Answer: at birth.
I met a young man in third grade at a convention where I was exhibiting. In talking with this young man’s parents they disclosed that he was not reading well and struggled quite a bit. Since Dad was a late reader, they just figured their son would bloom into a reader, eventually, also. Though alarmed, I respected the parents’ belief. I did relay some tips about reading skill development however, in hopes of enlightenment so they could guide their son’s reading success more. I offered a free modified reading assessment to provide a gauge for the parents of their son’s current grade level reading ability. A shock to all…he screened at a pre-primer reading ability level in word call. His comprehension was good but was assessed at this pre-kindergarten grade level, after all.
Where should these parents start?
Phoneme awareness and sight word recognition leaped out first and foremost. This young man’s ability to decode words was being hampered by his weakness in phoneme awareness mastery. This is the foundation to decoding for reading success. Phoneme awareness is the ability to identify the number of sounds in spoken words, the order of those sounds, and the manipulation of sounds which is the ability to identify where a sound changes in a word and to what new sound. Thus, when the letter symbols are matched with sounds through phonics, decoding of words in text becomes more fluent. Accuracy and rate in the decoding of words increases fluency. Fluency supports comprehension. Comprehension is the prize to reading!
Sight Word recognition contributes immensely to reading fluency. Fluency supports comprehension. The majority of words in text are sight words or words that we need to recognize instantly without sounding them out. Words such as ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’, ‘about’, ‘through’, ‘though’…Again, this young man’s sight word ability was at best, beginning Kindergarten level. This young man relied heavily on the picture clues in the passage. However, at third grade, picture clues begin to decline in texts.
Is this young man doomed to struggle in reading for the rest of his life?
Absolutely not. He was very charismatic, bright, and enthusiastic. With targeted exercise in both areas discussed, he will certainly make gains. But gain in his grade level reading ability will not just happen! At third grade, words become more complex with the addition of prefixes and suffixes and academic content as is found in science, math, and social studies.
My recommendations were to offer explicit exercising of this young man’s phoneme awareness to increase his decoding ability and to obtain online lists of sight words such as the
Dolch sight words [http://www.dolchsightwords.org/]
Fry sight word lists [http://www.k12reader.com/Fry-Words/fry_complete_1000.pdf.]
Yes, reading success begins at birth.
- Introduce your baby to language and the structure of language by 6 months of age. Read, sing, rhyme, and talk to your baby. This lays the groundwork for their ability to process print later on.
- Reading requires the development of bilateral capability in the brain. What is this? It is the ability of the neurons to jump from right hemisphere to left hemisphere and back and forth easily. Skills such as reading success rely upon this capability since reading skill development is located in both hemispheres of the brain. Start by the end of the first year of life to develop your child’s brain bilaterality through motor skills. Crawl, walk, climb, dance, run, somersault, turn, twist, skip, and spin! The more you stimulate motor abilities, and hand-eye coordination, the more you are laying the foundation to reading success.
- Wire up the visual pathways in the brain. Bold contrasts in colors and patterns help stimulate this. Visual processing will become key to reading success with decoding and sight word recognition and spelling and writing. So start young with strong visuals.
- Build a rich vocabulary. Read to your child. Talk with your child. Use books and your surrounding environment to build vocabulary. On walks, or while hiking, grocery shopping, running errands, take the opportunity to build your child’s vocabulary.
- Listen to music and the rhythm and beat. Language has rhythm and beat. You do not read all sentences in monotone. Paying attention to the conventions of language such as periods, question marks, commas, quotation marks, and exclamation marks set the rhythm and beat to reading. Text read with no intonation and inflection will be difficult to comprehend.
- Singing songs develops awareness of rhyme. Rhyme develops phoneme awareness strength. Phoneme awareness is the foundation to reading skills and reading success.
- Create matching activities. Use pictures, objects, and clothing such as socks, letters, and actions to exercise the ability to match by size, color, number, and category. Mix it up and match by opposites and alike.
- Develop hand-eye and gross motor coordination. A game of jacks, pick-up sticks, roll a ball, bounce a ball, hit a ball, tumbling, gymnastics, dance, painting, drawing, coloring, cutting with scissors…and more. Reading and writing rely upon left to right eye movement, return sweep eye coordination, motor skills to form letters. These activities are fun ways to develop this ability.
Develop thinking skills. Encourage curiosity. Play a game of copying. Do three or more movements and have your child copy the sequence. Have your child draw or tell you the steps in order to doing things such as ‘making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.’
KLAC ENTERPRISES, LLC/Buckaroo Buckeye™/Nuts About Reading™