Reading is an extension of spoken language. It is the process of mapping speech sounds to print. Reading ability is directly related to a child’s overall language skills: vocabulary, articulation, expressive, and receptive language skills.
Children also need to develop a foundation of skills before they can learn to read. These other skills are called ‘Reading Readiness’ skills. Prerequisite skills for reading include visual discrimination, auditory discrimination, sequencing skills, letter-sound knowledge, and phonemic awareness.
Visual discrimination is the ability to differentiate between subtle visual differences, such as b and d, and to recognize visual patterns in words. Visual discrimination is developed through puzzles, parquetry, block building, matching games, and through specialized visual discrimination materials.
Auditory discrimination is the ability to differentiate between subtle sounds in spoken words, such as /m/ and /n/. Auditory discrimination is developed through singing, listening games, rhyming, finger plays, a focus on articulation, and through special auditory discrimination materials.
Phonemic awareness is the study of spoken sounds. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in the English language. Phonemic awareness activities help students to be aware that words are made up of sounds, and sounds can be arranged to form words. Children develop phonemic awareness skills through nursery rhymes, stories, singing, finger plays, and through specialized phonemic awareness materials.
The concept of sequencing is developed through calendar exercises, numerical order, patterning, and through special sequencing games. Children need to understand the concept of sequencing before they can read and spell.
Letter-sound knowledge involves knowing the names of the letters and their corresponding letter sounds. Some letters have more than one sound. Children develop letter-sound knowledge through educational materials, interactive games, books, and songs.
At Lil’ Reading Scientists, we use the American Manual Sign Language Alphabet to teach letter-sound correspondences, and to enhance the understanding that phonemes in words have a particular sequence. The American Manual sign alphabet compliments the Orton-Gillingham method of reading instruction. Sign language is now recognized as a foreign language in many high schools and universities.
English is primarily a phonetic language. Thus, it is best taught through a code-based approach. When students have mastered all of the pre-requisite skills for reading, they are ready to map letter sounds to print. Once children know a few letter sounds, they can begin to learn how to blend those sounds into words. Some English words do not follow the phonetically regular patterns. Those words need to be learned by memory, and are called ‘sight words’.
The processes of reading and writing are reciprocal, and they should be taught concurrently because they reinforce one another. Writing is the expressive aspect of written language, while reading is the receptive avenue.
When children begin to write, it is not important that they know how to spell. Invented spelling is the act of practicing the letter-sound correspondences as they are learned. The use of developmental spelling provides adults with a window into the child’s understanding of the alphabetic principle. By telling young children how to spell words, we rob them of important practice with the alphabetic code. Conventional spelling instruction begins in elementary school, after children have mastered the alphabetic principle, and when children need to realize that sounds in words can be expressed in various ways.
Literacy is the foundation of our society, and the cornerstone of all great things! When a child successfully learns how to read, it opens doors to the future, and windows to the soul. Reading underlies all other learning in the school setting, and it is the driving force of our modern world. Children who are strong readers are better prepared to succeed in the classroom environment, as well as in the global world.