Between the ages of four and nine, your child will have to master some 100 phonics rules, learn to recognize 3,000 words with just a glance, and develop a comfortable reading speed approaching 100 words a minute. He must learn to combine words on the page with a half-dozen squiggles called punctuation into something – a voice or image in his mind that gives back meaning. (Paul Kropp, 1996)
Your child has just started “Big School” and a week in you learn that they now have to start reading. Before you freak out or have a panic attack, you are not alone, just like your child, most of the other children in his class also can’t read yet and most of their parents also don’t know where to start. Although some children do learn to read before Gr R, most only start with letter recognition and basic reading in Gr R.
So, what can you do to help your child?
A good start is to focus on the letters of his name. Names are the most important words for children. Acknowledge the “child’s letter”—the first letter of his or her name—by pointing it out whenever and wherever you see it. Then do some letter scrambles using blocks, magnetic letters or letters on index cards. Mix up the letters of the child’s name and work together to put them back in the proper order.
Teach your child to recognise letters of the alphabet and the sound they make. Do one letter at a time and focus on everything that starts with that letter. B is for ball, for breakfast, for blanket, it’s a b-sound. Let them say what else starts with that letter. Let your child view the letter and then practise to draw it in the sand, shaving cream, or on a drawing board. (Look at pencil grip and also the correct startpoint, steps and end point for each letter.) Practise both uppercase and lowercase letters.
Once they know the sounds each letter make and can identify the letters, connect objects with words. Label everyday objects and point to the word as you say it. Play games where children connect simple words with pictures. “Ball” and a picture of a ball, “dog” and a picture of a dog. Model how to do it by pointing out the first letter of the word and saying the sound that the word makes, followed by the word, and then pointing to the picture.
Practice print referencing. Print referencing is a simple yet meaningful way to enforce early literacy skills. It involves pointing out print elements in texts: pointing to the title of the book as you read it, running your finger under the words as you read the text on a page, this helps children learn the basics.
Read, read, read! Read with your child every day, many times a day. Read books, signs, posters—anything with words. Read in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. Read at the park, in the living room, at the pool. Read print everywhere you can find it!
Most importantly, make an effort to celebrate your child’s successes, because learning to read is something to smile about!