Progress in Reading

From learning it to loving it

By Doris Ohlmann

Generally children learn to read between the ages of four and seven. Children who are still having difficulty reading in Grade 3 have a more difficult time catching up later. Learning to read begins with oral language skills that are usually effortlessly learned starting at home amidst the family. By being immersed in a familiar and comfortable environment where language is used appropriately on a daily basis, the child has numerous opportunities to begin their journey to learn language skills and eventually hone their reading skills and not only read to learn, but read for personal enjoyment.

Learning to talk is often a given, as long as the child hears, sees and interacts verbally on a regular basis. Reading is not so innate. Deciphering sounds and how they are formed through the symbols we use to communicate, generally the alphabet, is a process that occurs in the early years of a child’s education.

Those children who have difficulty reading early on will continue to struggle with reading throughout their school years if they are not identified early and given the extra support and instruction to become successful. Trouble with reading can lead to poor self-esteem, difficulty keeping up with their peers in the education system and perhaps even giving up on school altogether in later years.

Helping your children learn the basics of reading early on will build a strong foundation for your child’s literacy skills and success in the future. Schools help children learn to read by teaching the skills for reading on a continuous basis, offering more challenging reading materials as the child progresses from various reading levels, from emergent, early and transitional levels to self-extending/fluency and more advanced reading levels.

In the emergent and early reading level, children don’t actually read, but begin to understand that the symbols on a page mean something. Not only can the sounds and words they hear be spoken, but they can be read as well. Often a child will begin to “read” by memorizing text from a favourite story or book.

Teaching a child to begin to read involves a process of simplifying the symbols (letters) into a form that the child will gradually understand and build on to eventually learn to read.

Once they become confident in recognizing the various letters and how they are formed and joined together, reading becomes easier and their fluency increases. Recognizing texts that are patterned, predictable and interesting allows their reading comprehension to increase as they practice and progress from one stage to the next.

The booklet, Helping Your Child Learn to Read: A Parent’s Guide (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2001), is a practical resource for helping parents understand the developmental stages. It describes the characteristics of the beginning reader, the emergent reader, the early reader, and the fluent reader. It also offers tips for helping children learn to read. Instructional approaches to teaching reading include:

  • Phonics and word study
  • Read-aloud
  • Shared reading
  • Guided reading
  • Guided comprehension
  • Independent reading
  • Levelled texts: reading material that has been sorted according to level of difficulty so that children and teachers can select texts at the child’s current instructional reading level.

Young children show their understanding by doing, showing, and telling. Assessment strategies include watching, listening, and probing, to ensure the child understands what they are reading. Assessment includes gathering, recording, and analyzing information about a child’s knowledge and skills and, where appropriate, providing descriptive feedback to help the child improve.

Schools monitor the reading abilities of children by measuring their progress against PM Benchmarks and CASI reading comprehension levels. PM Benchmarks are comprehensive reading assessment kits that enable teachers to accurately assess and level their pupils reading ability. CASI, or Computerized Access to Support and Information, and Diagnostic Reading Assessment (DRA) results help them assess the students reading comprehension levels.

Once the child has grasped the concept of reading, has practised fluency in reading, and begins to understand and make connections from the reading and can offer personal insights and reflections on the text, the child no longer is learning to read, but reading to learn and hopefully for pleasure as well.

Helping your children to read early, alongside the work teachers perform at school to aid their progress, will not only ensure your children have a strong foundation of literacy skills to help them as they continue their education, but will form a bond between you that will foster understanding and a lifelong love of reading for your entire family. Show your children that reading and writing are a part of everyday life and can be fun and enjoyable.
Source: Early Reading Strategy: The Report of the Expert Panel on Early Reading in Ontario, 2003. Available on the Ministry of Education’s website at
Doris Ohlmann is a mother of two, and freelance writer specializing in parenting, health, education, and safety issues.

How kids read to learn

Children improve their oral language skills and begin to enjoy reading by:

  • Watching others read.
  • Enjoying and discussing a variety of books that are read aloud by others.
  • Experiencing and pretending to read predictable and familiar books, alphabet books, poems, rhymes, and more.
  • Acting out stories, retelling familiar stories, and singing songs.
  • Sharing experiences with adults and talking about those experiences.
  • Observing print in the environment and connecting print with spoken words and their meaning.
  • Understanding that a book has a front and a back.
  • Recognizing that words are made up of sounds, and manipulating those sounds through rhyming games, sound substitution games, alliterations, and more.
  • Building new vocabulary through books, experiences, and interactions.
  • The ease and speed with which a child progresses from learning to read to reading to learn will depend on several factors, including:
  • Exposure to a rich language environment in the preschool years, with plenty of storytelling, conversation, books, and encouragement to ask and answer questions.
  • The quality and quantity of reading instruction in the early school years.
  • Focused early intervention for those who are at risk of reading failure.
  • Ongoing support from the family and community.
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