Teaching: Learning to read

Most children love to listen to stories and from an early age enjoy sitting with an adult and looking at picture books. This is an excellent introduction to books and gives children and adults a pleasurable time to share.
It is always a good idea to establish a routine of reading to your baby at bedtime. This routine can continue well beyond the time your child is capable of reading by himself. Reading stimulates the child’s imagination, increases vocabulary and establishes concepts such as shape, colours, number, and animals and encourages children to want to read for themselves.
          red riding hood                          3 bears
Once this love for books is established children should start to learn how to read. They may use a combination of three methods of instruction: auditory training, phonics, and whole language.
Using just one of these methods will help some children. Sometimes, only using two out of three methods may still leave numerous children illiterate. However, when auditory training, phonics and whole language are merged, literacy rates increase significantly.


Many people think children learn how to read using their eyes. This is true but they need to have good auditory skills as listening plays a large part in hearing the correct sound and word. Reading is actually learned through the ears. Parents lay a foundation for success in reading by talking to a child, reading books to her, and playing auditory games. The more books you read, the bigger her vocabulary becomes. A bigger vocabulary allows her to recognize lots of words while she reads. It is a good idea to ensure that your children are familiar with the alphabet. Try pointing to each letter and ask your child to, "Tell me how this letter sounds."


1. Have children close their eyes and become sensitive to environmental sounds about them. Sounds like cars, airplanes, animals, outside sounds, sounds in the next room etc., can be listened to and identified.
2. Recorded sounds. Sounds can be played on the computer and the child asked to identify them. Dog barking, pigs grunting, planes taking off, trains, birds, and fire engines etc. are some of the sounds that may be used
3. Home made sounds. Children should close their eyes and listen to the sounds made. You can use any sounds, such as a telephone ringing, your own front door bell, familiar music, tearing a piece of paper, using a stapler, bouncing a ball,  tapping on a window, turning the lights on, leafing through pages in a book, cutting with scissors, opening a drawer, jingling money, rustling of leaves or a kettle boiling.
Food sounds Make the sound of grating carrots, chopping beans, scrubbing potatoes or cooking a sausage in a pan and ask the child to listen for the sound and describe what is happening.                    
Shaking sounds Place small hard items such as stones, beans, salt, sand or rice into small containers or jars with covers. Have the child identify the contents through shaking and listening.
4. Other games
Children should close their eyes and listen. They should listen and count the number of times that they hear the drum being beaten, the ball bouncing or hands being clapped!. They should say whether this was fast or slow, and also try to repeat the pattern. It is fun to make this rhythmic such as slow, slow, fast, fast, slow, slow!  


1. This is a favourite listening game. Children have to have their eyes closed and decide from which part of the room it is coming from i.e. is it near or is it far? This can be extended to trying to decide which room of the house the noise is in.
2. Children have to learn to decide between loud and soft sounds. Try a jingle of a soft bell and the harsh sound of an alarm!.   
3. Hide and seek the sound. One child hides a music box or a ticking clock and all the other children have to find it              
4. Play Blindman’s Bluff. One child says something like an animal sound or asks a question. The child who is blind folded has to say the correct name of the person who spoke


For success at the beginning stages of reading the child must perceive the individual phonic sounds of the language and must learn to discriminate each language sound that represents a letter shape from other sounds. The phonic actions help learning.
How to teach phonics
Starting phonics
Jolly phonics
Alphabet cards
Animal sounds used to teach phonics
Phonics cards
Phonics letters and sounds
Phonic actions for s,a,t,i,p and n
Phonic actions for ai,j,oa,ie,ee,and or
Phonic actions for ck,e,h,r,m,d
Phonic actions for g,o,u,l,f and b
These worksheets give an introduction to phonics - for phonic progression, see our Phonics page.
It is a good idea to practise the phonics sounds daily. Write down letter sounds that are missed. You then can reinforce these sounds. If the child needs to learn most of the alphabet letter sounds, help her create her own Alphabet Book. This should be personalised by using pictures that are familiar and have an association for the particular child.          
As you are working with your child be sure to point to each letter as you are saying the letter name and letter sound.
It is a good idea to have a phonic alphabet chart displayed on the wall at child-height in his bedroom so he can look at it.
As you are teaching a letter sound, be careful not to add an "uh" sound at the end of the letter. The letter s should sound like a snake hissing, sounding as 'sss,' not 'suh.' If your child learns letters 'c', 'a', 't' as sounding 'kuh,' 'aah,' and 'tuh,' those sounds will not come together to say cat! There are actions for the Jolly Phonic sounds and these help children remember the sounds more quickly.


As children have heard stories read to them from babies they are used to seeing parents point to pictures, read the words and turn over the pages as the children listening and enjoy the story. Young children realise that this is reading and of course want to emulate this process. As they progress with phonics they will soon realise that the word c-a –t says ‘cat’ so will soon be able to read this word.
‘I see a cat’ should soon be read as a sentence by a child. This gives the children a great sense of achievement.
The ‘whole language’ idea has strengths in enabling children to begin to write as soon as possible. They feel comfortable with words and enjoy using personal language skills to make the process of reading more interesting.
It is best therefore for children to be taught using Phonics, Auditory training and then the Whole Language with the aid of phonics and the pictures in their books.
Once children have mastered the basics of reading they will spend a lifetime using this skill. They will be able to enjoy all forms of the written word.
This can be encouraged and illustrated to children by reading with them. Children will enjoy all the books that we had as children as well as some of the excellent new books being published.                            
As the children get older they can be encouraged to increase their vocabulary by reading about their hobbies or interests.
Help children use clues when learning to read
Choosing the right book
Help children enjoy reading
Helping reluctant readers

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