Reading is powerful. We use reading every day to learn about the world around us and to discover new ideas. As a child, I struggled to read and it took me many years to catch up to my peers. That’s one of the reasons I’m happy to share recent research from I-LABS on how children learn to read and what we can do to support early literacy.
At I-LABS, we study how children’s brains develop for particular skills, like reading. What is happening in the brain when you are reading? When you see a word, your brain identifies a pattern. Then, it changes this visual image into a sound. Next, your brain connects this sound with it’s meaning. Amazingly, this sequence takes only a few hundred milliseconds! Through years of using language, we develop our ability to quickly match sounds with meaning. It is through training and practice that we strengthen our ability to quickly match sounds with meaning.
One of the most important skills for learning to read is called phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is the ability to identify and play with sounds in a language. Have you ever played a rhyming game where you named words like cat, rat, mat, sat, bat…? That’s phonological awareness in action! These skills begin early, as infants begin to hear the sounds of language. They continue to develop in preschool and early elementary years as children recognize the sounds that each letter makes.
Phonological awareness is an important part of learning to read. The good news is that children can improve these skills through practice! Practicing phonological includes segmenting the sounds of words and blending multiple sounds into words. For example, you might say, “c– and –at makes cat!” Research shows that phonics-based reading instruction promotes higher achievement for all students. It is also the best way to improve comprehension ability.
Here are four tips for caregivers who are supporting young readers:
- Read to children! Even if you don’t read the words on a page, tell a story about the pictures you see. Reading to and with children is a great way to boost pre-literacy skills. You can also make it fun! Sing songs or make funny sounds during story time.
- Play rhyming games! This is a fun way to build phonological awareness.
- Practice writing the letters of the alphabet with your child. You can also help your child learn to write their name.
- Play sound matching games with your child. This could be a scavenger hunt for things that start with the same sound, such as: “I spy something that starts with same sound as cloud!”… “Car!”…. “Carrot!”
For more information about the foundation and development of reading, please check out the I-LABS online training modules. These resources are freely available for anyone interested in child development.