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Developing Reading Skills in Young Children

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By Diana Moore, M.L.S.

Why do some children have difficulties learning to read?

Individuals who are most at-risk for reading difficulties are those who enter school with limited exposure to oral language interactions and little prior understanding of concepts related to the sounds of our language, letter knowledge, print awareness, and general verbal skills. Children raised in poverty, with limited proficiency in English, speech and hearing impairments, or from homes where little reading takes place are especially at-risk for reading failure. However, there are a substantial number of children who have had substantial exposure to language, literacy interactions, and opportunities to learn to read who have significant difficulties acquiring reading skills. Whether the causes are environmental or genetic in nature, the reading problems occur due to deficits in phoneme awareness, phonics development, reading fluency, reading comprehension, or combinations of these.

Can reading problems be prevented?

Most children can learn to read if difficulties are detected in kindergarten and first grade and the appropriate early interventions are applied. Prevention and early intervention programs that teach phoneme awareness and phonics skills and develop reading contexts where children have an opportunity to practice skills are more beneficial than approaches that are less structured and direct. Help needs to be provided before nine years of age; after that time, children respond more poorly to reading instruction.

What can parents do to ensure that their children develop a strong foundation for reading?

The most important thing that parents can do is talk and read to their children. During the toddler and preschool years it is critical to provide children with many different language and reading experiences that are playful and fun, to include nursery rhymes and rhyming games to expose youngsters to the sounds of our language, lap-time reading, and bed-time reading. It is critical that young children observe their parents reading and learn why reading is so important in our lives. A major thing to remember is to make all of the language and literacy interactions in the home positive and enjoyable experiences.

Comments from readers

"hi my son is 8 and is having a hard time reading i read some of your suggestions like phonemic awareness to teach kids to read what is my best option on helping my son to read i feel really sad for him and i want to do everything i can to help him also tried to get a tutor to assist but so expensive is there some books or something else i should be looking for to help him i would appreciate any suggestions you may have thanks"