I have just had a Parents evening, as a teacher not a parent. In fact, I am an English teacher and one of the most common questions I get from parents is asking ”How can I teach my child to read?”. I explain it is a process, but there are certainly things that parents can do to help their children gain these reading skills, probably quicker but definitely more deep rooted. these tips are all in the article below for those of you who don’t go to my school. they are not difficult but do take a little time. More than the average teacher can spend with every child. They are easy to implement and they are definitely effective. Hopefully they help you, as much as they have helped others.
Playing games, singing songs, playing word games, make some simple word cards and stick them on the fridge are all strategies to teach children to read at home. Make sure you are aware of the common skills needed to read, use loads of different strategies and of course make it fun!
The list above was the way I used to give the information to parents, it was factually correct but not that helpful. I was thinking of teachers rather than parents when I wrote it. Just giving them a list of jargon and maybe a couple of resources wasn’t going to be that helpful there needed to be some reasoning and advice included.
So here we give the ideas behind our top teacher tips to encourage your child to develop their reading skills and equally importantly their love for reading that will carry them through their school life and beyond.
How to Make Reading Fun.
I almost never put this at the top but it such an important tip and so often overlooked. Children learn best when they are having fun, in fact everyone learns best when they are having fun. Use games, word play, apps, mobile and online sites, choose books and subject that children love to read about, dinosaurs, space, animals etc. These encourage and motivate your child to engage in reading. This is even more important when they are right at the beginning of learning to read and books wont have much much of a story or plot. (they may well be full of nice images though) We give some examples of games and activities you can try in the sections below as well. making it fun means not going overboard. Children’s attention span is about 20 minutes max, keep the activities around that and it shouldn’t become a chore.
2) Teach yourself first
You don’t have to enroll in night classes, or disappear off to university but being aware of how children progress, and how they learn to read will save both time and worry. I often get parents telling me their children are struggling with one aspect or another of reading. Then I often get puzzled looks when I tell them it doesn’t worry me. Just like like learning to walk there is a process that needs to occur for them to master the skills. One skill is not going to come before another. So take a look at the ‘’order’’ list below to get an idea of what skills you can look out for. This will help you judge where you child is on their reading journey. They are not mutually exclusive of course as all children are different but they do for the vast majority of children follow roughly this order. Asking your children’s class teacher what the focus is in the classroom could help you work in tandem with the school.
- Knowledge of the sounds of English: Children need to learn the phonetic sounds first. These are the sounds of English, and when teaching these there is also an order. Although the order is a topic for debate it never hurts to practice the single sounds of the alphabet first. Just for familiarity. Moving on to blends, and vowels, and then spellings come at a later stage as does higher level comprehension.
- Phonics: This will teach them how these sounds relate and blend into each other to teach them how to construct (and importantly deconstruct) sounds to make words. We have resources and articles on how to teach these all over this site. Those two links are a great place to start for activities and the order and methodology of phonics.
- Learning vocabulary: Once they have a firm background in phonics, more time can be spent on building vocabulary. Of course prior to this there will be opportunity to use vocab flashcards, for cat, house, school etc, but at this stage it is to learn more about word meaning. This leads into the for the next stage .
- Comprehension: To learn the purpose and meaning of the text they are reading is a precursor to fluency. There are specific reading strategies that have been researched and fortunately complement each other. The teaching of these moves students up to higher level of reading, but they can be introduced carefully with lower level readers as well.
- Fluency: Ta Dah!!, your child is reading, evaluating their own reading, able to reading quickly and accurately and understand texts ( mostly!!!). Don’t be in to much of a rush to get here though as your children will develop this at their pace not yours or mine!
If you want a list of the most important phonics rules we have listed them here
Ok now you know your stuff lets have some more practical tips
The Best Phonics Apps
There are loads of apps out there, and if the current pandemic has taught us anything it is that we are going to have to be able to improvise. These are apps do not replace a teacher, a parent or a school but to offer a different approach (monitor the time used of course) they are engaging, targeted and fun. If your children have access to this technology then lets use it productively. Three reading apps you can try, and I personally use are below, one is mine and free the others are paid but pretty cheap. All are really good at practicing phonics skills.
