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Getting Ready to Read

This set of tips is designed to help you guide your little person towards reading success.

For most of us, reading is something that we just do. We can barely remember how we started. We probably can recall some of of first reading achievements, but since then, we’ve moved into automatic pilot mode, unaware of all the written material around us that we are consuming each day.

So how did we learn to read, and what can we do to give our early readers the start they need?

Print awareness

Children need repeated exposure to reading materials. Our first thought is books, but don’t forget that catalogues, magazines, street signs, labels on clothes and food packaging are a great way to introduce your child to the concept of print. Help them make the link between the markings they see and a word they hear.

You might find that your toddler is already recognising a ‘stop’ or ‘exit’ sign or they may have worked out that a golden ‘M’ represents a certain food chain. Pointing out print wherever you find it and telling your child what it means is a great place to start.

Try this:

  • Giving your child a newspaper, magazine or catalogue and teaching them how to turn pages. This is a fantastic way to engage your child with print and prepares them for turning pages in more precious books.

  • Put labels on everyday objects. You can write sticky notes and put them throughout the house - door, fridge, toaster, milk, sink, toothpaste, chair, table. The list is endless! This will help your child make a connection between writing or print, and the name of objects.

  • Have your child help you write the shopping list. Ask them what you need to put on it, then put your hand over their hand while you write the item on the list. Talk about the letters you’re writing and the sound they make.

  • When you’re reading books together, point to the words in the title on the cover. Tell them what specific words in the books say.

Word Awareness

Before they ever pick up a book to read independently, Little People need to understand the concept of a ‘word’. They need to know that words are things we say and things we can read.

Try this:

  • Point to words in books as you’re reading. Talk about the words in the title. How many words can they see and hear?

  • Point out headings in newspapers and magazines, and printed signs from their environment.

  • Talk about long words and short words - words with lots of letters and sounds, and words with only a few letters and sounds.

  • Tell your child you’re going to teach them a new ‘word’. Help them understand what the new word means, get them to practise saying the word, show them how to use the word in a sentence. Ask them to recall the word that you just taught them.

  • Use silly sentences and ask your child to make up some silly words to fill in the gaps.

For example:

When I went to the Flugle shop I bought…

I rode a Lumbro to…

In order to become a competent reader, children need to understand what makes up the structure of words. This means that they understand syllables, rhyme units and sounds.

Syllable Awareness

This means understanding that words are made up of syllables or beats.

Try this:

  • Talk about words being either long or short depending on the number of syllables or beats they have. Try clapping out family names and familiar words e.g. ‘mi-cro-wave’ - that’s a long word because it has three claps in it.

  • Robot talking - talk like a robot, breaking every word into syllables and using a monotone voice e.g. “I-am-hun-gry”

  • Dinosaur stomping - move around the room, stomping your foot for each syllable. You can give you child words and have them work out how many stomps they can do for each word.

  • Stepping stones - see how many steps it takes to cross the room or move up the passageway. Give your child a word and have them take a giant step for each syllable. See how many syllables it takes to reach their goal.

  • Point out long and short words in print. Practise clappin out syllables together.

Tip: If you are having trouble breaking a word into syllables, think about how the word is written. Each syllable contains only one vowel sound. You can also try putting your hand under your chin. Say the word slowly and feel that each time your jaw moves it is another syllable. Try this with “butterfly” (three syllables).

Rhyme Awareness

This means understanding the parts of words can be the same. This skill involves being able to work out the first sounds in a word and separating them from the last sounds in the word, then matching them to other words that have the same sound pattern. Sound confusing? It’s really straightforward, but something that is important to practise.

Try this:

  • For beginning rhymers, read lots of rhyming stories. You might not have noticed these books before, but you’re bound to have some tucked away or will quickly find them in the library. When reading the story, pause when you get to the rhyming word and see if your child can add it in. You might need to start off by giving them the first sound of the word. E.g. Mr McGee, lived in a tr… (tree)!

  • Play rhyming I Spy… e.g. I spy with my little eye, something that sounds like ‘star’... “Car”!

  • Sing songs and nursery rhymes. Point out the words that “sound a bit the same”. E.g Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are. ‘Star’ and ‘are’ sound a bit the same, they’re the words that rhyme.

  • Play rhyming games in the car. Start off with one or two words that rhyme and ask your child to add to the list.

Tip: Rhyming words always end in the SAME vowel and consonant sounds. The focus is on sounds and not letters e.g. light and bite rhyme even though they are spelled differently. Kid’s will often make the early mistake of rhyming ‘m’ and ‘n’ e.g. man and and ham. These words don’t rhyme because they end in different sounds.

Sound Awareness

This is where we start to talk about the sounds in words. We consider sounds at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of words. Ready-readers can work out what consonant sounds they hear in short words. They can count sounds, blend sounds and break up words into their individual sounds.

Try this:

  • I Spy with my little eye, something starting with …

  • Try matching sounds in words. ‘Sun’ starts with a ‘sss’ sound. Can you think of something else that starts with a ‘sss’?... What about something you wear on your feet? (‘sock’).

  • Try matching words that end in the same sound. ‘Book’ ends in a ‘kuh’ sound, what else ends with a ‘kuh’? … What about something with sharp teeth that swims in the ocean? (‘shark’).

  • Talk about sounds in words as you’re doing routine activities. For example, when you are unpacking the shopping together, you can make simple comments such as “here are the bananas. Bananas start with a ‘buh’.

  • Model blending and segmenting words. This means sounding out a word (segment) then say the whole word (blend). Again this is something you can do during everyday activities. For example, ‘it’s time for a…th, bath!’, ‘would you like some kuh…ay…kuh, cake?’

  • Using an egg carton and some tokens (it’s surprising how motivating some M&Ms can be), sound out a word, dropping a token into the egg carton segments for every sound you say. Help your child to blend the sounds together and say the word.

  • Tell your child a word and then get them to sound it out, dropping a token into the egg carton for every sound they hear. (Of course successful blenders and segmenters get to enoy their edible tokens!)

Tip: The focus is on the sounds that make up words. Don’t be distracted by talking about letters and letter names. For example, bed start with a ‘buh’ sound, ‘man’ starts with a ‘mmmm’ sound.

The strategies outlined above are key components of metalinguistic and phonological awareness, however there are several other areas in which we can support your child’s literacy development. Phonological processing, auditory working memory, metalinguisitc and phonological awareness and a strong, well-organised vocabulary are all crucial to successful reading, spelling and writing.

If your child is struggling with reading, spelling or writing, then contact a speech pathologist to book an assessment and find out how we can support their literacy development.

Alison McDonald, Certified Practising Speech Pathologist, Director Newcastle Speech Pathology

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