I’m going to start with a story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there was a very scared, very enthusiastic, brand new Reception teacher. She’d spent the last week of the summer holidays in her classroom, organising resources, putting up displays and getting her head round the curriculum. She couldn’t wait to meet all the little humans and give them a safe, fun place to learn how to be bigger humans.
But, after one planning meeting with her two new colleagues, she sat and just stared at a reading book. She loved reading. Had a stash of marvellous children’s books all ready to share with the class. But she had suddenly realised that she had no idea where to start actually teaching them to read.
Her teaching practices had mainly been in older classes, where the children could already read to a certain level and her job was to build on that. But here she was, panicking. Because she imagined sitting down with a little person and this reading scheme book and not knowing what to say. What comes first? How do you break down something into its component parts when you don’t really know what they are, specifically?
To her, reading had become as automatic as breathing. Obviously, they’d have to learn the names and sounds of the letters. But what else? She just couldn’t see it.
Never had she felt so unprepared for anything.
Suddenly she knew the answer. She was going to have to ask for help. Luckily, she had a good feeling about both of her new colleagues. They’d only known each other about a week, but she instinctively trusted them. She didn’t want to admit her lack of knowledge. She was scared that she might be reprimanded for not knowing. But she also knew she couldn’t ‘fake it till she made it’ with this issue. Too important.
She went into the next door classroom. Her lovely colleague was busying around, setting up for the next day. She had buckets of experience, empathy and mischief, amongst other qualities. And the panicking newbie knew she could trust her with her vulnerability.
Telling this story many years later, the new Reception teacher can’t remember exactly what was said and explained. But she does know that she felt understood, supported and confident to take on the awesome task of teaching little people how to read, after that conversation. She was ready with the beginning.
She continued to ask many questions, request observations of other teachers teaching reading and received an abundance of support.
She relished all the facets of literacy teaching and learning throughout her career. And she successfully taught a series of small folk how to read and, more importantly, how to enjoy of reading. She never forgot that feeling of ‘where do I start?’ and applied her understanding to help the children’s parents and carers support their reading development.
Spoiler alert! Yes, the Reception teacher was me.
For World Book Day, I thought I’d put this list out there, along with its origins, in the off chance it helps someone else support a child’s reading development.
Not because schools aren’t already doing this, I’m certain they are. Exceptionally well. in increasingly difficult circumstances.
But because there might be the odd thing that’s you’ve not come across before and resonates with your child.
That’s all it comes down to really, showing them a whole array of skills and giving them the time to practice using them.
And it’s more than just phonics
I’m not going to talk about phonics at all. There’s already enough information, and hysteria, about phonics as it is. I’m not adding to that. You can read my mini rant about phonics here, if you fancy it.
Also, it’s the easiest thing to understand. They need to know the code. This shape on a page means this sound when you say it.
So, what are you on about then?
I’m talking about all the things you can do with your child when they get a reading book sent home with them. All schools have different reading policies. But often they send home a ‘real’ picture book – which is for you to read to your child. And a ‘practice reading’ book, from a specifically designed reading scheme. Like Biff and Chip (*shivers*). Hopefully they have more than one scheme and a good mixture of fiction and non fiction scheme books.
At the very beginning, in Nursery and Reception, they still need to know what a book is. You’ll be doing this without thinking probably. Including:
- It goes this way up
- Hold it carefully or you’ll rip it
- Turning the pages – and by definition, these are called pages
- We don’t put books in our mouths
- We don’t draw in books
Reading homework games
Most Early Years ‘homework’ is centred on reading practice. As well as reading them, you can play loads of little games with the reading scheme books. Here are a few:
- Count the number of spaces in a sentence
- Count the number of words in a sentence
- Count the number of full stops in the whole book
- Find all of the letters that start your child’s name
- count how many of a particular word is in the whole book eg how many ‘ands’ can you find?
- Count how many letters and words are in the whole title
- Find all the information on the front and back covers. Eg title, author, illustrator, barcode, price, blurb
- Identify one repeating word that is on every page and make that your child’s word, you read the rest. Eg, they read ‘and’ and you read all the other words. This could increase to 2 or 3 words as confidence grows.
- Use sound knowledge and picture cues together. Eg that word begins with ’c’, what can we see in the picture that starts with that sound?
- Pick one sentence from the book. Write or print it out. Cut up the sentence into its individual words. Ask your child to match it to the book. You can turn this into a timed race against the clock, if that’s fun for your little person. Or have two of the same sentences and race each other.
- Still using the cut up sentence – child closes eyes, you remove one word, open eyes and work out which word. (By re-reading sentence out loud, pointing, and see what’s missing)
- If you’ve got enough ‘key words’, sometimes known as ‘sight vocabulary’, in the book you can make them into a snap or bingo game very easily. These are words that are not written phonetically and therefore cannot be ‘sounded out’. Loads of them are essentials to early readers: said, the, be, is, because. You only learn to read them by seeing them often enough that you memorise them. Phonics won’t help you here!!
At every Parents/Carers Reading meeting, I emphasised the importance of frequency over length of time. Ten minutes every day, whipping through a couple of these games and the story is better than an hour at the week end. Also, that it’s not feasible for most people to do ten minutes every day, especially if they’ve got more than one child, and that we all know and accept that as ‘real life’!
Just don’t spoil the enjoyment of a story book doing any of these – becomes tedious.
Story book discussions
Whether it’s a school given book, library book or one at home, all book talk builds the foundations for life long readers.
Again, if you’re not sure where to start, here’s a couple of example starting points:
- Make up a different story to go with the pictures.
- Talk about what characters are feeling and why
- Discuss the setting of the story. Would you like to go there? Why? What would you be able to see, hear smell etc?
- Who is your favourite character? Why?
- If it’s a new book, pause at an appropriate point and talk about what you think might happen next.
- Do all the voices! Take turns being the characters and having different voices.
Observing children’s development over time was an endlessly fascinating privilege. It’s important to reassure all care-givers that reading (and writing – but that’s for another day) takes a lot of time. True fluency with understanding is going to take them, literally years. And during that time, we must help maintain their motivation to persevere. A love of books. Seeing that books are part of your life and will be part of theirs. Also, all the other things you read in a day – but it is #WorldBookDay! They will get their, they need time and space to practice. There is no rush. There will be peaks and plateaus – and all of this is ‘normal’. Pressure on parents/carers to make sure their children are ‘making normal progress’ can rob them of the joy in their children’s learning. And that is a dreadful shame.
So, love it! Relish it! Be frustrated by it some days and give up! There’s always tomorrow. You are starting them off on something wonderful and powerful. It’s just a tricky path to get there. They are lucky you are there.
A plea from my heart. When you’re reading with your child please DON’T:
- Cover the picture
- Ask them to ‘sound it out’ if the word is not spelled phonetically. (like, said, the or through – sound them out and it’s just gobbledegook!)
- Ever use it as a punishment
Thank you xx
If you happen to be reading this as a brand new teacher and facing the interminable list of ‘stuff I don’t know’ – take a deep breath and ask for help. You’re not supposed to know everything. In fact, if you think you already do, there’s a problem. Your training only goes so far. Your colleagues will help you. And, you never know everything. There’s always something else to learn. Not boring, infuriating policy and curriculum changes. But research findings, different ways of using the same resources and endless display ideas to steal! Exciting and overwhelming in equal measure. That’s why you can’t expect to do it alone. Ask.
You can do it. xx