Reading between the lines

For some of you, this year would have seen you and your little one take the first step into possibly the biggest adventure of all - starting school. With this comes a whole bundle of excitement, nerves, anxious moments, tears, laughter and much more. And that's just you! For many of you, this may also be your first step into the world of education and all that it brings with it, and that could mean it is a complete unknown and can be overwhelming.

I am an Early Years teacher and one of the most rewarding parts of my job is teaching children to read. I have seen, many times over, the delight in a child's face when they independently read a word. That excitement almost explodes when they get their first reading book from school. It's a joy! For me, it makes everything worthwhile. However, I have also seen very able children struggle to make that leap because they may not be getting any reading reinforcement from home. Just as parents need help and support from teachers, we too, as educators, need the support and help from parents to ensure children can reach their full potential.

One thing that has become apparent over my years inside the classroom, is that often this lack of reading input at home stems from the lack of information provided to parents. It may be that some of you are simply unaware of the reading expectations for each child at the end of their Reception year at school. According to the Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage non-statutory guidance from the British Association for Early Childhood Education, at the end of Reception and in the 40-60+ month age range, the expectations are that:

Children read and understand simple sentences. They use phonic knowledge to decode regular words and read them aloud accurately. They also read some common irregular words. They demonstrate understanding when talking with others about what they have read.

I understand that this document is non-statutory but it is the main document used by most Early Years settings to provide guidance by way of the developmental steps that children, in this country, are expected to reach by the age of 5. This Early Learning Goal may be crystal clear to some of you and to others it could be as clear as mud. Therefore, I feel that it is essential that parents should be informed, in a simple way, of all that this means and entails.

In most schools, information evenings should be high on the agenda for new parents starting this wonderful, educational adventure. However, I am aware that this may not always be the case. Most schools use synthetic phonics to aid the process of learning to read. This is a minefield to those not-in-the know so I have made a list of helpful Teacher Tips that you may find useful.

1. Find out what phonics scheme the school uses. Ask the teacher directly. (Believe me, they will be delighted you are showing an interest!) The teacher should have some helpful hints or tips and could recommend websites that you could use at home.

2. Learn the sounds! Despite the numerous phonics schemes available, the sounds are all said in the same way - clearly! For example, the letter 'm' is said as 'mmmmm' rather than 'muh', a very common misconception. We should not be adding 'uh' to the end of the letter sounds. Your school may provide a CD that matches their scheme or offer a session for parents - always ask the question!

3. Not all words are phonically decodable. In other words, some words don't follow the rules! Children need to know this. The technical term for such words is 'irregular words'. They include 'the', 'me', 'my', going, to name a few (understatement of the year!).

3. Model reading. No, not posing with a book, magazine or the reading material of your choice! This means that you should be showing your child how to do it when they are showing an interest. They may see the word 'cat' in a book. Moving your finger slowly under each sound, model "c-a-t, cat". If your child is developmentally ready, encourage them to copy or join in.

4. READ! A child that sees people around them reading, will want to read. Fact. Show your child that you read for pleasure; you read to keep up with world news; you read emails for work or messages from friends; you read recipes when cooking; you read road signs while driving; the list goes on. Reading together and sharing stories throughout the day is quite possibly one of the best things you can do with your child.

5. Have fun! Remember at all times that your child, to all intents and purposes, is still a baby. They will do things when they are developmentally ready and able so it is best to encourage but not force.

I have only touched the surface on the world of learning to read and phonics. The main purpose of my article is to inform, not preach and to encourage you to ask the questions and educate yourselves. Do not be fearful - you are doing the best thing for your child!

For more hints, tips and ideas of fun ways to incorporate letters and learning into play activities, follow me on Instagram @lauraloveslearning. Feel free to ask further questions on there too. I would be very happy to help.

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go."Dr. Seuss.