Have you ever wondered, how children learn to read? Does it come naturally to them or can kindergarten teachers be entirely credited for making our children literate? With all the rules of grammar and phonics coupled with confusing shapes of alphabets, how do children really learn to read and spell at such a young age?
All children eventually learn to read when exposed to sufficient learning material, although each has a different pace of learning. The learning process starts at birth. When a baby is born, it starts absorbing information from its environment, grasping it, decoding and forming a basis for its understanding. It especially picks up the parents’ language by paying attention to their voices and the sounds they make. A child learns from hearing spoken language, learning alphabets and their sounds with the help of an adult’s guidance, ultimately being able to read words. A child must learn a language himself as well as be taught the same. However, while it is not difficult for children to naturally learn spoken language, they need an external stimuli to help them to read. The knowledge of phonics is of crucial importance in this process. This may only be hindered in case no source of deliberate learning is available due to a lack of a tutor, learning disability or deafness that prevents hearing of sounds and voices.
Children: Learning to Read
The ability to read requires the combination of:
- Understanding of the sounds for each alphabet.
- Understanding of the meaning of words and phrases.
Adopting a two-way approach helps children decode words and distinguish them from each other. They learn to associate sounds with letters and comprehend the meaning of different words, which facilitates reading. Since, while reading a storybook, a child may not necessarily be familiar with every word, this learning process helps them to pronounce unfamiliar words and even helps them understand the syntax of the sentence. The sound-letter relationship also assists children in spelling words, that otherwise may not be known to them, by understanding their phonics. Hence, phonics plays an important role in helping a child to learn how to read. A child first learns to recognize and manipulate the sounds of letters before he learns to read. They put together letters and read the words formed by making use of the sound associated with each letter. Children with learning disabilities face problems in this stage. They fail to correctly identify letters, words and their sounds which makes it difficult for them to learn to read. Almost 14% Americans have a learning disability. A child suffering from this condition is not blessed with a neural function that can distinguish between similar sounds and hence, they learn slowly as compared to their counterparts who do not suffer from the same disability.
How Does Learning Take Place?
Believe it or not, a child’s social environment has immense significance in developing language skills, including reading, speaking, writing and spelling. Children learn from the behavior of people that surround them. Since there are diverse languages spoken in our world, a child is likely to pick up that language it is most exposed to. They start communicating in this language, neglecting all others spoken around them.
In fact, most of us don’t remember the language learning process we went through as children. When a child learns to read, it is a constant and conscious effort. It is never easy and is practiced all the time to be able to communicate with others. When children begin decoding and comprehending words and sounds, if they are schooled or exposed to books, they begin learning to read with the help of guidance and instructions from a teacher or another adult who tutors them. When a book is read to a child, he or she tries to associate the sounds with the shape of alphabets on the paper and decodes their meaning. Hence, it is encouraged that stories are read to a child during bedtime from their storybook. It enables them later on, to go back to the same books that they have become familiar with and attempt reading them until they finally learn to read the text fluently. Also, children’s books are very attractive with colorful pictures and an interesting storyline. This further motivates them to keep reading for recreational value. Graphical representation helps children associate words with a descriptive image that further enhances the understanding of their meaning and enrich their vocabulary.
Even as adults, we do not stop learning a language. In simple words, we keep refining our language skills through learning. To help familiarize children with words, it is advisable that while reading a book to a child, the narrator points out each word on the page, to the child, while reading it aloud simultaneously. Putting a finger under a word helps bring a child’s attention to it and associate the sound of the word with the letters in its spelling. Just as important as the preschool years are for teaching kids to read, if you want to quicken that phenomenon, send him to school where he is properly tutored by a professional.