
# 1 Nursery Rhymes & Songs
What are your child’s favourite nursery rhymes in your home languages? Once your child is familiar with the rhyme, you can start saying it and leave a pause at the end of each line for your child to fill in the missing rhyming word.
You can do this with songs too. Here’s a quick video to show you how to do it.
Songs that have actions like Eency Weency Spider or Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear Turn Around or similar ones in your own languages are also good to do.
Preschool- aged children
# 2 Rhyming games
You pick a word and then take turns at adding a word that rhymes. So, in English it would look like this:
You: Coat. What rhymes with coat?
You: Yes! My turn. Wrote.
They can be real words or nonsense words. You can decide at the outset. It’s about the sound of the word or non-word, not the spelling. Whoever comes up with the most words that rhyme wins. You can do this in all of your languages which will build meta-linguistic awareness and that in turn will help with learning to read in the different languages.
# 3 Awareness of sounds at the start of words
Play Simon Says or I Spy where you say Simon Says ‘Find something that starts with /s/’. You say the sound (sss) not the letter name (es). You can do this with I Spy as well where you say I Spy with my little eye something beginning with /s/. These games are about developing awareness of the sounds, not about the letter name.
# 4 Use your senses
This means that you draw your child’s attention to things about the sounds, for example noticing how your lips are rounded when you say ‘sh’ or how your top teeth are on your lower lip for /f/. Can they feel the puff of air on the back of their hand when they say ‘puh’? How about putting their fingers on their nose and feel the bones vibrate when they say ‘mmmm’ and no vibration when they say /s/? And try putting their fingers at their throat and feeling the difference when they say /s/ (no vibration) and /z/ (vibrating).
#5 Make your own Book of Sounds
Cut out and paste pictures, maybe 2 pictures per page, of words starting with a particular sound like puh or muh. One sound per page. Again it’s sounds not letter names. But if your child is able for it, you can talk about the letter names and the sounds they make. You can have separate books for your different languages. There are lovely jigsaws available too that include the letter name and sound it makes. I like Orchard Toys for English. And Alphabet Jigsaws based in Ireland have beautiful wooden jigsaws including the Irish language alphabet and early vocabulary too.
#6 Reading Together
This is a great way to foster children’s awareness of print so you can put your finger under the words as you read to tune your young child into the idea of words. Here is a post about dialogic book reading and here is another one with more ideas of how to get the most out of reading together from very early on to children who are reading.
# 7 Memory & Sequencing Games
These are the kinds of games where you take turns to recall a list of things. You start: I went to the shop and I bought ice-cream or I was going on holidays and I packed a toothbrush. Each person repeats the list and adds an item. You’re out when you forget an item. You can also play Simon Says where you give longer commands like Simon Says touch your nose, hop on one leg, and smile.
#8 Visiting the library for story-time and chatting about the story on the way home or the next day.
#9 Going to the library and letting them pick the books.
#10 Reading together daily if you can and it doesn’t have to be at bed time. It could be when your child is having a snack after school.
#11 Watching movies that have an accompanying book and then reading the book. Or the other way around.
#12 Discussing what you think of the plot, characters, things that happen, differences between the movie and the book.
#13 Asking the librarians for inspiration for books your child might like to read together.
#14 Doing readathons at school or joining in summer reading schemes at your local library.
For reluctant readers, I’d say ‘Don’t give up!”. It took lockdown and a random discovery of Heidi for my reluctant reader to go from saying ‘Reading is so boring‘ to staying up late into the night to read another chapter at age 10!
In our next post, we’re going to give you ideas for what to do if you’re worried about your child’s reading. If you like this post, please pass it onto your friends. And come join us over in Facebook in the group:
Let’s get talking!
MP & Phyllis