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Dad helping child learn to read

Learning to read is an important life skill. Here’s how you can help little ones who are just starting out

After your hundredth rendition of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, you might find yourself wishing your little one had less of an interest in hearing the same stories over and over. But sharing books is a great start to your child’s literacy. Not only is reading an important life-long skill, but studies show a love of stories from a young age affects later life too. “Reading for pleasure and engaging in books is a good indicator for future success at school,” says Charlotte Billington, Early Years Project Manager at the National Literacy Trust.

Here are eight ways to help your little one learn to read. Are you sitting comfortably? Let’s begin…

1. Know when they’re ready to start

All children develop at different rates, but there are certain signs that they’re ready to start reading. “Early indicators include an interest in singing and rhyming, with children starting to jump in and finish the end of songs or rhymes,” says Charlotte. “The next stage is linking sounds with letters – they may start recognising their own name when it’s written down, or the first letter of words. That’s when you know reading can begin to happen.”

2. Bond over a bedtime story

Sharing a story with your little one at bedtime makes it easy to fit reading into your daily routine. “It’s also a great way to wind down after a long day and bond with your child,” says Charlotte. “But don’t feel guilty if you work late or it’s not possible every night – there are plenty of times you can share a story throughout the day too.”

3. Look around you

There are always opportunities to help your little one pick up words. “When you’re sitting on the bus you can look out for road and shop signs, or read shopping lists together when you’re at the supermarket,” says Charlotte.

4. Feel confident

Your attitude towards reading can have a big impact on your little one’s. “Parents’ confidence is key,” says Charlotte. “Parents can end up with a lack of confidence about their reading ability after a negative experience of reading or if they don’t feel they have the best literacy skills themselves.”

But don’t worry if this sounds familiar – the more engaged you are with a book or story, the more interested your child will be, and you definitely don’t need an expert reading voice. Kids will simply respond to your enthusiasm – especially when silly voices are involved!

5. Embrace technology

More than 97% of parents have access to a touch screen, so it’s no surprise that technology plays an increasing part in children’s learning. “Our research has found that boys and disadvantaged children – who are typically less engaged – are using tablets to start reading,” says Charlotte. “We reckon that technology can help build reading skills as well as providing a new platform for engaging stories.” There are lots of good literacy apps to choose from, so next time you have to resort to your phone or iPad to keep your child amused, you can feel safe in the knowledge that it can help their early reading too.

6. Help them learn new words

Children learn words through talking and listening, which builds the foundation for later reading and writing skills. “Take every opportunity to introduce new words,” says Charlotte. “If your child says, ‘Look at that big car’, you can help build their vocabulary by saying, ‘Oh yes, it’s enormous, isn’t it?’” Charlotte recommends playing games like Simon Says to expand their vocabulary.

7. Get to grips with phonics

When your child is ready to start school they will learn to read through a method called ‘phonics’, which is probably different to how you remember learning. “Phonics is the building up of individual sounds within words,” says Charlotte. Different schools teach phonics in different ways, so it’s best to wait until they are in school before starting at home. “Ask their teacher first if it’s okay to continue their phonics learning outside of school – you don’t want to confuse your child by teaching them one way if the school is teaching them another,” says Charlotte. “Teachers are great at working with parents, so see what ideas they have.” If you’d like to find out more about how phonics works, watch this helpful video.

8. Tap into your child’s interests

Some children might not show any interest in reading. “Don’t force it if they’re not engaged or they may start to resent it,” says Charlotte. “Instead, build on their current interest and weave reading around it to make it feel fun.” This can be anything from fun craft projects to writing out the names of their favourite superheroes. It can be harder if you don’t love reading yourself. “If you can find an angle that you’re enthusiastic about as a parent, your child will enjoy it much more as well,” adds Charlotte.

Ready to get going? You can browse more than 200 recommended books on the National Literacy Trust’s website, shop for preschool books on Tesco Direct, or speak to your local librarian for advice on age-appropriate books. Happy reading!

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