Children need to acquire a variety of skills before they are ready to read. On average, these skills are mastered and children are ready to read between the ages of 5 and 7. As with all skills and milestones, some children may reach it a bit earlier and others later. It is assumed that all children are ready to start reading in Grade 1 which is unfortunately not the case. Children who are not ready struggle to grasp the concepts of reading. They do not recognise the sounds and letters, they cannot put them together to make words and they don’t attach meanings to the words that they may learn to read. These learners may be anxious because they do not understand the symbols on the page, it makes absolutely no sense to them at all. The reality is that many of these learners then lose interest in reading because it is difficult and it could make them feel physically sick. Anxious learners may try to avoid reading at all cost, they may say that they don’t know how to read, they may fidget and squirm, they may keep looking away from the page or just look at the book quietly without saying a word. Some anxious kids may say that their heads hurt, they are nauseous or that their tummies ache. These learners may get misdiagnosed with ADD or ADHD due to their inability to sit still and wondering eyes.
What are the signs of reading readiness?
- Your child pages through a book and pretends to read the story by looking at the pictures.
- They pretend to write by making symbols and squiggles on pages. They may also be able to ‘read’ their writing.
- They show an extreme interest and willingness to learn reading. They ask what letter is this or what does this say. They show enthusiasm and are actively involved during story time.
- Your child needs to show listening comprehension skills and be able to retell stories that have been read to them in their own words as well as answer simple questions about the stories.
- He/she should hold the book the right way, turn pages from left to right and understand that a person reads from left to right and from the top to the bottom of the page. Handling the book gently and without ripping pages.
- Furthermore, your child will show an immense interest in words and letters and have print awareness. Print awareness refers to the ability to understand that the symbols on the page make sounds and that the sounds put together create words.
- When a learner is ready to read they will also show phonological awareness. This demonstrates an understanding of the sound structure of words by rhyming simple words, clapping syllables and identifying the beginning and end sounds of words. They may also make up their own rhymes.
- Knowing the alphabet and sounds and recognising some of the letters in print.
- A child should also demonstrate the ability to recite a short paragraph that is read to them showing that they understand one-to-one correspondence during reading.
What happens if a child is pushed to read when they are not ready? They struggle. They fall behind and they hate reading. They are slow and almost never finish their work. They become anxious and avoid reading at all cost. They are so busy encoding and decoding that they do not understand what they read and this in turn causes challenges when they are required to study for tests. They may also struggle with spelling, sentence construction and writing paragraphs or stories.
How can these children be assisted? Whether children are ready or not, they are required to learn to read in Grade 1. There are a variety of methods that a school may chose to use to teach reading to learners. All have their pro’s and cons. Some methods will be better suited for different children. As parents and educators we need to put in a lot of extra work. Not to push the children and force them to reach a milestone prematurely but to encourage them to keep on trying. Read stories, have them handle and play with books (respectfully), play fun games (to teach phonics, rhyming words and syllables) and just encourage a love of reading.