How do schools teach children to read?
Like many things, approaches to teaching reading go in and out of fashion. If you have several children with a number of years between them, you may find that each child is taught in a different way.
The three most common approaches in the earliest stages of reading are 'phonics', 'whole word' and 'real language'.
This is the approach currently used in schools in England. Recent research suggests that a phonics approach to reading is the most successful for the majority of children.
Phonics focuses on building words from sounds. As soon as children learn a very few sounds, they can join the sounds together to read three-letter words and simple sentences such as: The big cat sat on the red bed.
The biggest advantage to this approach is that children can begin to read fairly quickly and they can read words that they have never seen before. This makes phonics a very powerful tool for reading.
In the 'whole word' approach, children are taught to recognise words on flashcards. Generally, the approach is that children are given flashcards of the words they will need to read a reading book.
Once they have learned to recognise these words, they're given a reading book that practises the words while new words for the next reading book are introduced.
The biggest advantage to this approach is that children can quickly read more interesting sentences with more interesting words.
The disadvantage is that children only know words they have memorised – they don't have skills to work out words they haven't yet seen.
The real language approach works on the basis that children can most easily learn to read when they can predict what the words on the page will be.
Reading books written to support this approach need high-quality pictures because the child needs to 'read' the picture for information, then read the text using natural language.
The biggest advantage to this approach is that children can quickly gain confidence as readers and begin to make sense of reading without it being a very difficult job.
So which approach is best for my child?
No one approach is 'best' for every child in the country, but most children will learn to read if you read to them regularly and support your child with the approach their school is using to teach reading.
The current advice is that phonics is a good approach for all children, and they will benefit from being taught phonics since they will need it to read, write and spell.
There are always going to be a few children who need a different approach. If you think that your child isn't learning as fast as the others in the class, go and talk to your child's teacher and explain your concerns.