How most children learn to read.

I spent a few moments this morning searching for how children learn to read and came up with this very good article from Reading Rockets that describes the progression of reading skills as well as how pre-reading skills are developed with activities that are done in preschool and kindergarten, like making patterns with beads or blocks will develop an understanding of sequence and listening to rhymes promotes phonemic awareness.

From the article by Derry Koralek and Ray Collins:

Research has shown that phonemic awareness is the best predictor of early reading skills. Phonemes, the smallest units of sounds, form syllables, and words are made up of syllables. Children who understand that spoken language is made up of discrete sounds – phonemes and syllables – find it easier to learn to read.

Many children develop phonemic awareness naturally, over time. Simple activities such as frequent readings of familiar and favorite stories, poems, and rhymes can help children develop phonemic awareness. Other children may need to take part in activities designed to build this basic skill.

Watching my children’s reading abilities unfold has been very exciting to me. I didn’t really give much thought to actively teaching them to read, or even gave it much thought to how children acquire reading skills, leaving that task up to school. I wanted to focus on other fun game playing and hands-on activities and let reading unfold when they were ready. I have to laugh, because I remember my mother in law sitting down with my oldest when she was just 2.5-3, and pointing out words and trying to get her to repeat after her and she just wouldn’t. I wasn’t really interested in forcing reading on the children at a young age. You can’t make reading happen unless the kids have a vested interest in doing so. We did, however, read to them a lot, we listened to a lot of children’s songs, a few books on tape, and at a very early age, the girls started to receive cards in the mail and draw or write cards to their grandmother and friends. They understood that written language conveys meaning.

It has been interesting to see how my relaxed attitude about reading has turned out:

My oldest daughter never read before kindergarten so she got her formal instruction there. I noticed that she would refuse to sound out hard words (she can be stubborn), yet I would supply the pronunciation once, and she would get it right every other time she saw the same word. She would also see words in chunks (something they taught in school), so she would see words or parts of words she does know embedded in other words.

My middle daughter (5.5) is more willing to sound out words, and not having been to elem. school, is more willing to practice reading phonetically. She didn’t start reading spontaneously until about 4.5, and her first book she started reading out loud to me was Green Eggs and Ham. But prior to that, she spent an awful lot of time creating stories from the pictures in the books. She’d go through an entire book from cover to cover making up the story as she saw it in the pictures.

My youngest (4), not really reading at all, can memorize parts or all of certain books, like “No, David” or “The Gingerbread Man” or “The Big Wide Mouthed Frog”.

What’s the same in for all of them, is that they had found particular types of stories motivated them to read more:

With my oldest (7), because she has red hair, loves stories about girls with red hair (like Anne of Green Gables, or Cam Jansen) or stories about kids her age doing amazing things (like in Magic Treehouse, Cam Jansen or Harry Potter). When she started showing interest in chapter books the summer after kindergarten (the Magic Treehouse series), we would take turns reading chapters. I read a chapter, then she read a chapter. After the first 4 books, she was confident to continue on – I think she got up to book 20 before her interest moved on to other books. I a few months ago, I started reading to her the first Harry Potter book, and we alternated chapters. Pretty soon the story so engaged her that she read book two on her own and she’s into book three. Even though she’s reading independently, I still read her a chapter every so often, because I get the chance to help her build vocabulary and proper pronunciation of words and it gives her the chance to ask questions. We both enjoy that time together immensely.

With my middle daughter, she was probably attracted to the lyrical rhymes of Dr. Suess. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was building phonemic awareness that helped her crack the code.

With my youngest, she likes things that are kind of silly (which goes along with her personality). I have no idea when she’ll decide she wants to read, but I’m not in any hurry. I love to see her enjoy the books so much she wants to recite them from memory. She’ll crack the code when she’s ready, though now that I know what I know about rhyming, I’ll probably be reading more Dr. Suess books to her.

In all the cases, there is an underlying motivation/interest. So, I think the progression becomes more natural for them because the books really capture their interest.

I have loved every minute of the evolution of their reading and it is as unique as they are. It’s been exciting to see it evolve.

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4 Responses to How most children learn to read.

  1. teachingyoungchildren says:

    It’s interesting that your three girls liked different books and took different paths to learning to read. I was a very early reader in my own native Russian, but I think Russian is easier, because we don’t have 40 sounds for 26 characters 🙂 Anna is extremely “vested” in reading – it’s her absolute favorite activity. It’s interesting to listen in on her now when she plays with words in bed or in her carseat – she tries to break them into syllables and sounds. I never really taught her to sound words this way – it seems to come to her naturally. I don’t know whether she reads at 3 or at 6, but I really hope that she will keep the same love for books and for words that she has now.

  2. growinginpeace says:

    As I watch my kids read and think about some pronunciations in the English language, it really is perplexing at times. Like cough, through, though. That’s three different sounds for “ough”. I’m surprised it’s not more frustration-inducing than it is.

    My littlest is the one most interested in math (numbers and counting), and that’s why it really surprised me she even recited any text word for word. Who knows if she’ll actually really read but it’s fun hearing her really get into the stories.

    Yeah, a lot of learning happens in the car for us too. We love playing I-SPY games and rhyming games and I’m thinking of something games in the car.

  3. lucy says:

    Does your red-haired daughter know about the fantastic Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lindgren?

  4. growinginpeace says:

    Lucy – I forgot about Pippi Longstocking. I should get some from the library. Thanks for the recommendation.

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