How to Teach a Child to Read – The First Steps

Many parents are unsure about how to help their child learn to read. They worry about how and when.

Research has come up with the pre-requisites and I outline them in this article.
Most children begin to learn to read around five or six years of age. Of course a few children do learn to read before this age. Researchers tend to think that before these ages most children have not formed the neural connections necessary for the decoding of print.

I am a firm believer in reading readiness. Hopefully you will understand why after reading this article.

There has been an incredible amount of research undertaken in the area of how to teach children to read.
It seems after all this research has been published it is known how to provide effective reading instruction. The National Academy of Science, The National Institute of Health and Human Development in the USA allied with MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and brain modelling done on computers have enabled researchers to provide a clear process of effective reading instruction.

Young girl with lots of books

On the surface it appears that there is not one clear way for kids to learn to read but researchers disagree. They stand by a straight forward formula that when included in reading instruction makes it possible for around 90% of children to learn to read.


Evidence shows that children who struggle with reading have difficulty discerning the individual speech sounds. This is called poor phonemic awareness. This means they struggle to break words up into their individual sounds.

Let me explain. Take the word ‘hop’ it has 3 sounds blended together /h//o//p/. A child who struggles with reading probably can’t hear each sound individually. They may miss the last sound and therefore can’t distinguish the word.

Scientists have shown that this ability is not dependent on IQ or socio-economic group. Language is an amazing facility full of subtleties and involves various areas of the brain working together to discern them.

This finding indicates that many children are taught to read before they are is possible to develop phonemic awareness in children through oral exercises.

Child reading a book uid 1180222Level One of my reading series has a module on developing phonemic awareness in a child.

Many developing readers, according to many studies also need around 100 hours of direct and systematic phonics instruction to consolidate the basic skills needed for developing the ability to read more difficult texts.

Reading Lessons in Schools
Many school districts have adopted what they call a “balanced literacy” approach to reading.
A reading program that does the following is in line with reading research.
• Matching letters and sounds
• Systematic and explicit phonics lessons
• Weekly word study, spelling tests and story analysis
• Provide graded texts that students can decode easily to build fluency

Schools that provide a limited amount of phonics and encourage word guessing from pictures and context are not doing the children any favours.

Teaching children to read should not be reliant on a teacher’s uniformed teaching approach. Children must be taught using scientifically proven methods.

So what do you do to teach your child to read?

1. Make sure they know the relationships between letters and sounds. They must identify each letter and relate it to the sound(s) it represents.
2. Make sure their eyesight and hearing are healthy.
3. Check they can hear the speech sounds (approximately 44 in English)
4. Present them with simple easily decodable text in the beginning.
5. Give explicit instruction and practise in sounding out multi syllable words.
6. Teach some spelling rules: for example the roles of ‘e’ in determining a vowel sound within a word.
Developing fluent reading in the early years of school is essential for your child’s well-being and life.
If your child is struggling with reading don’t ignore it. Things will not improve without some informed intervention.
Continue to provide books of all descriptions and share them with your child. Discuss the content and encourage your child to express their ideas.

If you want exercises and ideas to prepare your child for learning the alphabet and phonics this book is ideal. It has  60 lessons to helps you prepare your child for mastering the alphabet and phonics. The lesson plans are detailed and assessment ideas are also presented.You can purchase a copy and have it posted free of charge to your postal address.




2 thoughts on “How to Teach a Child to Read – The First Steps

  1. Great article very good advice to any parent willing to help their child. That is what happened when I was going to school for me and my sisters. I did not know how it all happened, but I realized the process was the same as I experienced. Thank you for the memories that were revisited as I reviewed your suggestions. Great website!

    • Thank you for your welcome comments William. How children learn the amazing skill of reading is quite miraculous.
      Readers often don’t realise how fortunate they are.

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