- Teach your monster to read – a 3 stage phonics program. It is superb and usually about 5 USD. Though free twice a year. Check out details here
- Monkey word school: If you can get past the music it is a incremental phonics app that has multiple games and increasing difficultly
- Phonics Hop and Pop: We made this app to be able to jump in and out. No story but great to practice all things phonics. From single sounds to syllables and everything in between. You can play this on a computer (straight from the link) however its better on a computer than your mobile browser. So if you want mobile just follow the Apple and Android links to grab it ( its free )
How to teach Sight Words.
There are words in English that don’t follow the phonics rules. These words are called sight words. They need to learnt by sight (we call it rote learning) It is good to practice these when ever you can, the apps above cover them in varying degrees but it is much easier to print off a list or if you want buy a set of cards and just play a quick word drill with 10 or so a day, building up to 50 or so (by that I mean from a deck of 50 or so, not drilling 50 words a day!) this can be done before TV time, or as a quick pop quiz, or even kept on the fridge and used during breakfast. The aim is to get them to recognize these words by sight. It is an annoyance in English that these sight words are also very frequent in stories and consist of some of the most used English words. So the earlier they can be introduced the better. To demonstrate how important take a look at the word ‘’said’’ phonetically it would be ‘’s ah i d’’ and this word appears in every junior book ever written (probably 😛 )
Play games everywhere:
On the way to school, the shops, the football game, the dance class. It is really easy to change the game I spy to ‘’I spy with my little eye something beginning with ah’’ use the sounds not the names of the letters, or to make it more difficult use rhymes, or even ending sounds. Keep your children on their toes while having fun.
Language is everywhere:
and its free to use. On road signs, shop fronts, cafes, restaurants. Encourage your children to do the ordering, or decide which way to go, or to tell you how much things cost. It brings them into an active role into these trips and really importantly it shows them the real-world use of their skills they are being taught!
How to use Phonics cards to teach your Children to read.
You can make these or buy them pretty cheaply. These, like the site words above, can be used for pop quizzes or a quick revision session over breakfast or before school. Keep it light and quick. One of the key aspects of phonics learning, like other skills, is to practice little and often. At school, at least mine, that poses a problem. At home there is more flexibility.
How to use Phonic Songs in Reading.
Well they always say end with a song! There are thousands of videos and songs to teach phonics and English out there. You could ask the school which if they have any popular ones that use. Otherwise you can find your own. We have 3 of our favorites listed below, but there are new ones all the time and teachers can get stuck in our ways! If you find some good ones let me know!
- The phonics Alphabet song – as catchy as baby shark
- Two vowels go walking – a song on vowel digraphs
- The magic E song – great to teach the tricky e rule.
One more thing.
if you have grandparents or older brother or sisters… well with grandparents it a great way to interact with their grandchildren and for older siblings as long as used in moderation it gets them to practice the skills, or to take on more responsibility.. just sayin 😉
No matter how indisputably valuable it is to teach your children to read, it is a huge amount of fun as well. Imagine how much fun it would be to sit with your child and listen to them read you a story, or teach you how to play a game. On that car journey they don’t have their nose buried in ‘candy crush” or what ever the game of the year is when you are reading this and are interacting and playing games with you.
In schools we have over 30 children to try to teach these skills. Although we love them all dearly its just a mathematical impossibility to spend that much time with each student. The advantage parents have is one we can only dream of, 10-15 minutes a day with one or two children to really target their learning and they will progress so fast it will make your head spin! Enjoy!
I hope these tips help. Feel free to add more in the comments if you found something that works for you as well.
About the Author
Hi I’m Marc. A teacher of over 15 years, mostly English but dabbled in outdoor pursuits and media. Thought is was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children. Feel free to take a look at our resources, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org, or jump on the Facebook group to ask questions. Happy learning, teaching or playing!