Tuesday, 1 October 2013

How to help your child learn to read.

I was chatting to another Mum on Twitter the other day and she was worried about her Year 1 daughter and her progress with reading. As someone who works in Year 1 - that's 5 to 6 year olds - it made me think about what some of my parents were going through.

Often, when you work with a system, you just assume knowledge and that's a silly mistake to make. When you are a parent faced with a world of phonics, graphemes, digraphs, sounding, blending ... well, it can all be a bit of a mystery. Of course you want to do the best for your son or daughter, but if you are not sure yourself ... well, where do you go? What do you do?

This is a whistle stop tour of what to do, where to go ... and I hope it helps a little!

Your first port of call should always be your child's teacher. All you need to do is ask and they will help you with any questions you might have. And they won't think you are being silly. Most teachers will only be too pleased to be able to help you. Our school publishes a guide aimed at helping parents read with their children and I know that if someone asked me I would be very happy to help. I am not a teacher, but a Teaching Assistant and I have been working in this area for 10 years now.

 Reading is not rocket science and one of the most important things to remember is that it should be enjoyable!! Little and often is good - maybe 5 to 10 minutes a day and if its starting to get stressful ... STOP!!

The way reading is taught in the UK involves synthetic phonics, which sounds pretty futuristic and cold, but is actually pretty sensible and simple. Each sound is called a phoneme. When a sound is written down its called a grapheme. A sound made of two letters joined together and written down, for example "sh", is a digraph.

Have I lost you already??

Phoneme ( foe-neem) = sound (a as in apple. c-a-t has 3 phonemes)

Grapheme (graff-eem) = individual written sound

Digraph (dye-graff) = 2 letters making 1 sound & written down ( sh as in shop)

To hear how the sounds should be pronounced you could try this site or this one ( I wish the lady would look at the camera, but the sounds are good!) and there are others on the web too.

I always think that reading should start when your children are tiny, and by that I mean that they learn by having you read to them. For me there's nothing more lovely than snuggling down with a book together, talking about the pictures, sharing the story. Even tiny children enjoy that shared experience, learning how to hold a book, where to start reading. I never really understood friends who put a dvd story in a machine at bedtime and left their child to it.

Reading doesn't have to be all about starting at the beginning and ploughing through to the end come what may ... To be honest you need to be imaginative in your approach. If your child is fed up maybe leave reading until a bit later, or turn it into a game. You can challenge them to find a particular word through a book - a Word Treasure Hunt. Perhaps take it in turns to read the pages...

An important thing to remember is that you need to see what they are reading. Listening to them in the car on the way to or from school is not a good idea. You would be amazed how confident some children sound and actually they are making up every word by looking at the pictures! You need to be able to see what they are trying to read and ask them to sound out if they get stuck.

By sounding out I just mean "Say what you see!" Look at the letters in the word, point and say. Have a couple of goes and if they can't hear the word then maybe you could sound it for them and see if they can hear it then. Practise makes perfect, which is why you need to be doing it every day. What doesn't help is when you just tell them the word straight away. They need to develop strategies to work out words for themselves.

Looking at the picture can help, as can reading the rest of the sentence and then going back to the hard word and trying to work out how it fits. 

The most important thing to remember is that they will get there. Its not a race and just because another child is ploughing through War and Peace, that doesn't mean that your child is failing. They all make progress in their own time. Praise, encouragement and togetherness really work alongside daily practise in a relaxed environment. If they, or you are having a bad day then don't flog a dead horse!!!

If I can help in any way then I will do my best to answer your questions, but I hope this helps a little. As a parent I understand the frustrations and as someone who has worked in Year 1 for about 10 years now I would love to help!


coffeeonthemountain said...

Hi Sarah

First off, beautiful blog!

A while back I read about reading difficulties with UK students because the English orthography is hard for them to link to the phonetics. It's not a logical one-on-one match. Here in Belgium we experience more or less the same problems when people start learning English. They wonder what the -k is doing in a word like "know" and stuff like that.

Inkling said...

Such a helpful post for parents of young ones. I remember my Kindergarten teacher telling my mom that children "learn to read in Kindergarten to third grade, and read to learn from grade 3 on". While grade three isn't a hard and fast rule for every child, it helped me relax a bit when I was teaching the younger years. I felt like I had to build Rome in a day until I remembered her words.

I'm in the process of wading through phonics programs here, trying to decide what approach to try with my own child when the time comes. He showed interest last year, but lasted about two lessons, so we went back to just reading loads aloud. We're reading a book about how castles are built at the moment, and I can't believe he is sitting through such huge words.

And I'm also trying to decide if I'm going to start saying "shone" the way most of the world does, or keep to my stubborn Yankee ways of pronouncing it with a long "o". I can't even get used to Zed, so odds are I'll have to teach him to be a bilingual kid in terms of his pronunciation. ;) Maybe you can explain how British English was so changed by the Americans. I thought everyone said it the way I do until moving to Canada. I definitely wouldn't be hired to teach phonics in my new country. I can only imagine the reaction I'd get after the first lesson. =)

BeeBopaLula said...

So... how to pronounce Phoneme, Grapheme and Digraph? Is that phone-me or phone-eme?

Thanks for trying Sarah, but I'm no wiser - and English was my best subject!

Hannah Brooker said...

Thank you SO much for this post I remember favouriting some of our tweets the other week and now it's all on one blog! Xx

sarah at secret housewife said...

Thanks coffeeonthemountain! The English language is bizarre in some ways so I don't envy people learning it as adults!

Hello Inkling! Accents do a make a difference, even here. People from the North of England pronounce words like bath and castle with a short "a", while in the South people use a long "a" like "carstle" and "barth". It is a minefield!

Oh Dear BeeBopaLula!! I haven't helped at all have I??! Phoneme is "foh-neem" grapheme is "graff-eem" and digraph is "dye-grarff".Its one of those subjects that is better when talked about face to face rather than written about ... bizarrely!

Hi Hannah! I really hope this whistle stop tour helps a bit! Its such a big subject!!

Sarah xxx

Anna @ Family Roundabout said...

Really interesting. I have a 3 year old who is very interested in letters and I try to encourage him by making it fun. I already feel nervous about him starting school and feeling like I no longer understand what he's learning. So this was a useful read.

Emma @ My Book Corner said...

I agree, they will get there in the end, with positive & relaxed encouragement.

Constant exposure to lots of books, being read to, books lying around will help them be seen as normal (not so daunting), exciting and interesting.

sarah at secret housewife said...

Thanks Anna and Emma. I'm glad you found this helpful! Good luck with your 3 year old Anna - I know t sounds daunting, but you will get lots of support! x

Anonymous said...

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Daniele Wren