How children learn to read and write at school

I wrote a post recently about my loquaciousness and use of intricate words, and the irony of the fact that I don’t always know how to replicate them appropriately in my writing at school. I sailed through my reading bo0ks and declared myself a ‘speed-reader’ to my year 1 teacher. Mummy hasn’t known how to read with me, because I prefer to read by myself, or to be read to while my brain switches off: so not up for a challenge before bed!

Last week Mummy was a school pupil herself when parents were invited in to discover the processes involved in young children learning to read and write. She was so bowled over by the complexity of the learning process that she immediately changed tack at home and decided it was too good to keep to herself. So if you have ever wondered how it feels to be a child learning to read and write at school, read on.

Learning to read

That made complete sense, right? No? Well that’s what I child sees when confronted with the written word. I remember how Mummy would show me a simple word, lets say ‘dog’, get me to repeat it, then get frustrated with me when I couldn’t recognise it further down in the text. As accomplished readers you already have an advantage in that you probably notice the punctuation marks, which helps you know where there is conversation, and you know that words are probably repeated. But do you have any idea what this is about?

Decoding how children learn to read

Put that code into this picture, and you can start to make some assumptions as to what the text might be saying. The baby bear looks frightened, there is a cuddle in here, it is dark. So when Mummy put her hand over the pictures in my first reading book, she was taking away all the cues that children use to make sense of the confusing code they see on the page! Children learn to read by associating text with the pictures around it.

Next I’m having a go at Daddy’s approach. Before children read a full word, they sound out the letters (or rather the phonemes – the individual sounds of the word). Here is how Daddy does it:

Bad phonics (mp3)

Those sounds are not in the words ‘plug’ and ‘chop’ but lots of adults sound letters in this way. For those of you who really want to know how you should be sounding out letters (or rather sounds) when reading with your children, take a look at this video, which shows all the sounds of the English language (and there are more than 26, believe it or not!):

Daddy still can’t get this sounding right, even though he tries so hard to be helpful with the Bug’s embryonic attempts at writing.

So, Mummy fail, and Daddy fail!

They failed again, once I had finally figured out how to decode texts and read any word I saw, whether I understood it or not. But that is a harder, and much more painful story to tell. Come back on Friday and I will try to explain…

12 thoughts on “How children learn to read and write at school”

  1. Such useful information, we are a way off the reading thing just now, as my daughter has not long turned two, but I’ve been starting to get that little nagging voice at the back of my head, wondering how on earth you help them read the words (rather than the pictures as it were). Thank you!

  2. I Love your write up on this. It’s so hard to get children to click .. but when they do it’s a joy .. ! I have to get my youngest just a bit further and reading this has helped!
    ( Sorry previous comment was submitted before I spell checked !)

  3. Thanks for this. Mellow is in reception and I can get so frustrated when he still out to sound out the letters for ‘at’ or ‘on’. It seems so easy to me! But I agree with Vanessa, once they click it’s great. The first 4 months with Mellow were a nightmare, all words had to be sounded out and it would take for ever, even the works that were repeated 4 times on each page had to be sounded out again!!! Suddently he just started to remember the words (not ‘at’ or ‘on’ though!!!) and it’s much more enjoyable for him and for me.
    I can’t wait to read the rest of the story tomorrow.
    Me & The Boys

  4. Im so relieved to read about this as I am currently going through this with my 4 and half year old who is in the reception year at infant school and there is so much more structure than what we were expecting. the pressure to encourage them to recognise and pronounce letters and sounds is quite unreal for there age. lucky enough my little one thrives on it so dose not effect her to much however some of her friends are struggling with the workload. The school is very helpful and supportive but feel that as parents a little “crash course” in prounoucing phonemes would be of great benefit. so I thank you for such an informative article and i will definately be passing this round on the playground so to speak 🙂

  5. This is spot on. I know you were worrying about being a non teacher writing it but I think that’s probably better. It’s only now I’m a parent I can see things from an outside perspective and see what children struggle with. I think parent workshops are brilliant and really help.

    By the way I don’t think your approach to reading was bad. I think the best thing you can doin the early years is read a lot to children. If they get that languagein their head it’s the best thing, and GGs advanced vocabulary shows that she has that.

    • Hurray! A teacher said I got it right! Seriously though Rebecca, I was a bit worried about posting knowing I have some teachers reading so I feel good knowing you approve 🙂

  6. Great post! Really helpful – Thanks 🙂 I’ve found myself in the funny position of having littlelish understand the basics of reading, phonics/sounding out words etc (she is only 2.5!!) and catching me totally off guard. I haven’t really a clue how to teach her and I’m just carrying on reading and reading to her and playing word games in the hope that it is what she needs! The video is also really helpful x

  7. I found with H, when he was learning to read his first words, that it was slow going. Then it suddenly clicked and he was able to recognise whole words and decode new ones a lot of the time.

  8. I was a teacher. At the beginning of Nursery, Reception and Year1 we held reading workshops for parents which were aimed at supporting them in helping their child to read. The parents thought they were a great idea. As a teacher you expect parents to hear their child read at home every night, therefore I think it’s only fair that we give them the tools to be able to do it to their best. Its not just about the decoding. Its about making reading together a fun and confidence building experience for both children and parents.


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