When a child takes the first steps on their learning to read journey there are three key literacy areas that are critical to future success. These include:
Phonemic awareness and phonics skills are the two most fundamental skills a child needs to acquire when they first set about on their reading journey. The two skills are closely related; phonemic awareness being the ability to hear, identify and manipulate the individual units of sounds in words (otherwise known as phonemes), and phonics the ability to link phonemes or phoneme combinations with letters.
Developing the bank of words that your child can identify and recall the meaning of is critical to their reading development. The more words your child has in their memory bank, the easier they will be able to read and decode sentences and paragraphs for meaning.
Teaching your child sight words, that is words like ‘the’, ‘is’, ‘to’ ‘and’ etc, is essential to developing their early vocabulary. There are over 200 sight words in the English language, the first 100 of which make up more than 50% of primary level reading texts. Sight words are often difficult to understand for young children as they are words that rely heavily on the context in which they are placed. They are also difficult to spell as their spelling doesn’t always correspond exactly to the way they sound. Therefore sight words need to be memorised and recognised ‘at sight’. To help commit sight words to your child’s memory, try pointing to them while reading to your child. Flashcards and activity books that feature sight words are also effective in teaching them to your child.
Comprehension of a text is the end goal of reading, and it is something that develops once a child develops their skills with the two aforementioned literacy areas. Once a child has developed their vocabulary to the point where they can automatically recognise, pronounce and understand most of the words they are reading, they will be able to focus more of their mental efforts towards discerning meaning from a text.
When reading to your child, an effective way to develop their comprehension of a story is to ask them questions like ‘Where is the story set’, ‘Who are the main characters’, ‘What happened when…’. These kinds of questions will help your child to reflect on the story and can reveal how much of it they can recall and understand.