Learning To Read: Part 1

A gentle reading primer

How can I get my child to learn to read? is a question we often hear. Unlike most other things kids learn almost effortlessly, reading takes some getting used to and the right guidance helps a lot. Learning to read in English is particuarly tricky (more on that below). We have put together this Gentle Reading Primer for parents who can use this at home as a supplement to what is done at school. Homeschoolers can use this too. This is not meant to be followed blindly! You are the best judge of how your children are learning and responding, so please feel free to tweak this. But please do remember that attempting to drill this into your child against their wishes can only backfire. Kids learn when they are ready to learn. Alright, please dive in!

Things you should know (FOR Parents & educators)

  • Reading is a skill that does not come as effortlessly as speaking. Our brains are wired for spoken language. All it takes is exposure to the language (at a young age). We see that with young children who become multilingual quite easily if there are many languages spoken at home or in their neighbourhoods.

But reading is a relatively recent invention in human history and kids and adults need time and exposure -- and a little guidance -- to master it.

  • English is strange! Reading in English takes more time than other languages because of how strange the mapping from sounds to letters can be. There’s no good reason why adding an “E” to PAN changes the sound of the “A” in PANE while silencing the “E”. As you can imagine, there is no good way to explain this. This makes learning to read in English a little trickier. But here we are, reading the words here rather effortlessly. And your child will too.

  • There is no reason to hurry kids on their reading journey. No pressure required, only patience. Kids are astonishingly good at picking up skills when they are ready for them, and their minds are ready. And you don’t need them to keep still and stay seated in one place. Young kids are meant to bounce off walls and let their bodies do some learning too!

  • As with all new skills we acquire we start off slow and halting and error-prone and this, seemingly magically, gives way to fluency and speed.

  • Do not get frustrated with initial progress. Celebrate the small wins and encourage their effort and persistence.

  • Doing this one-on-one also helps because young kids are often very sensitive to how their performance is perceived and may not like an audience when attempting things they are just beginning to learn.

  • Reading is a journey. It can be a joyful journey. Remember, reading is a journey from effortful letter-by-letter recognition to fast automatic word and phrase recognition and comprehension. As skilled readers we have learned to “chunk” entire words and phrases and patterns in written text. If you want to understand how difficult it is initially, try learning the alphabet of a language you don’t know and then read a phrase!

The single most important thing you can do is to sit with them and read a book. Pick one that’s age appropriate (picture books to start with). This point is highlight-worthy so we’ll color this in for emphasis!

Here’s why this is important. Reading requires language comprehension and building up vocabulary. Listening to a whole bunch of stories that intrigue and interest them is all that is required for this. Kids soak up meanings of new words from their context. Reading to them provides this context for words they would normally not encounter in daily conversation in their early years.

reading comprehension = word recogntion X language comprehension
picture credit:
The Science of Reading

There is usually a broad developmental trajectory when it comes to reading ability. But there is no science that says a 3-year old or a 5-year old should master specific skills, so don’t worry about where your child is!

We’ll now break down reading into a series of steps – and a set of activities that we do at Comini and what you can do at home. We often find that kids zoom through some and want to slow down and spend time on others.

*The picture of the two monkeys at the beginning of this article was generated by DALL-E 2, an AI program. This particular picture was generated using the single sentence description “A painting of a parent monkey reading a picture book to a toddler monkey while hanging from a coconut tree, digital art” Wild, huh!