Stages of Early Reading - up to age six
By Geri Copitch, guest blogger and veteran teacher
I was speaking with a young man the other day who was telling me about his four year old daughter’s attempt to read him her favorite book. When he asked her to point to the word she was reading, she told him she didn’t want to. He later told his wife that he thought his daughter was “lying” about being able to read. He was surprised to find out that this is a normal stage in the reading process.
Learning to read, like anything else we take on, is a process, one that needs time and lots of practice to develop. No one would expect their child to hop out of the crib one day and start running marathons. We all seem to know that at first a baby needs to master standing, then they take one or two hesitant, tottering steps, working their way up to several steps and a lot of plopping down on their bottoms, and eventually they’re running around Sears hiding from you in the clothes racks.
Reading occurs much the same way. The first most important step in your child learning to read is actually dependent upon you. The children who become the most successful readers are those whose parents read to them everyday - even if it’s the same book, day after day, for three months straight! During this time they are picking up important information on the rhythm of language. By watching you, they are learning that books begin in one place and end in another, and that stories have a beginning and an end. When you point to the pictures as you read, they start to get the concept that our written language progresses from left to right. In time, they start to grasp the concept that print has meaning: that those black squiggles on the page represent language. As an adult these concepts seem like ‘no brainers’, but they are important concepts that children need to learn before they can become readers. A child isn’t born knowing this anymore than they are born knowing how to walk
As children become emergent readers they begin to repeat words or phrases from familiar books. As time goes on, they start to become aware of print in their environment, such as on signs or cereal boxes. They begin to recognize their own name. They may start to point out other words that begin with the same letter as their name. This gives them ‘ownership’, they feel more ‘connected’ to these words because they share something important with them.
Next, young children will move on to re-telling a story by looking at the pictures. This is not cheating. This is an important part of the process. We use cues in our environment everyday to help us figure things out. The same is true for reading. Adult readers are often drawn to a picture in an advertisement before they actually read the words.
Early readers move on to re-enacting reading. They memorize familiar texts and ‘read’ them, turning the pages in the places they have learned from watching you, progressing through the book from left to right. They begin to show directionality of print by running their finger along the text from left to right. At this point they are probably only accidentally touching the actual word they are reading, but they are building up to the concept. As they begin to learn that each symbol (letter) represents a sound and what that sound is, they will start to use the initial sound (first letter) to help them identify words. This usually begins to happen in kindergarten to early first grade. Children who go to pre-school tend to pick up on this sooner.
Usually around the ages of 6-7 children begin to be able to pick out recurring sight words, and decoding - sounding out - words that follow phonetic rules, e.g. words where the letters make predicable sounds and there are no silent letters. As with any new skill, some children will grasp these concepts sooner, while others will need more time to grow the needed connections in their brains. The important thing to remember in all of this is that process counts! It takes time, and lots and lots of mimicry (copying) and practice before children become true readers. Read when you are around them - the more often that they see that reading is important to you, it becomes increasingly important to them. Have patience, encourage the baby steps, read lots and lots with your children - and - don’t stop reading to them just because they begin to read themselves. After all, did you stop walking with your kids once they started?