The time from 6-8 is when most children will become true readers! Reading involves mapping the sound system (linguistic) onto the letter system (visual). To do this, good readers use both bottom-up and top-down learning processes. Bottom-up processes involve decoding letters and sounds to identify words. At the same time, skilled readers work in a top-down manner, deciphering chunks of text at a time, successfully applying contextual cues and creating meaningful units, thereby allowing inferences and other logic skills to help fill in the blanks for them. Things can go wrong if children struggle with discerning the sounds (phonemic awareness), the visual aspect (dyslexia), the chunking (comprehension) or any combination of the three. When children begin to write, motor skills are then layered on. No wonder learning to read and write is so challenging! To give your child some additional practice working on phonemic awareness, try these fun games.To support comprehension abilities, try out Childtopia or the fabulous interactive tools at Into the Book.
When everything goes as it should, most children this age can apply their understanding of how print works and use various strategies to decode unknown words. As long as your child is progressing and is at grade level, there is usually nothing to worry about. However, if your child is behind, now is the time to collect more information. Research shows that poor readers at the end of first grade will remain poor readers, unless they receive appropriate intervention early on. If your child is struggling with reading, see some of the resources you can use here. For a list of strategies and how to support your child when reading, see this article. There are many wonderful suggestions for how to foster a love of reading in Scholastic’s Raise a Reader Guide.
Here are some simple but fun games to enhance early reading skills, with either phonetic words (cat, bug, frog) or sight words (said, to, laugh):
- Write words on the rims of plastic cups. Have your child throw ping pong balls in and read the word.
- Write words on star-shaped note cards stuck to the ceiling. Turn out the lights and have your child “discover” (and read) them with a flashlight.
- Get letter crackers, cookies, pastas, or Alpha-Bits® cereal. You could also have your child individually shape spaghetti noodles or pipe cleaners. Spell words!
- Play Go Fish with pairs of chosen words. Leave off picture cues for more challenge.
- Cut out fish shapes with words written on them. Attach a paper clip to the end and use a stick with magnet to really go fishing!
Across this time period, most children learn to read aloud with fluency (reading smoothly, with intonation and accuracy), demonstrating comprehension. Help this process along by finding “Just Right” books, to allow your child success in the reading process. Be aware that just because children can read at this age does not mean they will independently choose to do so. For many (even good readers), reading remains work. Encourage your child to read a variety of books (even easy ones) every day, and make reading fun! For ideas on how to do this, see the Activities article. It is more valuable for your child to develop confidence and enjoyment of reading, than to quickly progress to the next level book.
To support your child as he gains command of reading, explore a variety of texts (e.g., poems, stories, nonfiction, comics). There is wide variability in reading ability at this age. Some children will be ready for chapter books, although even some very good readers will prefer the visual support of more complicated picture books. Remember the value in talking about stories, characters, and themes, as opposed to focusing only on sight words and decoding skills. Read alouds are a wonderful way to expand your child’s vocabulary and entice them to try different genres. Reading both fiction and nonfiction books that are beyond your child’s reading level exposes her to more complex language, concepts, and sentence structures. For many great suggestions of books to read with this age, check popular series for 6-to-7-year-olds.
Between 6 and 8, metalinguistic ability also begins to come online, where children can talk and think about language, and use it as a tool, as opposed to only using it to communicate needs or wants. This ability will support your child’s reading skills and is a fun way to engage them in language learning. For example, have your child discover how rhyming words can sound the same without begin spelled the same (e.g., sleigh, way), or how to isolate and manipulate sounds (e.g., turn pig into wig or fist into fast). You can help your child develop these skills in the car, or online at Professor Garfield.