How to read to your young child - Reading Strategies

Teaching children about reading strategies is equipping them with tools to solve reading problems. Using reading strategies effectively will help children become confident, fluent and expressive readers who develop a love of reading.

children readingWelcome to my second blog in the series “How to read to your young child” This blog outlines the strategies (or tools) that children need, to decode (work out) words that they are unsure about while reading. All these strategies need to be developed to enable the child to become an efficient reader.

In my experience, most parents tend to focus on one or two strategies to help their child work out a word. These are usually “Sound it out” or just tell the child what the word is straight away. Unfortunately neither one is helpful to the child!!

Why we never say “Sound it out” to a child

“Sound it out” was a familiar statement used by many teachers and parents in the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s. It requires the child to look at each letter in a word and say the corresponding sound. The English language is a complicated one. There are many spelling rules that we follow; however, there are many exceptions to these rules. It is a phonetically irregular language that doesn’t always follow the expected pattern.

Consider the word ‘rough’ - How would a child sound this word out? If they did, it would sound completely different to what the word really is. Then there is the other problem of letter patterns changing their sound from word to word. If you think of the ‘sound chunk’ ough; does it have the same sound in the following words; thought, dough, through, drought?

“Sounding it out” really confuses beginning readers and struggling readers. It is not a successful strategy in working out unknown words.

Why we do not tell the child the word straight away

Usually if a child cannot “sound an unknown word out” the parent resorts to telling them the word. This really limits a child’s ability and offers them no alternatives to problem solve the word for themselves. What happens if you were not there? Would the child have any idea as to how they could work out the word?

Now let’s look at the reading strategies that will benefit your child. I like to think of these as tools for your child’s reading toolbox. Each tool has a different purpose and when used correctly can help a child solve an unknown word successfully.

Strategy Number 1: Look at the picture

Encourage your child to look at the picture to help them work out what the text might be. In simple books, the texts match the pictures exactly. As the books get more complex, the pictures still relate to the text but they do not always show everything that is written in the text.

blue sheep

Text relating very strongly to the picture – excerpt taken from “Where is the Green Sheep” by Mem Fox




This is one of the first strategies that your child should become an expert at. Many parents tell me that they cover the picture when their child reads so the child doesn’t “cheat” by looking at the picture. Looking at the picture is a very efficient problem solving strategy for beginning readers. If a child is reading and gets stuck on a word, tell them to look at the picture carefully and try reading the sentence again.

Tip for parents: Do a picture walk through the book with the child before reading the text. This means you talk about each picture with your child and you may focus your child on a particular aspect of the picture that will come up in the text. This will emphasise to your child the importance of pictures in a book.

Strategy Number 2: Get your mouth ready

This strategy is another great one for beginning readers. Using this strategy with the strategy of looking at the pictures will help your child think of a word that makes sense in the sentence. Getting your child to make the initial sound with their mouth will help the word “pop” out if they are reading in a smooth reading voice.

For example if the sentence is “A sheep lives on a farm” and your child is stuck on the word ‘farm’, encourage them to make the first sound of the word (f) with their mouth and it may just come out if they are listening to what they are reading. If they have stopped reading, give them the instruction to get their mouth in position to make the first sound and then tell them to have another go at the sentence and this time try not to stop.

Tip for parents: Encourage your child to read like they talk. A lot of children resort to a “robot type” reading which stops the child from understanding what they are reading as it is very disjointed. You want them to read, like they are talking so when they come to a word they don’t know and they get their mouth ready to make the first sound, it will usually just come out.

Strategy Number 3: Does it make sense?

The main goal of reading is for the child to comprehend (understand) what he/she is reading. They constantly need to be reminded that if they read something that doesn’t sound right, that they need to have another go at reading it. Parents can help with this by asking them if what they read made sense. By the parent repeating what the child said , they will be able to hear that what they said does not make sense. This is a strategy that develops over time as their reading ability improves.

Tip for parents: Record your child reading on your phone, iPad or any other recording device. Let your child watch it and ask them to comment on what they did well and what they could do better. Children love watching themselves and this can be a powerful tool to teach them how important it is to listen to how they read while they read.

Strategy Number 4: Sound chunks

This is a strategy used to help the child look at the entire word to see if they can use any prior knowledge they have about the sounds that letters make together or prefixes (letters added to the beginning of a word e.g. un, dis, in) or suffixes (letters added to the end of words e.g. ed, ing, less) Parents can help the child locate these in an unknown word.

Parents tip: Always try to get the child to come up with the word by asking the right questions. This will lead them to ask their own questions to themselves while reading if this is a common practice that you do with them. For example “Do you notice anything at the end of the word? ”

Strategy Number 5 : Little words in a big word

A lot of words in our language are made up of smaller words. Children can look for known words in a larger word to help them work out the entire word. Using this strategy with the “Does it make sense” strategy can help your child  work out a word.

Parents Tip: The child needs to have a good knowledge of sight words (words that are rote learnt by sight) to be efficient at this strategy. Practice sight words often with your child and encourage them to find them in texts that they are reading. Examples of sight words are; I, am, in, on, look, like, here, there, is, it,

Above all, reading needs to be enjoyable. If you find that your child is struggling on every second or third word, the book is too hard for them. We want children to be challenged but also experience a sense of accomplishment. Too often I hear about the arguments family’s experience to get their child to want to read each night (or day). Give your children time to develop their reading. Pushing harder books onto them too early will do more damage than good.

When a child finishes reading a book make sure you praise them for using some strategies to work out unknown words. Flick back to the page or pages that they worked out a word on and show them what they did again. Emphasis how proud you are of them that they are working out words independently.

