”Skilled reading is an art and teaching a child to read is a science.”

In February, we looked at the importance of teaching a child to read by using the ‘science-of-reading’ approach. Reading is not just recognising symbols or reading and writing basic words. In searching for a better understanding of learn-to-read and read-to-learn, we looked at Scarborough’s reading rope. But, like any science, we need to be at least able to detangle the rope to understand the intricate parts of our topic if we want to succeed in our goal. So this month, we will continue to untangle the reading rope.

We aim to help teachers and parents better understand how we learn to read and why specific training is important. Let’s break it down to the smallest parts starting from 0 to 3 years old. First, we need to learn how to speak: sounds become ideas expressed as a language to relay information while someone speaks and another person listens.

To connect spoken language to written language so that we can learn to read, we must relate the spoken aspects of language to written language in the following ways: We express sounds as letters or letter groups that build words. Words build sentences that can relay information to us when we can read and understand the words in the context of the written text.

Learning to read begins very, very early — even before birth. We face the challenge that the human brain is naturally wired for spoken language development but not for reading. The latest research in neurological development indicates that important brain structures that we need to learn to read are ‘set’ up within the first years of a baby’s life. This tender age is a crucial time when the child should be exposed to clear language constructs. You will notice your child picks up new words very quickly when they start to speak from age 1 onwards. In addition, there are fundamental listening skills that we can and should also develop in this growth phase.

Let’s look at a few important aspects and ways to develop these critical structures before they are three years old. We’ll indicate the elements of the Reading Rope (in cursive) next to the main point:

  1. Between the age of one and three, our children are like a sponge that absorbs as much vocabulary as possible. (Vocabulary, Phonological awareness, Language structures)
    • Use the correct terminology when you speak to your child – affirming their correct pronunciation of the words they hear.
    • Do not use ‘baby words’ to refer to specific items but teach them the correct vocabulary as early as possible.
    • Begin and end each word correctly.
    • Make sure your child hears and pronounces the sounds of words correctly – keep it fun!
    • Play sound games to help them hear the difference in the sounds that build a word. For instance, let’s try to hear the beginning sound – middle sound – end sound.
    • Help your child to build sentences in the correct order. Do this lovingly and lightly – sharing and teaching these crucial skills in a fun, loving way is essential when creating the right mindset for learning in the future. Our child should know we don’t always get everything right the first time. Learning is, in many ways, like learning to walk. You have first to crawl, then walk and fall a few times before you can run, and even then, we will still fall a few times. The important thing is to get up and try again.

  2. Young children LOVE stories. (Language structures, Background knowledge, Vocabulary, Literacy knowledge)
    • Make time to tell them stories.
    • Read the best stories you can find to them – especially before they go to bed.
    • Look through beautiful picture books of the world around us if possible.
    • Teach your child how to hold a book, how to page through a book, and how to take care of books.
    • Visit your local library so that you can introduce your child to the beautiful world of books.

  3. Rhyme and rhythm are important learn-to-read skills. (Phonological awareness, Vocabulary, Background knowledge)
    • Sing to your baby – the rhythm and sounds of language are important from a very early age.
    • Learn new songs together with your toddler. Sing it together. Laugh and play while you learn together.
    • Teach your child easy nursery rhymes – repeat it enough times in a playful way so that they can remember them.
    • Teach your child the ‘Alphabet Song’ around three years of age.

  4. Children learn to discover the exciting big world that surrounds them. How do they learn? (Background knowledge, Vocabulary, Language structures, Phonological awareness)
    • They learn through touching, tasting, seeing, hearing, and asking questions non-stop when they learn how to speak.
    • Use this opportunity. Don’t tell them to ‘keep quiet – I am busy’. Instead, teach them as much as you can.
    • Remember the importance of numeracy skills at this time: count your fingers, count your toes – in a playful way with nursery rhymes like ‘This little piggy’ and others. Count the trees; how many cats and dogs? Use everyday encounters to reinforce these essential concepts.
    • Teach concepts like up, down, inside, outside, big, small , etc. as often as the opportunity arise.
    • If they learn it is ok to ask questions because they are allowed to look for answers – their minds will become wired to look for answers. This will be a precious tool in their future education.
    • Use every opportunity available to teach your child new words and concepts. The great thing about this is that you will start to see the world around you through new eyes and in exciting ways. Stay in awe and wonder at the amazing world around us.