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Helping Your Child Learn to Read

Learning To Read – How To Help Your Child Start

Time4Learning Builds Reading Skills Online

By John Edelson
Time4Learning Founder – Build Reading Skills Online

Learning to read is an exciting time for children and their families. For many parents, helping their child learning to read establishes a pattern for their involvement in their child’s academic education. Here are a few important hints.

Be Involved and Patient

Learning to read is the culmination of a great many learned skills and developmental processes. Learning to read is a long-term program. At times, there is no visible progress. At other times, they make dramatic daily progress. In all cases, show patience, confidence, and be encouraging of new skills. Learning to read is like a marathon that involves climbing up mountains and over diverse terrain: it is not a sprint and every child needs support along the way. And like a marathon, there are many stages, each with it’s own challenges. From phonics through advanced reading comprehension and critical thinking, there are new challenges at each stage.

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 about learning to read, there are some basics which you should understand. While there are many sources, my favorites are SEDL or Todays Learners. Time4Learning has an excellent free newsletter that provides useful insights into how children learn to read and how parents can help teach them. It points to websites, articles, resources, and books with more info on specific steps or issues in learning to read. Once you understand the basic steps, you’ll have a “map” or “schedule” of the terrain that your marathon mountain climbing effort will need to cover. If your child’s development differs significantly from the schedules, you should consult with specialists since along the way, many children are found to have different sets of strengths and weaknesses which sometimes require some specialized help or intervention. Most differences provide interesting insight into what makes your child special and do not change the overall program significantly.

Learning to Read has a sequence

Just as children start by playing T-ball before 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 successfully learning phonics, the child should master a set of pre-reading skills including understanding basic print concepts, discerning the sounds, 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. It is great fun to realize, even in the prereading phase, how much ground is already covered once a child can play rhyming games, understanding thousands of words of vocabulary, and likes hearing you read bed-time stories out of a book.

The First Steps in 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 highly motivated to learn to recognize their own name. Each of these different activities helps develop prereading skills.

A Program to Becoming a Successful Reader

Time4Learning is a great example of a reading curriculum. Let’s look at the range of activities that are taught as children learn to “decode words” and build basic “reading comprehension skills”. These steps are primarily achieved in the years up to third grade. At the preschool level, lessons teach verbal comprehension, build vocabulary skills, develop phonemic awareness through rhyming games, and build other prereading skills. By kindergarten, the program is teaching phonics with more vocabulary, comprehension, and listening exercises (recognizing word families and syllables). From third to eighth grade, reading comprehension skills are the main focus with grammar, word roots, punctuation, and critical thinking as major strands.

Writing Skills Should be Developed Simultaneously

Most programs, including Time4Learning, now include a writing program from the earliest ages. There are two reasons for this renewed focus on writing: one, research shows that writing skills helps build reading skills. Secondly, employers (and standardized tests) are increasingly focused on strong writing skills. Teaching writing starts at the prereading level where there are “tell a story” exercises using paint programs. The level progresses incrementally so by third grade, the children are using outliners and graphic organizers to organize thoughts prior to writing. The goal is for them to construct sentences and paragraphs into coherent clear essays.

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 dubious of any “magic shortcuts”. The 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 broad array of tools such as learning toys, computer programs, rich daily conversations, daily reading sessions, and a comprehensive curriculum.


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