If your child has tried to work out the word by using different strategies and they were unsuccessful, the parent can say the word and ask the child to reread that sentence.

Thank you for taking the time to read my second blog from the series “How to read to your young child”. I will be finishing off this series next week with my blog “What to read with your young child”

If you liked this blog and found it informative and useful please share it with your friends and family. I look forward to hearing any thoughts or comments that you have.

Until next time …….

Kelly Pisani

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How to read with your young child - Print concepts

Reading a book with your little one is a time honoured tradition that many households continue today. Sharing a book can open your child’s mind to imaginative worlds or help them discover facts about something in our world. 

readingAs a primary school teacher, I am often asked many questions about the best strategies to use when listening to a child read or about what aspects to focus on when reading to a child. There is a lot of information about learning to read so I thought I would break it up into three blogs in a series titled “How to read with your young child”. This is the first blog of the series focusing on Print concepts.

In order for children to read they need to know how a book works. This is what teachers call “Print Concepts”. Most children are expected to know about some of these concepts prior to starting school, while others are developed through Kindergarten and Year 1. In NSW schools, children are tested on their knowledge of Print Concepts at the beginning of Kindergarten, end of Kindergarten, Year 1 and at any other point for “at risk” readers (children not meeting benchmarks). It is important for parents to have a good understanding about Print Concepts in order to help develop their child’s understanding of them. Most parents refer to print concepts while reading to their child without even realising it.

For children aged 2 to 7 years old it is important to articulate the print concepts every time you read to your child. Talking about how a book works, engages your child in a conversation with you, which will help deepen their understanding of reading.

Below is a list of the print concepts that children should understand in the early phases of learning to read.

1. Can locate the front of the book

This is a fairly simple one but children only become confident with this if they have lots and lots of experiences with books. They need to watch you locate the front as well as pointing it out to you while they are handling the book.

Ideas to try for this concept

  • Hand the child the book in different ways and see if they can turn the book into the right position ready to read
  • Ask the child to point to the front of the book, the back of the book and the spine of the book
  • Ask the child where the name of the book is (title)
  • Ask the child what does an author do and what an illustrator does. See if they can locate the names on the front cover, if not, show them
  • Ask the child to open the book to where the story begins

2. Knows the difference between a picture and words

This is another basic concept that needs to be known before a child can learn to read. They need to understand the idea of the print carrying the message and the picture supporting the print.

Ideas to try for this concept

  • Ask the child to point to the picture and describe what is happening in the picture
  • Point out interesting parts of the picture that is written about in the print
  • Focus the child’s attention on the words and explain that we read the words on a page
  • Ask the child where they (or a parent) would start reading from (as long as they point to any text, they understand this concept)

3. The direction of reading

Children who have had a lot of exposure to books would already understand that the text is what is being read. The next concept would be to understand where we start reading from and which direction we read in.

Ideas to try for this concept

  • A parent points out which page they would read first (left, then right) A parent could ask the child this question before they start reading. eg Can you point to the page that I read first
  • If there is more than one block of text on the page, a parent could ask the child what words do I read first? (top then bottom)
  • The parent points out what word they read first and use their finger to show the direction that they will be reading on the first line (child can copy by running their finger under the first line of text from left to right)
  • The parent points out what happens when they finish reading the first line (sweep around to the start of the next line) Again the child can copy with their finger showing the return sweep.
  • Ask the child what happens when you have read both pages (turn the page and start with the left page again)

4. The difference between a letter and a word

Many parents are overjoyed when their child can read a word from a flash card or read a word written by itself on a piece of paper or on a whiteboard. This is a big achievement but what is even better, is if they can point out this word in context (within a sentence or story). Reading is a complicated skill and children rely on adults to be clear about literacy to help them develop their own meaning. We need to guide them in understanding that letters make sounds and putting letters together make words and putting words together make sentences. This is a concept that takes a while to understand.

Ideas to try for this concept

  • A parent points out a letter in a word. They ask questions like: Do you know what the name of this letter is? Do you know what sound this letter makes?
  • A parent points out a word in a sentence. They ask questions like: How many words are in this sentence? How many words are on this page?
  • Child points to the first word, last word, a word starting with a particular letter
  • Give the child two cards and ask them to use them as curtains that open (pull cards apart from each other) and close (put the cards next to each other) to show a letter in a word and a word in a sentence.

5. One to One Correspondence

Children need to learn that each word on the page represents each word that is read. The child needs to be able to point to each word when the corresponding word is read by their parent or themselves.

Ideas to try for this concept

  • Get the child to point with their index finger under each word that is read
  • Get the child to use a pointer or pencil under each word that is read

6. Understanding of simple punctuation

Children need to see that there are other aspects of text that help the reader to read. The use of punctuation helps the reader, read fluently and with expression

Ideas to try for this concept

  • A parent can point to the full stop and tell the child why we use full stops (to indicate the end of a sentence)
  • A parent can point to a question mark and tell the child why we use a question mark. (to indicate a question has been asked)
  • A parent can point to a exclamation mark and tell the child why we use an exclamation mark ( to emphasise something)
  • A parent can point to speech marks/quotation marks and tell the child why use speech marks (to indicate a character is talking)

The main focus of teaching your child to read is having lots and lots of conversation about it. Not only are you reading the text but also teaching your child how a book works.

I hope you have found this first blog in the series “How to read with your young child” useful and informative. The next blog will be about Strategies to help your child work out an unknown word while reading.

Thank you for taking the time to read my first blog. I look forward to hearing any thoughts or comments that you have.

Until next time …….

Kelly Pisani

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