'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 12 November 2010

Life's Little Miracle... Learning to Read

image: Child Online
There is nothing quite like reading a story to a group of children and their delighted giggles as they ‘get’ it. Or a child so immersed in a book she is caught inside an imaginary world, fighting dragons or bullies alongside a fictional character. Or the delight on a child’s face when he reads and understands his first book all by himself?

How did you learn to read? Did it happen without even you being aware? Or was it a daily struggle to decipher clumps of alphabet letters on the page whilst relying on picture clues?
This is the way it has been for young children ever since learning to read became a required skill.

That it happens at all is a miracle when you understand how much this skill relies on the intricate balances involved – the wiring of the brain and its electrical connections, and the whole body’s physical growth and development, i.e. a child’s maturity.

Then add into the equation how that individual child learns best. It could be through visual and/or aural discrimination – i.e. noticing differences and similarities between letters; or it could be through a tactile sense of letter shapes only remembered through the fingertips.

Just to confuse the issue – factor in visual/aural memory. Is a child able to remember the shapes and sounds of letters? Does the child understand that a particular shape has a particular sound? Now confuse it all by combining that shape with another shape to change its sound.

Okay, now bring in one of the hardest things of all ... a child’s own awareness of what they can and can’t do. Yes, good old self-esteem! If you can’t do something that someone else the same age (or even younger) can do, how would you feel if you were 5, 6 or 7?

See the problem here? What happens when an already work-overloaded teacher tries to teach 25+ children to read, all the same way at the same time? Twenty-five little bodies whose physical, intellectual, social-emotional skills are each developing at their own rate and in his/her own way. And this isn’t even factoring in that boys in these early years are at least six months developmentally behind girls. They physically cannot sit still for long! Yes, I’m making a statement here!

These are the reasons I think of ‘learning to read’ as a miracle. For the majority of children, it happens. For others, it takes a little longer before the ‘penny drops’. For some children it requires more individual and skilled help from a professional – someone who (hopefully) finds out first how that child learns best, and then guides the process, step-by-step.

As parents, we can encourage our children to enjoy the process of learning to read. The little take-home readers are fine for confidence building and repetition, and libraries are full of brilliant, enjoyable picture books for young children. Read stories to your kids! Practice your reading-aloud voice so you don’t ‘kill the words’. Let them see you reading for enjoyment too. Turn off the TV occasionally and have a ‘LOVING BOOKS TIME’ – where everyone shares what they’re reading.

These are some of the things we can do to encourage the miracle of learning to read.

Yours in the love of books,


Before Sheryl became a children’s author, she was an Early Childhood-trained teacher for several years and then an Adult Literacy teacher. The skills, ideology and passion for Early Childhood Development Principles learned and developed during her training and years of contact with young children, she still believes are right and true. Learn more about Sheryl here.

Want to know more why many people are passionate about the world of Early Childhood? Visit earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au