Who’s responsible for teaching your child to read?
As we live in Barcelona his language at school is Catalan so I figured it was up to me and my partner to take on the responsibility of teaching him to read in English. And since both of us are English teachers anyway (poor child!) it seemed like a pretty natural thing to do. However, it got me thinking that if we were living in the UK, would I even be contemplating the idea of teaching him to read at home, or would I leave it up to the teachers at his school. We hear a lot about literacy standards slipping in schools these days with not enough attention being given to basic reading and writing skills resulting in some children leaving school barely able to write grammatically correct sentences. But I wondered if a lot of it was hype stirred up by an older generation of teachers who perhaps were less willing to take onboard more modern teaching methods or whether it was a reaction against the current testing systems whereby teachers are so focused on teaching to test that perhaps attention to foundation reading skills are overlooked.
Having read a recent article in the Independent: Literary Standards – Why the facts make good reading – it seems that the Government’s national literacy strategy, which was set up 5 years ago to raise standards in primary schools has had some positive results. By providing more structured reading classes on a daily basis with a strong focus on phonic recognition rather than traditional methods of just listening to children read one-by one, it claims to have increased the number of primary school children reaching their expected level of reading by 17%.
The article only touches on the involvement of parents in this process by saying that ‘children with supportive parents will pick up reading by the age of 7’. It doesn’t elaborate as to what the role of a supportive parent should be, but presumably it means taking the time to listen to your child read and helping them with their reading homework. When I think of the busy lives that most parents seem to have these days, juggling work with family responsibilities, I wonder how many actually have the time for this or are willing to make the time.
I am in a fortunate position of not working full-time at the moment while I take time away from my teaching career to stay at home and look after my two young children. Therefore I do have the time to spend assisting my 4 year old to read and coming from a teaching background I feel I have the necessary skills and experience to do it reasonably well. However, judging by the article in The Independent, it would appear that teachers in UK Primary Schools themselves are only now being trained to teach children basic reading skills using phonics so I imagine the average parent would probably not know where to start. And why would they, as it was not the way we were taught when we were at school.
The other thing that concerned me when reading this article was the emphasis on testing. Obviously the government and school directors too are no doubt very fond of tests because they provide the easiest way to measure performance and champion certain initiatives such as the new ‘literacy hour’ when the results are positive. However, it all seems to be overlooking the fundamental point that learning to read, after mastering how to walk and talk, should be the most invaluable life skill that a child will ever acquire and just like uttering those few words or taking those first steps it should be a joyous occasion for parents and teachers alike. Couple that with a child’s natural desire to discover new things and their enviable capacity to lose themselves in the realms of fiction, unlocking the key to the written word and enabling children to experience stories first-hand is a gift that every responsible parent should relish passing on to their child.
Make it fun!
Here are a few ideas for games you can play to help your child get to grips with reading.
Spot the sound
After reading a story, ask your child to choose their favourite page (hopefully one with a good picture). Then see how many things you can spot on the page that begin with the same sound. Focus on sounds rather than letters to begin with, so you might be looking for words that begin with the sound ‘sh’. When you’ve finished tell your child that we make the ‘sh’ sound with the letters ‘s’ and ‘h’ together and then see if there are any ‘sh’ words written on the page.
Children from the age of 3 can play eye-spy if you play with sounds rather than letters to start with. So you say, “I spy with my little eye something that starts with ‘t’ (make the sound). You can then narrow it down by giving the next sound as a further clue, so ‘t’ becomes ‘tr’. Then you can add a vowel sound to make ‘trai’ which should lead them to guess ‘train’ if they haven’t done so already. I found this was a great way to encourage my child to think about the sounds of words before introducing him to the written word.
Run and spell
Games that combine learning with movement are always good, not only to burn off children’s natural energy but the physical activity will also help to stimulate the brain. There are variations to this game and it requires some kind of letter flashcards. I use the letters from an alphabet playmat I bought recently, but you could just as easily make your own flashcards.
Basically, the idea is to spell some simple 3 letter words that contain one vowel sound. It might be a good idea to start with the same vowel sound so that your first list of words may be ‘man’, ‘cat’, ‘van’, ‘hat’. Spread the flashcards that you will need around the room and give your child the vowel card to start, explaining that you need one before it and one after it to spell the word. Then give clues for the word that you want to spell - ‘it’s bigger than a car but smaller than a lorry and it delivers things to houses and shops’- when they guess ‘van’ they have to find the flashcards ‘v’ and ‘n’ to add them to their vowel card to spell the word ‘van’.
Alternatively you could draw the word you want them to spell or what I did was to find toys to represent each word and put them in a bag. My son enjoyed pulling each one out of the bag before racing off to find the letters.
Next time you play you can change to vowel sound or use a combination of vowel sounds and then progress onto 4 or even 5 letter words.
Once your child starts to recognize some basic words ask him/her to pick them out on the page when you’re reading a story together. Obviously you don’t want to overdo this to take away the enjoyment of listening to the story but once or twice during the story will be enough to reinforce their recognition of the word.
Listen and repeat
It doesn’t sound like much fun but I found simply reading a page of a Level 1 Ladybird book and getting my 4 year old to repeat it whilst pointing to the words on the page was quite enjoyable for him. The stories are suitably repetitive so that the same vocabulary is recycled effectively and I’m sure after a few more reads he will be reading it without any help at all.
The Ladybird Read-It Yourself books I can personally recommend are:
I like the fact that the ladybird books are based on traditional tales which I myself read when I was a child. Children can easily identify with the characters and the narrative and I think they feel a greater sense of achievement by learning to read a ‘real’ story.
Another useful resource is the Ladybird Key Word Box set:
Other books I found useful: