Following our recent Elementary parent night on Language, I wanted to pass along some tips for helping children to develop foundational reading and writing skills to those parents who could not make it that evening. While reading can come very easily to some children and they may become competent readers by the time they finish the Casa Program, other children simply require more time, repetition and support at home in addition to their learning at school.

The first skill that needs to be developed is ensuring the child knows his or her letter sounds. We would like children to recognize and be able to form the letters in both cursive and lower case print. Often children are taught uppercase letters first either in other programs or through materials you may have at home. Please help them to learn lower case letters first in both cursive and print as these are the letters that are most often used. We also teach children the sound the letter makes rather than the name of the letter as this better enables them to sound out words both when reading and when spelling. Use a small erasable white board to write the letter and ask the child to name the sound the letter makes. They can also tell you words that start with or end with that sound. The next step is to check if they can write the letter when you give them the sound. Check how they are forming the letter and correct them as necessary. Often when children learn cursive first and then try to write in print, they will form letters from bottom to top rather than top down. Helping them practice the correct formation of each letter will make writing easier and require less effort. Use fun markers and paper to make the work enjoyable.

Once the child knows his or her letter sounds, they can begin to blend letters together to make short three or four letter words. Have the child say the individual sounds and then go back to the beginning and blend them to make the word. Practice reading lists of words that have a consonant –vowel-consonant pattern (ie. cat, pen, fin, dog, run). Children often mix up short vowel sounds, especially ‘i’ and ‘e’ and may require some extra repetition to distinguish between those sounds both when reading and when spelling the words. Once the child is proficient at reading and spelling three letter words, you can move onto four letter words that blend two consonants together (ie. clap, glad, stop, bump, slip).

If your child has mastered these skills, it is time to move onto introducing more complex phonograms or groups of letters that make a new sound when put together. For example, adding an ‘e’ to the end of words changes the vowel from short to long, sounds made by letter combinations like ‘wh’, ‘sh’, ‘ch’, or sounds made by vowel pairs like ‘ee’, ‘oo’, ‘ai’, ‘ay’, etc. You can find lists of phonograms online or buy card packs with phonograms and lists of example words from many book stores. Introduce one phonogram at a time and come up with examples together. Write a story using as many as the examples of the phonograms as you can and have your child practice reading it back to you. Look for things around the house that are spelled with that phonogram and make labels for them.

Sight words are another area of reading that should be introduced to children early on. Knowing sight words or high frequency words will enable them to have greater fluency with readers as many of the most common words do not follow phonetic rules (ie. he, she, you, are, they, was, of). Once again, packs of sight words can be bought at local book and supply stores or you can look up lists of sight words online and make your own. Introduce the child to around 5 new words at a time. Play games to practice committing them to memory. Add new ones as they master them but keep practicing the old ones on a regular basis to ensure they stay committed to memory.

Once children have mastered some of the basics, you can begin to introduce readers for them to practice. Introducing readers too soon can lead to frustration if the child does not know at least 80% of the words in the book. We want them to be mostly independent and feel successful with the book so it is enjoyable for them. When reading together, encourage them to sound out new words on their own first, only telling them the word when they really can’t get it. New words can be made into practice cards to go with the sight words they are practicing. After finishing a line or a page, ask them to read it again to increase their fluency. Repeat the book several times until they can read it independently and fluently. Comprehension is directly related to fluency and so rereading ensures they have also understood what they have read. Ask questions and engage in discussion as you are reading to ensure their comprehension.

Finally, I would like to talk about writing and spelling. Young writers often require support to remember to leave spaces between their words. Ask them to use their finger as a spacer and help them to notice where one word ends and another begins. When children are first starting to write, we encourage them to spell phonetically by breaking the word into sounds and forming the letter or group of letters for each sound they hear. This is an important skill for them to develop so they can become independent writers and succeed in beginning to get their ideas onto paper.   I tend not to correct too much in the beginning unless they ask me to and would like to make a revised draft. I may just pick a few words to take a look at and show them the correct spelling. Too much focus on perfect spelling can make many children fearful to write anything and overall, I believe it’s their ideas and confidence as writers that matters the most. Later on, spelling will be taught more formally and separate from their independent writing. We will focus on a particular spelling rule and practice a list of words for informal quizzes. Children of this age love to quiz each other and come up with challenging new words to learn once they have mastered the basics. Children are also taught to peer and self-edit and to develop the skills to look up words in the dictionary in order to ensure accuracy in their work as they get older. At home you can practice spelling in a game like way by looking for things around the house or when you are out for a walk to try and spell – they get to ask you too! Games like hangman and scrabble are other fun ways to practice spelling.

I hope this gives you some ideas for working at home with your young readers. If you have any other questions feel free to come and ask me. One of the best ways to promote reading at home is to model to your children your own enjoyment of reading and to read books to them on a regular basis so they can see the magic of the written word and feel motivated to practice themselves. Happy reading!