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Cracking the code: steps into reading

It is vitally important that children develop good speech, language and communication skills from birth onwards. Communication skills underpin literacy and numeracy, so as child care professionals, we have an important role to play in supporting children learning to read.

We may often worry about how we can support children as we realise the importance of reading and writing for educational achievement and getting on in life. Recent research suggests that reading ability at aged 7 is linked to children's future success and outcomes.

There are a number of ways that we can help children develop the skills to become readers. The National Literacy Trust has lots of information on early literacy and highlights that key skills for reading are good speaking and listening abilities. These skills include:

The super powers of words

Children need to have a good vocabulary for them to understand the words they read. Knowing how to tell stories and have conversations also helps them to make sense of what they read so that they can read for meaning.

Phonological awareness - knowing how words work

Reading involves identifying the sounds that make up words and then linking these with the marks on the page (linking phonemes with graphemes). This is like cracking a code - some children find this easier than others. For example, being able to know what sound a word begins or ends with or knowing and saying words that can rhyme.

These abilities (phonological awareness) develop from birth and you can help from very early on by singing nursery rhymes and songs with babies and toddlers. Or try reading stories that rhyme to 3 or 4 year olds and pointing out the rhyming words.

Getting lost in a good book

It may sound obvious but children need to know how books work. This sounds simple but if you give baby a book they will play with it, chew it, rip it, bang it and play with it exactly as a toy. They’re exploring it as an object; which is why we give them cloth books, bath books and chewable books to become familiar with. They learn if you hold them the right way up the pictures make sense. These are all things a baby learns early on so that they are ready to move on to different books.

Toddlers love board books and ‘lift the flap’ books which really help them engage with books and bring stories to life. They will want to keep looking at them - long after you've tired of the story! They may start by wanting you to read the story to them and then take the book and jump ahead. Or they may know the story by heart and know if you've skipped a page! The thick board means they can turn the pages as they're still learning to do this.

Reflecting on practice

  • Listening to sounds is useful for learning to read: How do you support children's listening skills in your setting? You can find some ideas on Talking Point. Have a look at the 'Recipe for Listening' activity for older children and 'Noisy stop and go game'. You can also go for a listening walk around your setting to see what noises you can hear and try this outside too.
  • Do you use a wide range of words and talk about them? Hearing words in context helps children to learn about words and build them in a mental dictionary.
  • You can talk about: what we think of when we say the word; how we define it; what sounds it is made up of and what it rhymes with. The more words that children understand and can use, the more they will be able to understand when they start to read.
  • Do you follow their lead? If children are interested in letter sounds and shapes, talk to them about these and play games around these.
  • Do you sing nursery rhymes and read books with rhymes? You can point out the rhyming words and talk about them so that they are learning about the concept of rhyme.

There are many day to day activities we can do with children to develop the skills that underpin children’s literacy development. These include developing their vocabulary, teaching children how words sound and link together and explaining how books work through play.

By reflecting on the resources we offer children and how we support their language development we can set them on their way to being lifelong readers.

This is just a taster of how to support children's language and communication skills for reading. To find out more go to the Talking Point website or order I CAN’s Early Talkers box set for activity ideas.

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