How do children learn to read?

How children learn to read
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Rob Charteris RMN, BSC (Hons), CBT Practitioner


How do children learn to read?

Learning to read is the acquisition and practice of the skills necessary to understand the meaning behind printed words. For a fairly good reader, the skill of reading often feels simple, effortless, and automatic; however, the process of learning to read is complex and builds on cognitive, linguistic, and social skills developed from a very early age.

There is much academic debate about how and the best way for children to learn to read.  However this article encourages parents to chose a good school and support the schools educational philosphy.  Here we will outline the 2 most popular theories and methods of learning to read.

The two most influential “learning to read” methods.

The two most common teaching methods are “Phonics” and “Whole book reading”. Both have a lot of merit and in reality it is probably impossible not to use both when teaching a child to read.

Phonics – the sounds letters make

Phonics is the system where the letters represent sounds. C is for cat, T is for tree, B is for boy etc. A word like cat is broken down into it’s sounds like – (C) “kuh” (A) “a” (T) “tuh” and then sounded out loud until it becomes a whole word.  Phonetics only works with languages with an alphabet, like English or Arabic where letters can represent sounds.

Whole book reading – just jump in!

Whole book learning is where the child is expected to just read books and slowly recognize the patterns and words therein. This approach relies on the child’s curiosity and ability to recognize and make patterns.

In reality some words do not fit into a phonetic form easily and the child must just learn them but on the whole phonetics is a great tool for helping children to learn and sound out new words.

A rich learning environment

The bottom line on reading is that if it’s fun then children will do it.

Hopefully your child’s school will have a good ethos and learning system. A parent’s job then is to make sure the child is surrounded by words and pictures that they can explore and find reading for themselves

  • Surround your child with interesting books full of pictures so that they can work out part of the story themselves.
  • Encourage your child to read signs and other words around them so that they understand writing is everywhere.
  • Read to your child regularly – let them hold and touch the books asking questions and exploring the books with you.

Reading is an essential skill in the modern world. Share your love of learning with your child so that they may grow up equipped for modern life.


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