When will they be reading?
Now, there’s a question I’ve been asked many times over the years. The answer is straightforward on one hand, and yet complex on the other. After all, how can we predict when a child will take this important leap? To better understand the answer, we need to further explore the question itself.
That is, what do we mean by reading?
Perhaps your child is a strong visual learner. Many children can associate alphabet symbols with their letter names from toddlerhood; by preschool age many visual learners like working with sight words that are printed on flashcards or homemade notes. Other children find it easier to remember the letter sound more easily than the name of the letter itself; by now the introduction of phonics has permeated many preschool curricula in Europe and the United States and makes immediate sense to a child with strong auditory skills. How does your child like to learn? A child that develops a solid understanding of sounds that are produced either by individual letters or a blend of two or three letters grouped together will likely take more risks when new text is presented. In other words, they might feel less dependent on prior knowledge in order to guess at a new word by sounding it out.
Both the visual approach and the auditory approach will typically engage the other at some stage in order to introduce even the simplest of sentences to an emerging reader. But is the child now actually reading? A developing brain may need the mechanical practice of decoding a series of sounds over and over again before reading with understanding is achieved. It’s important to remember that every child will develop at an entirely independent pace. In an academic setting, some children will arrive at preschool already familiar with the alphabet, some even have a basic familiarity with phonics (letter sounds). Others will arrive with different skills and comparatively little experience with language symbols at all. My philosophical answer to the burning question has always been: With the appropriate support from both home and school, your child will read when they are ready.
What can we do to support a child’s literacy development?
Clear enunciation, varied vocabulary and meaningful interaction are the foundation of language development. Reading alongside children takes spoken language into a whole new realm, showing a child that relationships exist between sounds and symbols, between words and pictures, and between the reader and the listener. Investing time in both conversation and reading supports all subsequent independent efforts that the young person will make. A child who has been read to will instinctively know that illustrations complement the text and can provide a hint about new words found in the story. A child who has been read to has had the opportunity to absorb the fact that alphabetical symbols frequently occur in patterns that are repeated and will apply this to new information presented in a formal lesson. A child that has been read to will associate the happiness of past experiences with the suggestion that reading can be a social activity that promotes joy and opens possibilities for discovery. These factors can sow the seeds of connection and positively affect a child’s attitude towards handling early reading material for the first time. In a home where reading is celebrated, a child will understand its relevance in our lives and will have a far greater chance of appreciating the true gift of literacy.