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7 Effective Ways to Boost Your Child’s Early Reading Skills

When your child does not progress with their learning in primary school it can be a real worry especially in the early years and whilst it is commonly said that children’s reading and spelling skills do tend to even out as they grow do follow your instincts and talk to your child’s teachers.  In the meantime these are a few very effective ways you can help your child to develop their early reading skills at home.

1. Read to them

The benefits of reading to your child cannot be underestimated at any age from birth into teenage years and beyond.  It not only boosts their phonological awareness development but also helps develop their attention span, their imagination, their understanding of the process of reading, their vocabulary, etc. the educational benefits are endless.  It also benefits them emotionally and creates an opportunity for bonding with you.

In the early reading stage as well as ordinary picture book stories, reading nursery rhymes poems and rhyming stories has huge advantages on their developing phonological awareness – their understanding of linguistic sounds. When reading make sure the book is positioned so that your child can see the pictures and the words.

These rhyming books, poems and nursery rhymes ideally need to be read repeatedly (in an enjoyable way), even to the point of your child being able to either recite them or but just getting them to the point that they can say the last word in the rhyme will be a great start. Talk about how the words rhyme, look at the words and show how the start of the words change but the end stays the same (for this choose two words spelt the same such as ‘mat’ and ‘cat’ rather than ‘mane’ and ‘pain’. 

2. Support their letter/sound understanding

I highly suggest buying a set or two of lower case letters, wooden sets can be ordered from places like Amazon but the ones I use are colourful magnetic foam letters which can be purchased from Smart Kids. They also make the letters in the form of joined up graphemes. 

These are really useful and fun to help with learning, you can play a variety of games with these but make sure you only use the sounds already learnt unless advised otherwise by their teacher. You could hide them around the house or in a container of rice, etc. and ask your child to find them and say them, place them on a magnetic surface or on the floor and use a fly swat/rolled up piece of paper to swat certain sounds, throw them into a bowl/saucepan while saying the sound, etc.  

Using the sounds/letters that your child is familiar with, arrange them in 2 or three letter words, sound them out and blend the sounds to make a word. Then change the first letter to produce a rhyming word, play like this with different letters and sounds and make up short poems around them.  As a mother of three boys, I know only too well the amusement that can come from talking about poo, wee, farts, etc.  so if you feel comfortable doing so, include some of these mildly rude words in the rhyming play to entertain and make the experience even more fun and memorable for them.

3. Jump to the beat

Jump to or clap to the beats (syllables) in words. Listening out for syllables in words and clapping each one will help your child get a greater understanding of the sound structure of language. You can make a game for instance, start your child off at one side of the room/ garden, flick through a picture book and say the names of people/ animals/objects and for each word they jump forwards on each syllable. E.g. mouse is one syllable so one jump, tiger is two syllables so two jumps and hippopotamus is five syllables so five jumps.

4. Make table mats

Ask their teacher for a list of all the sounds they have learnt and the tricky words they know and write them down on a piece of paper.  You can then laminate it (a laminator can be bought online from around £20 and the pouches for around £10 per 100) and use it as a table mat or put it somewhere prominent in a room your family use daily. You can do this to reinforce all manner of learning points and even when they don’t feel like playing a learning game, they will be exposed to the learning anyway.

5. Draw or make the letters

Get your child to practice their letter formation skills with a pencil or pen on paper, or a board marker pen on any wipe clean surface including the fridge or window.  They could also write it using a stick in sand, chalk on tarmac or a paint brush in paint or water.  Ensure they are using the correct letter formation technique when they practice as getting this learnt by muscle memory in the early stages will make writing much easier as they grow up.

They can also make letters themselves out of playdough or pipe cleaners and this will help to reinforce their understanding of letter orientation. Do be sure they are saying the sounds of the letters when writing or making them and don’t be tempted to skip ahead to letter names until their teacher says it is appropriate to do so.

6. Play ball

Using ball pool balls, these can also be purchased online relatively cheaply, write sounds, short words or tricky words onto the balls using a permeant marker (it should come off when washed) and make games of throwing and catching the ball or aiming them into a bucket or bin while saying what is written on the ball.  This game can have multiple players and to keep it fun you can insist they use different voices, such as a shout, whisper, like a pirate, etc.  By playing these games you are also developing their gross motor skills, hand/eye coordination and throwing ability.

7. Get the TV to help you

For when they need down time the television can be used as a learning aid.  Just by putting the subtitles on your child can watch television and improve their sight reading abilities.  It can take some adjusting to but just by repeatedly exposing them to the written words their learning will benefit. 

Remember if you have any comments of questions about this or any other area of your child’s learning then head over to my group, Raising Confident Dyslexic Children, a thriving and welcoming community of parents where we and discuss information on dyslexia and  share tips and ideas of how to support our children’s learning.

Author: Zoë Brown

I am a dyslexia specialist, qualified in assessing dyslexia and literacy related difficulties as well as tutoring dyslexic children and those who need additional literacy support. Having been diagnosed as dyslexic at an early age, I have a personal understanding of both the challenges and advantages that dyslexia brings. I feel strongly that when given the right support and positive encouragement, dyslexic people of all ages can excel in confidence and academic attainment.

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