The teacher advises when and how to teach the child to read

“Parents often ask me – when should I start teaching a child to read, how to get a child interested in books when there are so many toys and technologies around? Five years of working with children show that each child learns at their own pace. If this process gives the child joy and pleasure, for example, if we allow the child to choose a beloved book for himself, it may be that the child will have the greatest motivation to start reading early.”, – Justė Petkuvienė, a teacher at the Eureka Early Childhood Education School in Vilnius, shares her thoughts and provides her and researchers’ insights into when, how, and why children should be taught to read.

When is it time to start reading?

According to J. Petkuvienė, a lot of literature can be found, which provides insights into when a child can be taught to read. For example, Rayd Lion, a researcher at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, points out that reading was previously thought to be a natural process, just like learning to speak. However, subsequent research by researchers has shown that reading is still not a natural process. According to Jackie Mader, a teacher and journalist from the U.S., the crucial moment when children can already start reading is when they are able to recognize letters or combinations of letters and combine those letters with sounds. Of course, there are more circumstances that indicate that the child is already ready to read. For example, if a child is able to give meaning to words and phrases. Be that as it may, understanding sounds in spoken words and knowing that a typed or written letter matches a sound are the first steps to becoming a reader.

Why should adults read with a child?

According to Jackie Mader, children usually start reading at the age of 5 to 7. Some children need more help to learn to read, others less. 

Journalists Sarah Schwarz and Sarah D. Sparks, citing the U.S. National Institute of Literature, point out that the time adults read with preschoolers predicts their reading skills in elementary school. One of the most important factors in determining how well a child will learn to read is the size and quality of his or her spoken language and vocabulary. If children spend a lot of time reading at home and at school, they will have the opportunity to become familiar with new words and their meanings, thus enriching their vocabulary and improving their grammatical knowledge. 

Researcher Victoria Purcell-Gates, whose research of five-year children presented by journalists Sarah Schwarz and Sarah D. Sparks, notes that children who have read regularly with adults over the past two years have used more “literary” language, longer phrases, and more complex sentence structures. 

Reading with relatives also helps children develop a love of reading. “The link between listening, written language, and feeling loved is the best foundation for this long process of nascent literacy, and no cognitive researcher or educational researcher could create a better one”, – journalists Sarah Schwarz and Sarah D. Sparks cite U.S. neurologist Maryanne Wolf.

Teacher J. Petkuvienė states that reading and loving books alone is not enough. When you read a book together, there should be a time for discussion if the child has understood correctly, we must make sure he or she has listened. To achieve this purpose, we use a reading star strategy at Eureka Early Childhood Education. Each child has their own personal star, making reading the book and the desire to understand it even more special and meaningful. Every corner of the star has a question that we answer after reading the book. So, we discuss with the children, who was the main character, where the story took place, what happened, what could have been different and everyone can tell what they learned from the story they have read.”, – tells a teacher J.Petkuvienė.

Tips for developing reading skills

Teacher Justė, based on her own experience and insights of teacher and journalist Jackie Mader from the US, and journalists Sarah Schwarz and Sarah D. Sparks, has prepared seven tips on how to teach a child to have fun reading. “Researchers see that sometimes the efforts of adults to help a child learn to read have the opposite effect. A child feels like he is forced to read, which can be a deterrent to books and just create not love but hatred for reading and books. Therefore, you can learn to read by playing games”, – advises Justė and offers fun ways, which can help to love books and learn to read:

  1. Invite the children to find at home everything that starts with a specific sound;
  2. Stretch one word in a sentence. For example, ask your child to “pass on the salt,” but say the individual sounds of the word “salt” instead of the word itself. Ask the child to find out what the name of each family member would be if it started e.g. the letter “b”.
  3. Play question games: for example, start by asking questions like: “Which sound does the word begin with?”; “Which sound does the word end with?”; “What words start with a sound?” and “What word rhymes with?”. 
  4. Read your child’s favourite book over and over again. The adult or the child themselves can follow the words they read by pointing their finger at the book. At the Eureka school, teachers always read books, show the children pictures of the book, and point out with the finger the words they read, and at school, the teachers even read several times a day;
  5. Sing songs and recite poems to create a phonemic perception. Children’s songs and poems are not just fun – verse and rhythm help children hear the sounds and syllables of words, which helps them learn to read. A good way to develop phonemic comprehension (one of the most important skills in learning to read) is to rhythmically clap together and recite songs. This playful activity is a great way for children to indirectly develop literacy skills that will help them read successfully;
  6. Read together every day and ask questions about the book. It is important that the child not only listens but also understands and analyzes the book;
  7. Have a special place for reading that would be cosy and lovely for a child to settle in with a book. At school, we have a reading space in the classroom where we can enjoy the stories comfortably on the cushions. We also have “a little house” of the publishing house “Nieko rimto”, which creates a special mood when choosing books.

“The most important thing is to be patient, and the best way to teach children to read is to make it fun,” advises teacher Justė.

Lion Reyd G. (1998). Why reading is not a natural process. Quoted 2022-01-23. Link: https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/why-reading-is-not-a-natural-process
Mader J. (2020). What parents need to know about the research on how kids learn to read. Quoted 2022-01-23. Link: https://hechingerreport.org/what-parents-need-to-know-about-the-research-on-how-kids-learn-to-read/?fbclid=IwAR3BOMv4NOcuck3jdk4ogzADCAi7wJrlRbist4n1a8KcIix5CTmixukrz6A
Schwarz S., Sparks S. (2019). How do kids learn to read, what the science say. Quoted 2022- 01-23. Link: https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/how-do-kids-learn-to-read-what-the-science-says/2019/10?fbclid=IwAR2ZXsu_Emx_LdyDHlIswxXAQsbNkSMvAJbuDpzctbgCxbFa-p5nYHNxQZs