Enjoyment of reading has been declining in recent years, with only 25.8% of children and young people saying that they read daily in their free time, according to the National Literacy Trust’s annual survey. Fostering a love of reading begins as early as nursery, where parents and teachers can introduce children to a variety of print-rich environments and help them to make the connection between letters and words they’re familiar with, whilst having plenty of fun as they learn!
Although mastering reading is a complex process for pre-schoolers, the building blocks to get there are surprisingly simple and are also incredibly rewarding for both the child and their parent when enjoyed together.
We don’t just sing nursery rhymes because they’re fun and traditional, but also because these popular tunes allow children to hear the different sounds and syllables in the words they’re singing. Phonics lessons in primary school centre around clapping or tapping out different phonemes and being able to hear them in the words they’re reading. Clapping and following actions in nursery rhymes is an important building block activity that helps your child develop a connection between the sound and the rhythm in words.
“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C.” There’s a lot to be said for this famous line from the Sound of Music’s Do-Re-Mi song. Teaching your child their letters of the alphabet may seem daunting as there’s 26 of them, but it can be lots of fun too. Share books and puzzles to show what the different letters look like and the many words that start with each of them. For example, A is for apple, ant, abacus, B is for banana, ball, bus and C is for car, carrot, cake and clap.
It’s best to start with lower case letters and focus just on the sound the letter makes for now. You can add in capital letters and the name of the letter down the line. If you’re comfortable with using television to progress reading, then there are educational shows such as CBeebies’ Alphablocks which is shown throughout UK primary schools as a way to strengthen letter awareness and phonics knowledge.
The world around us offers plenty of opportunities for your child to practise their reading skills, even when they’re not sitting down in front of a book. Work reading into your daily activities – so, for example if you’re at the supermarket, point out letters on labels, aisle signs and billboards and don’t forget to ask questions to keep it fun and engaging. ‘What sound is that letter?’ or ‘What other words start with that letter?’. Be positive in your responses so your child feels motivated to give reading a go without being anxious about making a mistake.
You can buy word dominoes, phonics cards and sound fans online but you can also make inexpensive word cards at home that are tailored to your child’s specific stage of learning. Once they’ve mastered their letters of the alphabet, which can be an ongoing process, it’s time to look at some basic CVC words. Pick out a simple consonant, vowel, consonant word such as dog or pig. Then ask your child to sound out the three letters in front of them. With a little support and plenty of practice, they should then aim to blend those three sounds together until they form the word. This activity is simple and requires very little preparation time but allows you to build out their phonics and decoding skills and is incredibly rewarding when they read a word correctly. Over time they will gain the confidence to try out more complex CVCC words such as milk or hand.
Although word cards are useful, don’t be afraid to experiment with alphabet fridge magnets, writing letters in the sand or even using shaving foam in the bath tub to keep up their practice in plenty of fun ways.
High frequency sight words occur regularly throughout reading but cannot be sounded out using the simple CVC method. Words such as ‘where’ or ‘you’ will need to be taught so that your child recognises the whole word and says it without needing to break up the sounds. This can be tricky for children to master, but playing high frequency games or even introducing them to online apps such as Reading Eggs can support with this so that they can read simple sentences to progress their knowledge further.
Although you’re teaching your child to read independently, it’s critical that you still read story books to them every day. This can be done before bed, before a nap, during a period of quiet time throughout the day, or at any other point where your child shows interest in hearing a story.
Remember to make your reading fun and engaging with plenty of expression and excitement throughout the story. You should also introduce your child to non-fiction books such as information texts about dinosaurs or the solar system so that they learn to be inquisitive about facts too. Ask plenty of questions about the book afterwards to find out what your child found interesting about the text and to check their comprehension. You should also pause throughout the story if you come across a challenging word that they might not know the meaning of.
By hearing an adult reading to them, this will help your child to develop a love of reading themselves but is also essential in expanding their vocabulary.
The Department of Education has recently published the following research highlighting the difference in vocabulary that a child has at the age of 5 years old, depending on how regularly they have been read to:
This staggering information really shows the difference that parents and teachers can make to a child’s future when immersing them in an environment full of literacy. Get started today!