It is now widely understood that the more language a child knows before he reads, the better his reading skills are going to be. The better his reading skills, the more successful he will be in school. Oxford University research found that children who were read nursery rhymes were not only better readers, but were, overall, stronger language learners. Why? The phonic structure, rhythm and the cadence of the language were imprinted on them. Children who have been read rhymes tend to read better at the age of 4 and 5 then those without such exposure. Of course, all parents want their children to excel, but may not know how or when to go about introducing reading. So how can you make learning to read easier for them?
Oral language, which includes listening and speaking, is the foundation upon which reading and subsequently, writing is built. Children need to be able to understand words before they can produce and use them. Talking with your child, reading to her, telling stories and naming objects will develop vocabulary and strengthen the skills needed for reading.
Your child needs to want to learn to read. The best way to teach this love for books is by modelling the behaviour and reading to your child. Spend time together exploring a variety of books. Show your child that you value books and enjoy reading. Your natural excitement and enthusiasm will be contagious. This will imprint a positive impression and this can motivate your child to want to learn to read.
Once your child has the basic motivation to learn to read, he needs to have the right system for learning how. There are two basic reading systems: phonics and whole word learning. When my own children learnt to read, the system in the UK was to teach whole word learning at the age of four. There were complete reading schemes that began with very simple words/ideas that would be the basis for the entire book, such as “house”. The book would show images or drawings of houses and the child would see the word, “house.” The story might include “mommy” and “daddy” and so the next book would be about “daddy in the house”, then “mommy in the house“. In this manner, the child would learn to recognize whole words and connect them with the concepts. What’s the advantage of this system? It is natural. For children ages 4 to 5 years old, the concept of phonics is extremely abstract. They usually aren’t yet ready for this system. I think it is preferable to let children learn reading in a more natural manner, with words and ideas familiar to them.
Phonics, or phonetic reading very naturally follows the whole word system. By the second year in school, 80% of these children will have analysed the phonics system on their own and will naturally begin the process of sounding out letters and sounds. For the 20% of the children that do not begin the process, the teacher will work with them and the process will develop for them, too.
I am a strong believer in bringing these two methods together. Many language experts also share this belief that learning to read should be a combination of whole word and phonetic approaches, depending upon the age and learning strategies of the child.
As a linguistic scientist I clearly have a strong interest in creating successful methods for teaching children to speak, read and write in English. I have developed several reading systems including a new learning to read programme using the Helen Doron Read app on Google Play and the App Store. It is a unique compilation of 32 interactive books that take a child from his very first few words to reading full sentences.
The books start by introducing the words “cat” “rat” and “bat.” It’s all very simple and interactive. The pictures come alive and the child watches the image and hears the letter and word sounds together. The app is a complete system; the child’s vocabulary develops sequentially and naturally and by the 4th book in each series, the child is able to record himself reading a story of the words he has learnt, aloud. The programme begins very simply and progresses to include familiar and more advanced stories such as Rumpelstiltskin and Pinocchio. The beauty of the app is that it works with both native English speakers and with children learning English as a Second Language.
This is something that parents can introduce to their child to give them an early start or it can support a language the child is learning in school. It can also help children who may have fallen behind and need extra support. The app is actually one of a kind, created with love, care, skills and linguistic knowledge. Children learn to read at their own pace in their own time.
Remember, it’s never too early to start reading to your child and teaching them a love for books. Reading should be fun and it’s a gift that will grow with your child for a lifetime.