Learning how to read

What does it mean to ‘learn how to read’? Does it mean physically being able to understand that marks on a page make sound and that those sounds together create a word? Does it mean to understand what you read and learn from the text? Does it mean to be able to find pleasure at the content? Does it mean the life skill of being able to safely navigate the world filled with signs using only words such as a train or bus route? I would argue that it is each of the questions above plus so much more.

Reading and phonics has been a hot topic in the news lately as the current emphasis on synthetic phonics has been scrutinized in this country. Sadly, the current research that they call a ‘landmark study’ is nothing new for those of us who have been researching literacy learning for many years. There have been three common sides to the argument since the 1990’s. There is the side that believes children should learn only through text and that through exposure and practice, they will learn the mechanics of reading. There is the side that believes in the importance of phonics above all else. If children learn how to decode and read a word, they will then naturally be able to read any text. Finally, there is the third side which talks about balanced literacy. This side recognizes that reading is not just about exposure to texts or being able to decode but it is a balance of both philosophies. Years ago, the UK adopted an intentional phonics strategy to try and combat the fact that children were not able to decode and therefore would never be able to read a text. What the news does not easily explain is that IF a UK school is teaching synthetic phonics AND additional literacy skills, they are doing exactly what the landmark study suggests should happen.

Here at the Falcons Pre-Prep Chiswick, we have a balanced literacy model and our children are in dedicated phonics lessons AND dedicated lessons to learn about the many other skills to reading. We adopted the literacy-based approach from CLPE two years ago which immerses our students in rich text. I would hope that many of our parents are hearing their children talk about ‘Anna Hibiscus’, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, and ‘Owl Babies’ at home. These are a few examples of how we are using texts to get the students interested in the magic behind reading and also give them the skills to deal with varied texts and meaning. Sparking a lifelong love of reading is essential in the early years and I am always encouraging parents to model and share their passion for reading with their children.

Families often ask me how can they support their child at home reading. I have listed below a few tips that are tried and tested and really easy to incorporate into daily lives:

  • Eliminate reading as ‘homework’. Yes, we give reading as part of our homework, but I would ask parents to not connect the two. Instead, find a time that reading is a natural part of the day. It is assumed that it will happen just like the family eats dinner, plays games, etc.
  • Make sure children see you read and enjoy it. Sit on a couch and read while they are playing. Laugh out loud as you read, look worried, etc. to model that reading can give us feelings.
  • Read a book together that is age appropriate but that they have to listen to as it is above their decoding skills. Stop and make wonderings as you are reading. ‘I wonder what will happen next.’ ‘I wonder how he is feeling.’ ‘Oh wow I just learned that…’ Try and make it a longer story so that it takes several days to read. Just like children love to see the next episode on tv, make it exciting to wait for what will happen next.
  • If someone asked your child if you liked to read, what would they say? If the answer is yes, you are doing a wonderful job modelling positive reading behaviour. If the answer is no, find ways to make it more obvious that you value reading.
  • Any text is fine! Magazines, comics, picture books, factual books, graphic novels are all equal in teaching essential skills.

There are great resources out there for educational reading. I highly recommend a magazine subscription for a birthday present. This link has many to choose from and you can sort by age and interest.


Scholastic book lists are another great resource to help you know what to search on Amazon or in Waterstones.


Of those of you reading this article who know me, many of you will know that literacy is a passion of mine as an educator and as I reflect on why, I truly believe it is because I grew up in a household that read every single day for pleasure. I still find myself in the evenings choosing a fictional novel to get lost in after cleaning and putting my twins to sleep over watching a new series on tv. I hope to instil the same love for reading in my children and have a long list of stories I cannot wait to read with them. There is a Harry Potter billboard up outside Chiswick Tube and every day when we drive by it on our way to school, my son shouts out ‘Mummy it’s Harry Potter. Your favourite book that we can read together when I get older!’ and I realise that they really are listening to what I say after all.