How to Teach Your Kid to Read

In the difficult world of COVID-19, teaching kids to read has fallen onto parent's shoulders. Find out how a child learns to read and what to do in case of reading difficulties.

Due to COVID-19, a lot of education has fallen onto the parents’ shoulders. Our daily thoughts changed from “I need to notify my boss about this” to “how to teach my kid math in 3rd grade” and “how to teach my kid to read”. Online learning proved to be “an okay” alternative, but not an effective long-term substitute for in-school teaching. Teachers simply cannot support the kids via remote learning the way they can in person.

The pandemic, on the other hand, is not letting up, with reports surfacing we might not return to “normal” for quite some time. The sad reality is the education system will not be able to support your kid the way it did in the past. And yes, it was not a perfect system, far from it, but with the pandemic staying, the education system might become even more ineffective

Kobi Dyslexia Corona Schools Closed

The job of teaching your kid to read and making sure they continue their development will most likely become your responsibility as a parent. All kids in the future may be semi-homeschooled. And we understand this might seem like a daunting task, so to make your life as parents just a little bit easier, we are going to take a moment to examine how a child learns to read and what you can do to support your kid’s reading development.

Teaching Kids to Read

Teaching your kid to read might be a very simple task. Kids often pick up language rules on the go, by listening to you talk or by reading simple stories. Every fourth child learns to read automatically.

Teaching your kid to read only becomes a challenge when certain difficulties arise. Children might struggle with letter reversals (not knowing whether a letter is a b or a d), they might have issues connecting sounds to appropriate letters or blending those sounds together. In that case, you have a longer road ahead of you, but do not worry, every road leads to a destination.

How A Child Learns to Read

Reading is a complex cognitive skill with 25% (1 in 4) of the population having significant problems learning to read. For a person to become a fluent reader, a process called orthographic mapping needs to happen.

Orthographic Mapping

In very simple terms, orthographic mapping is the process that turns any word (even one that we haven’t seen before) into a sight word (we read it on sight). For example, when you see the word ‘read’ you immediately know to pronounce it /ri:d/. The same goes for the word pead. Because it follows the same language rules, you know you have to pronounce it /pi:d/, even if you don’t know the meaning. In this case, you cannot know the meaning, since the word does not exist.

For any word to turn into a sight word, we need three skills. 

  • The letter-sound skill or Phonics (Attaching sounds to letters, ie. /h/ /a/ /t/)
  • Blending (Combining those three sounds into a word, ie. hat)
  • Acquiring the patterns (Knowing the rules of the language, ie. “a” in the middle of two consonants is pronounced as /a/).

So for your kid to become a successful reader, you need to teach them about phonics, blending, and language rules.

Whole-Word Approach VS Phonics Approach to Teaching Your Kid to Read

What we have mentioned in the paragraphs above is the phonics approach to teaching your kid to read. The phonics approach teaches your kid a system that they can use to learn and form new words on the go.

This is not what is traditionally thought in schools. Although private schools often use the phonics-based approach to teaching your kid to read, public schools still rely on the whole-word approach. The whole word approach does not break down words into syllables but relies on learning whole words by heart. This approach to teaching kids to read is useful for about 70% of children but ineffective for the rest. If your kid shows signs of reading difficulties or is falling behind in class, it is very possible they would prefer the phonics approach.

Interested in a hands-on e-book that will guide you through a kid’s learning process?

The four stages of learning to read

Kids typically go through 4 stages of reading before becoming fluent readers. The stages differ in length but are all equally important. Your kid needs to overlearn every one of these stages for reading to become automatic.

Phase 1: Pretend Reading

Pretend Reading is the initial stage of the reading process. During this first phase, children are getting familiar with sounds, simple words, images, and other concepts related to reading. They can recognize these concepts from stories, previously read to them. Through these concepts, they get a first feel for the world around them and how language, letters, words, images work together in order to create a story.

How to teach your kid to read during this phase

Start teaching the kid by reading to them and with them. Ideally, you would read to your kid once a day for 15-30 minutes, although that can depend on the child’s ability to focus. Try setting up a schedule and sticking to it.

Phase 2: Teaching Phonics

Children pass on to phase two of the learning process when they are familiar with letters and sounds. They now have to start processing the relationship between those two, as well as the relationship between printed and spoken letters. When the eye sees the letter, the brain has to “hear” it. The issue with the English language is that the same letter (or a combination of letters) can sound out differently depending on the position in the word. For example, the letter “o” in “browse” is spoken almost as /a/, while the same letter “o” in “snow” is spoken as /o/. Fluent readers do not think about that or see that as an issue, but for a novice reader, all those rules make no sense.

How to teach your kid to read during this phase

Start putting more focus on rhyme games. You can play in the car on the way to the kindergarten or school as well as at home while you are preparing dinner. Rhymes help familiarize your kid with words and syllables that sound similar. More importantly, they are fun for kids who are learning to read. Continue reading to and with your kid.

Phase 3: Teaching Blending

Once a child has learned the basic sounds and connected them to appropriate letters, they need to start blending those sounds together to create meaningful words. Blending phonemes into words is a crucial phase of the learning to read process. It helps young readers decode unfamiliar words using letter-sound patterns when reading. The key to successful blending is practice.

How to teach your kid to read during this phase

Start by selecting 5 words your kid is familiar with. These must be one-syllable, regular words, like cat or fox. Try using words from stories you have been reading to your kid.

Take the first word and write it down in front of your kid. Then break it down and point the finger to each of the sounds in the word, saying: “The first sound in the word cat is ‘k’. The second sound in the word cat is ‘a’. The third sound in the word cat is ‘t’.” Then spell the word out, slowly, so your kid can hear the separate sounds. “Kkkkaaattt”. Let your child repeat the exercise. Once he does, repeat for the next four words.

The next day, choose 5 new words, plus the 5 words of the previous day. Start by repeating the words from the day before and continue by introducing the new word. Repeat this exercise every day for about 15-20 minutes, depending on how quickly your kid can follow. If your child can get this done in 10 minutes, raise the number of words you are teaching.

Don’t forget to still read with your kid on occasion or play fun games with letters and sounds.

Find more exercises in our Learn to Read: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents!

Phase 4: Reading of Connected Text

Once a child has mastered the basics it is time for the longest phase of them all. Reading of connected text. To develop into a fluent reader, the kid needs to practice, practice, and practice some more. Ideally starting with simple stories, gradually moving to more difficult, complicated texts. The goal of this phase is to train the brain so they read the written text the same way they listen to spoken words.

How to teach your kid to read during this phase

Start giving your kid more autonomy. Instead of you reading most of the story to them, let them read to you. Occasionally ask them about the story and encourage them to share their thoughts on the characters. After reading, ask them questions about what they have read to make sure they understood the content. Occasionally switch around and read them a good night story.

The practice is crucial. Even more so for struggling readers. Encourage your kid to read as much as possible. If you can’t motivate them or if reading is difficult for them, download the Kobi app and start a free trial. The combination of reading from a tablet and Kobi’s motivational tools helps motivate kids so they start reading. Keep practicing for 15 minutes a day.

Support your kid with Learn to Read: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents

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