Building reading skills one sound, one letter, at a time

Reading like “the big kids” begins with little steps and lots of practice. Just like walking and talking, learning to read—and read well—involves a series of milestones and subtle connections.

G. Reid Lyon, in an article titled, “Why Some Children Have Difficulties Learning to Read,” for the free Reading Rockets newsletter, notes that “…learning to read begins far before children enter formal schooling. Children who have stimulating literacy experiences from birth onward have an edge in vocabulary development, understanding the goals of reading, and developing an awareness of print and literary concepts.”

A number of parents have posted valuable comments to Lyon’s article, citing examples of contributing factors in their own kids’ reading difficulties. Lyon also cites research suggest that “deficits in the development of phoneme awareness skills not only predict difficulties learning to read, but they also have a negative effect on reading acquisition. Whereas phoneme awareness is necessary for adequate reading development, it is not sufficient. Children must also develop phonics concepts and apply these skills fluently in text.”

What are phonemes? Carol Bainbridge, gifted children expert for About Parenting, provides this definition: “A phoneme is the smallest meaningful unit of sound in a language. A meaningful sound is one that will change one word into another word.” She further explains that a single letter can have multiple sounds, noting that the k in “skin” is softer than the k in “kin.” Bainbridge writes, “Shortly after birth, a baby begins to learn the phonemes of the language sued around him.”

Phonics, on the other hand, involves recognizing, putting together, and sounding out letters, letter groups, and syllables. That’s why talking and reading to babies, toddlers, and children of every age is so important. The more they hear language in use, the more they will pick up both basic and more complex variations.

One way to begin the building blocks is with building blocks. Remember those beautiful, classic wooden blocks with the letters of the alphabet on them? Uncle Goose makes a gorgeous set.. Or try the Alphabet Express Workbook & Software combo to give lots of practice in writing letters and working with letter sounds.

Seeking “stimulating literary experiences” for preschoolers and kindergartners? Try the Start to Read! series, storybooks with a wide range of relatable themes and lively illustrations Most titles are available in paperback as well as the most popular of e-formats. Many of the Start to Read! offerings are also preloaded on the Little Scholar® learning tablet.

Phonics Made Easy, an app for ages 6 and up, is available on Android, Mac, and iPad, or as a Windows download. Second and third graders will benefit from Phonics Review 2-3. The workbook focuses on consonants, vowels, blends (such as st, sn, and sw), silent letters, and more.

Also encourage your already-reading child to read to a younger sibling or neighbor. Provide an easy-to-read book, and let your child share it. This will both build his or her confidence as a reader and demonstrate the rewards of sharing and helping