Yes. Teaching your child to read can be easy.
I’ve wanted to write this post for ages but I was scared that people would say, “Yeah, well, of course it’s easy for you. You’re a teacher and I’m not.”
Which is true. I am a teacher and I’ve taught reading for years – and that’s why I think that if you start helping your child with reading, it’ll become easy for you too.
And you don’t need a teaching degree or ten years of experience to do a great job of supporting your child’s learning.
You don’t need to throw workbooks and apps at them either – or create 1000 Insta-perfect activities.
What you do need is to understand in simple terms how learning to read works – what’s actually happening when a child’s learning to read – and how you can support them in a few minutes a day.
And it’ll be easy because of the process I’m going to show you in this post – but first let’s talk about why learning to read is hard.
Learning to read’s a big job
I know, it seems like I can’t make my mind up – but learning to read’s a big job.
Here’s what we’re asking our little people to learn:
26 unfamiliar symbols (the letters of the alphabet) which they must learn to associate with one sound – or more than one, because English is fun like that.
Almost 20 MORE sounds that’re made up of more than one letter – like sh, ch, th or that zh sound in ‘treasure’.
And in the middle of that, they also need to learn how to read words by putting those sounds together and reading them as one unit.
Plus the joy that is tricky words – those ones like ‘was’ and ‘the’ that they’re not able to sound out but need to recognise if they want to read…
…sentences – which is the next step in their learning.
Not only reading a bunch of words together – which is already hard work for a new reader – but being able to make sense of what they just read and talk about it.
And then they get a reading book to take home and it feels like they’ve arrived – but that’s the beginning of a whole other journey.
A journey where they’ll start to feel like they’re getting it – like they can do this reading thing and it’s not so bad and then – BOOM – we hit them with words like cough, bough, rough, through and though, because that’s the kind of language we’re dealing with here.
That sounds bad, doesn’t it? A huge task.
The truth is that learning to read in English is a big task – and a long one – but you can break it down and make it feel totally manageable.
We’re going to talk about that in a minute but first let’s look at the other thing that can make teaching your child to read feel very hard indeed.
Children learn to read at different rates
Some kids pick up reading like a sponge sucking up spilled juice.
When that happens, learning to read’s fun and easy.
They learn sounds and soon they can read little words – then bigger ones and sentences and even stories.
It’s the ideal – it’s how we all hope it’ll be for our kids.
With other children, it’s more like you’re attacking the juice with a brush.
You’re rubbing away at the juice but it’s not going into the brush, it’s slopping around the table instead.
It’s frustrating for you and your child – because both of you know the sponge child’s over in the corner reading a book while brush child is still trying to get blending.
You can’t help which type of new reader your child is – and I’ve exaggerated here as you know already.
There aren’t really two types of learners. It’s more like a sliding scale.
And however easily your child learns, it’ll be easier if you support them and luckily, learning to read is a repeatable process of a few steps.
Hint: this is the bit where it start to feel manageable.
But where do we start with teaching reading?
Years ago as a student teacher, I remember feeling terrified of teaching new learners to read.
I’d learned theory but there was a lot I didn’t know:
- What did they need to do?
- How was I supposed to teach them it?
- What would we actually DO in the classroom?
And I’ve found over the years that parents have similar questions.
- What can we do to help?
- How can we practise phonics?
- Where do we start?
I want to suggest here that the best place to start is by knowing how learning to read works.
If you know what you and your child are trying to achieve, it’s easier to get there – and don’t worry, I’m going to give you a process to make it happen, too.
What learning to read looks like – this simple, repeatable process
Let’s assume that your son or daughter already has all the pre-reading skills developed and they’re ready to dive into learning sounds, blending (putting sounds together into words) and so on.
Their learning is going to progress something like this
- Learn some sounds
- Learn to put those sounds together into words (blending)
- Learn more sounds & keep practising the old ones
- Read & write more words with the sounds you know
- Read & write some sight words
- Read & write sentences & then stories – and talk about them (comprehension)
- Learn to use pictures and context to help you understand
- Keep learning sounds until you’ve covered them all and begin to work on spelling
So, in short, children learn to read and write sounds and then use them to read and write words.
Once they can do that, learning to read’s a repeatable process of learning more sounds and applying them in more difficult words, sentences and eventually stories.
Learn more sounds, read with the sounds – and don’t forget the old sounds.
I like to think of it as one of those sticky lint rollers you can use to get pet hair off your clothes.
You keep rolling and rolling until all the sounds and tricky words are stuck fast to the roller.
If you’ve kept going practising all those skills until all the sounds are picked up, your child will be a long way towards being a reader.
But how do you build those skills? What should you actually DO?
As I said earlier, it’s okay knowing in theory what you need to do – but what does this actually look like?
How can you, as a parent, make a plan to support your child?
Here’s what I do:
Every day after school we spend a few minutes doing one or two of these things:
- Keep track of which sounds he’s learned and practise them with games and activities like these or simple, home made resources like these .
- Help him practise blending (reading words) by looking for words he can read in a book or making words together with magnetic letters, letter tiles, or writing on a whiteboard. (More tips in this post >>) Sometimes we play phonics board games like these instead.
- Practise recognising sight words using word cards or words written on ping-pong balls. Spotting them in story books is also helpful.
- Write sounds and words down – sometimes I forget to get him to write and then I’m surprised when his letters and numbers are backwards or huge. Try challenging your child to write 5 words (or more or less – you know their ability better) and take it from there.
Some kids love homework and can’t wait to show off what they’ve learned.
I hope yours is like that, but mine isn’t – many times, he’d rather watch TV or run around in circles – so we go for little and often and I think it works well.
Even with just a few minutes a day, I can see him getting better all the time – and that’s all you need, isn’t it?
And if it doesn’t feel like enough, you can always supplement your mini sessions with some on-the-go phonics activities like the ones in this post >>