The 3 Biggest Myths about Learning to Read

The 3 Biggest Myths about Learning to Read

It’s sometimes hard to decipher fact from fiction when it comes to how kids learn to read. Even the experts often disagree about the best approaches to teaching reading. Phonics was the be-all-and-end-all many years ago, fell out of favour, and now seems to have made a resurgence.

Trends in education come and go and schools use a myriad of reading programs and teaching approaches. It’s little wonder parents are left on the sidelines scratching their heads wondering what to do when it comes to helping their young one on their reading journey.

Having had many conversations in the schoolyard with fraught parents who feel exasperated at what to do next, I can totally empathise. Although there will always continue to be trends and changes in curriculum and teaching methods, there are some universal ‘truths’ about reading that remain solid regardless of what the latest approach is.

In my conversations with mums there seems to be three big reading myths that are continually perpetuated. These myths can really get parents worked up as they grapple with how reading works. In this post I thought we’d take the MythBusters approach and put a blowtorch to these myths once and for all.

Myth 1: All children should be given home readers in their first year of school.

The opinion on this varies greatly from school to school, and even teacher to teacher, and causes much discussion amongst parents. Some schools send readers home in the very first term of prep, other schools only give readers to children who are ready, and still other schools do not introduce readers until the very end of prep or year one.

Personally, I think giving readers to all children in prep is a crazy notion. Children are ready to learn to read at different ages and starting them before they are ready can cause unnecessary pressure and frustration.

There’s a stack of stuff kids need to understand before reading can make sense. They need to know what the letters of the alphabet look like, what sounds they make, how letters are put together to make words, and they need to develop a good vocabulary. Many of these things come with time and exposure to books.

The last thing we want is a child to be pushed into reading too soon, to struggle and to lose their confidence. Some kids just aren’t ready to learn to read in their first year of school. My two boys were a case in point. The sandpit and soccer pitch held much more appeal for them in prep and both were not the least bit interested in learning to read (not that they didn’t love being read to). The nightly home reader became a chore to be despised instead of the joyous, positive experience it should have been.

I am a strong believer in giving readers to those children who are ready and to allow more time for children who are not. Giving readers to all students puts unnecessary pressure on many kids.

Regardless of whether children take readers home or not in their first year of school much happens inside and outside the classroom to prepare kids for this next exciting phase. Keep reading together and enjoying books, while talking about what sounds the letters make and how words work. Have fun and the reading will come.

Myth 2: Sounding out words is the most helpful reading strategy.

This is a reading strategy we all grew up with as kids – and it’s a good one – just not all the time. I hear many parents embarrassingly lament that they don’t know if they should tell their kids to sound out words, but it’s the only reading clue they remember from their childhood.

Rest assured that sounding out words is a great strategy that is still used with kids today, but it’s not the only strategy. Obviously many words can’t easily be sounded out as they aren’t written phonetically. Ever tried to sound out e-n-o-u-g-h? What a tongue twister.

If a word can be sounded out, by all means, try that approach, but if not there are some other approaches you can take. It’s important to remember, kids can also get meaning from the pictures, looking at the first letter of a word, breaking words up, and reading on.

Here are some suggestions for questions you can ask that don’t rely on sounding out; Could the picture give a clue as to what the word says? Does the first letter in the word give a clue? Can you break up the word into smaller parts? Can you read on and come back to the word to see what might make sense?

Don’t abandon sounding out, as it’s a great approach for many words, but remember to use some of these other strategies as well. And don’t worry of you’re not sure which approach to use – trial and error is the name of the game, while keeping reading enjoyment at the heart of the reading experience.

Myth 3: Covering up the pictures is a good way to test if a child knows the words.

We’ve all been tempted to do this and many of us have done it! How do we really know if our child understands what they are reading when they are ‘cheating’ by looking at the pictures? Many parents fall into this trap of wanting to test their child by covering the picture, but in my experience this is just a good way to get kids frustrated.

When starting out, children rely heavily on the pictures to give meaning to the words. They learn that the pictures and the words go together to tell a story. If we cover the pictures it makes their task harder, not to mention that some of the enjoyment and fun goes out the window too. If a child looks at the pictures to get clues it shows they are using their reading nous. Bravo! We should be encouraging kids to do this.

Allow your child time to study the pictures and understand them. Don’t rush them to get on with the reading. Before reading a new book, it’s a great idea to look through the pictures on the cover and each page and discuss them before reading. This assists kids to understand what the story is about and to predict the text.

I hope dispelling these myths goes some way to equipping parents with the understanding of how best to help with their child’s reading journey. With patience, time, and a few reading strategies up our sleeve, we can all confidently help our kids on the road to reading success.

If you have any reading myths that you think need busting please leave a comment here and we can discuss them and put the blowtorch to them if necessary.

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