Kinderling Radio interview: Starting School and Learning to Read

The start of formal full-time education for kids and parents is a life-changing stage, and on top of all the scheduling changes for the family it is also a huge developmental year which can come with a lot of pressure, especially if it a parent’s first child to go through school.

You can hear the podcast from my chat with Shevonne Hunt here and read my tips below.

Kinderling Radio Podcast

By the time of their first year of formal school education, most children have naturally developed language skills and knowledge. They are usually familiar with books and the alphabet, writing and drawing and many know how to write their own name and a few children may already read some high use, small common words.

This first year is all about building and solidifying those skills in preparation for the following years. The rates and abilities of students is extremely varied, and this is where many parents can become anxious about how their child is developing, particularly in the area of reading as it is the foundation of all learning and comprehension.

The best tip for parents I think is to know that your child is being supported at school by trained professionals who understand the science of childhood learning and development, so unless you are interested in delving into mountains of research, I found more practical tips help to support a child’s first year at school.

1. Don’t over-think it.

Parents teach their children skills everyday and reading is no different. Parents have been doing it for years. Parents successfully teach their kids to eat with a spoon, use a potty, keep their fingers out of their noses, and say “please.” These things can be taught pleasantly, or they can be made into a painful chore. Being unpleasant (e.g. yelling, punishing, pressuring) doesn’t work, and it can be frustrating for everyone. This notion applies to teaching literacy, too. If your child tries to write their name and ends up with a backwards “D”, no problem. No pressure. No hassle. You should enjoy the journey, and so should your child.

2. Talk to your kids (a lot).

Reading is a language activity, and if you want to learn language, you should hear it. Don’t be afraid to use a wide vocabulary with your young child, the worst thing that could happen is that they ask you to explain what it means. Having them feel comfortable asking questions is a good thing.

3. Keep reading to your kids

Just because they are at school doesn’t mean they won’t want you to read to them at night. If a bedtime story has been a part of your night time routine then keep going. My 11 year old still loves to be read to at night but now we take turns in reading chapters from novels rather than just picture books. This is so rewarding and a lovely way to end the day. I have enjoyed reading some contemporary stories and have also been able to share some of my favourite books this way.

4.  Have them tell you a “story.”

I have touched on this briefly before when I have spoken about teaching kids to write stories, but it is also relevant for when kids are just learning to read. Have them recount an experience or make up a story. Write it as it is being told, and then read it aloud. Point at the words when you read them, or point at them when your child is trying to read the story. Over time, with lots of rereading, your child starts to recognize words.  

5. Create and awareness for phonics (letter names and their sounds).

You can’t sound out words or write them without knowing the letter sounds. Most kindergartens teach the letters, and parents can teach them, too. Bring this into everyday life. Think of other words that might rhyme with their name. Sound out words on street signs or at the shops, they can start to look at this like an eye-spy game rather than sitting at a table and learning.

6. Listen to your child read.

When your child starts bringing books home from school, have them read to you. There will be many hours of this let me tell you, and there can be a temptation to jump in too early and correct them, but allow them room to make mistakes.  Studies show that this kind of repeated oral reading makes students better readers, even when it is done at home.

7. Promote writing.

Literacy involves reading and writing. It doesn’t matter if they use pencils, crayons, markers or paints. Encourage your child to write. One way to do this is to write notes or short letters to each other or integrate it in an art activity. Writing is writing no matter what form or function.

8. Ask questions.

When your child reads, get them to recount the story. If it’s a story, ask who it was about and what happened. If it’s an informational text, have your child explain what it was about and how it worked, or what its parts were. Reading involves not just sounding out words, but thinking about and remembering ideas and events. Improving reading comprehension skills early will prepare them for subsequent success in more difficult texts.

9. Let your child see you read.

While most of us love to read a novel before bed when all is quiet, it is great for kids to see you read for enjoyment also rather than for work or practical reasons. Promote discussion about what your favourite types of books are or were growing up. Kids love hearing stories about you as a child. Promoting a literacy rich home is a family activity.

10. If your child struggles with learning to read.

There are many reasons why some kids take to reading and books quickly and why others show little interest or find it difficult. I have 1 child that reads for necessity and 1 that is a good reader, but then she struggled to begin with until we realised she needed glasses. It wasn’t that she couldn’t read it was that the glasses helped her to see the smaller connecting words like it, is, the, in which help with comprehension. You should keep your communication open with your child’s teacher so that any hurdles can be identified early and strategies be employed. There are no rules about when your child has to be a confident independent reader, the trick is to identify the way your child enjoys learning and then work with those methods.

And if you don’t yet have a school-aged child remember.

You can’t introduce literacy too early. I started reading to my own from children the days they were born!

Helpful website:

The Raising Children website has tips and hints for parents on developing literacy in children of all ages.