Many parents are excited to teach their children to read. However, when deciding what to teach first, I imagine many parents start with what they know, sounding it out.
/C/ /a/ t/. Caaaat. CAT.
Sounding out words is a developmental skill. You can introduce it gently, reintroduce it later, and provide opportunities for practice when it’s finally “clicked.”
Did you know that kids need to know quite a few things about reading before teaching them to sound out words?
1. Concepts of Print
You may find that your children develop concepts of print without a lot of instruction from you.
- Hold books correctly and turn pages in the right direction.
- Know that each word on a page represents a spoken word.
- Understand that text is read from left to right.
How to develop concepts of print
- Read to your child often.
- Introduce books by their title. Draw attention to the author and illustrator.
- Make sure some of the books you read have large bold print and point to the words as you read.
- Point out signs in your environment (the Cheerios box, an EXIT sign, and the sign at your grocery store). Help your child see that print is all around you.
2. Language and Listening Skills
As you read to your children, they’ll develop the language and listening skills they need before becoming readers.
- They can retell a familiar story in their own words.
- They engage with a story as you read to them — asking questions (“Why did he say that?”) and making personal connections (“I wish I could have that much ice cream!”)
- They can answer simple questions about a story.
How to build language and listening skills
- Ask open-ended questions as you read. Ask more “why” and “how” questions rather than “who” and “what.”
- Explain unfamiliar words as you read.
- Encourage your children to play pretend.
3. Letter knowledge
Children need to know their alphabet before they’re ready to sound out words.
- Recognize both upper and lower case letters.
- Can say each letter’s sound.
How to teach the alphabet
Start with your child’s names.
- Your child will learn the rest of the alphabet by reading alphabet books and playing various games.
- Your child would also like to explore the alphabet letter by letter in many hands-on ways.
4. Phonological and phonemic awareness
While your child is learning the alphabet, you can play games and do activities to lay a solid foundation of phonological and phonemic awareness. It sounds like teacher talk, right? Remember that these are different from phonics because they are about LISTENING, not LOOKING. The following statements are true of children with phonological and phonemic awareness.
- Can count words.
- Can count syllables in words.
- Can rhyme.
- Can put sounds together to make a word. If you say these sounds to your child, /f/ and /ish/, can he put them together to make fish? If you stretch a word and say it like this — mooooon – does your child know the word is moon?
- Can identify the first and last sound in a word. This is not the same thing as knowing the letter. For example, if you ask your child the first sound in the word phone, she should be able to answer /f/.
How to promote phonological and phonemic awareness
- Give your child a cup with counters. Say a sentence in the normal way and then recite it very slowly. (“The sky is blue.”) Can your child give you a counter for each word of the sentence?
- Teach your child to count syllables by starting with his own name. Then move on to other familiar words.
- Read rhyming books.
- Play rhyming games.
5. An interest in learning to read
If you’re attempting to teach your child to sound out words and one or both of you are consistently frustrated, it will not end well. It may be that your child isn’t ready for this skill (see the above points), or it may be that it’s not on her list of priorities. However, if children are motivated to learn to read, you can expect the following to be true:
- Enjoy being read too.
- Frequently ask you to read aloud.
- Pretend to read.
How to help children get excited to learn to read
- Let your child see the value of knowing how to read by reading in various ways in her presence. This might mean reading a recipe, your favorite magazine, devotional material, or even your e-mail.
- Let your child choose books he loves when you read to him.