Reading for Children

‘Reading comprehension is the product of two necessary components: decoding and linguistic comprehension’.  (UK Parliamentary Office of Science and technology, Teaching Children To Read, Postnote: October 2009) 

At first glance the above statement might seem like a collection of words set in academic jargon. To the average reader, this is quite possible and a little explanation might go some way to assisting the school teacher or parent in understanding the process of reading. To examine the skill of learning to read, it is necessary to review a number of key features.

Relevance of content.

Reading requires the learner see relevance in the shape and sound of the words passing before their eyes. This ‘decoding’ is a an essential part of all reading and while a child might recognize a shape (the word) and mouth the sound of the shape, (the word), very little retention  is gained unless the word has a recognizable context (Its relevance to something real). If the child sees relevance, then the word has meaning and only then will shape and sound be retained, put another way, a word must have either, touch, smell, taste or feeling.

Abstractions in reading cause the biggest stumbling blocks. There is no substantive place for words such as ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘when’, etc.., and the only way a child can ‘comprehend’ these words is to see their ‘connection’ within the sentence and in day to day language.

For example:  ‘The boy and the dog walk’, has three words that can be reinforced with pictures, (boy, dog, walk) and three words that are used to connect the pictures so that sense can be made of the sentence. When teaching a child to read, it would be beneficial to ask the child to order the pictures, and then place the remaining words between the ordered pictures so that sense is made of the sentence. Children get quite excited over ordering the pictures. Humor also enters the equation, as some interesting combinations are made, even from the few words shown above.

Reading Methods

Modern reading techniques focus on phonics as the method in teaching reading. While this technique is currently the trend, it would be beneficial for any would be reading teacher, parent or classroom, to examine all methods and find one that suits the child.

Remember, we think in pictures, and children are no different. For a reader to retain the word, and make sense of the code, a picture needs to be formed. For example, ice cream will be remembered as it has taste, temperature, visual attraction and retained experience. For a child to be asked to retain the word ‘cousin’, when they may not have a cousin requires them to create an image of someone they have never met. It is here that children might struggle to progress with their reading.

When ‘Look and Say’ was in vogue, and there are signs it might be returning, the word picture was key, with an image to reinforce the word. While the child learnt to read relatively quickly, the word picture gave only shape and subsequently many Look and Say prodigies are poor spellers.

To the serious reading teacher, whether parent or classroom practitioner, the best way to teach reading can be summed in a simple phrase, ‘use all methods, but most of all allow the words to have a picture in the mind of the child’.

Don’t teach reading as an academic exercise, when it is possible for the child to see the word, feel the word, taste the word, and live the word.