We've put together some classic tried-and-tested ideas on starting your child's learning to read journey, but with a focus on fun! Although, most child now learn to read using phonics, there are some ways that you can help before they start school and in their early school years to build their relationship with language and books.
1. Give your child choice
Let your child choose lots of different genres of children's book, so they always have something new to discover. With each kids' book, ask your child why they chose it. Then look at the cover and discuss what your child thinks it might be about. For example, if your child chooses a dinosaur book, questions could include: What colour is the dinosaur? Do dinosaurs live now? What do you think dinosaurs eat? How big do you think dinosaurs are?
2. Talk about the book's characters
Ask questions throughout the children's book about a character’s appearance, their actions, what they might do next or might have done instead. Make connections to your child’s own experiences, so they can relate to the story. For example, when Goldilocks is eating porridge, you could ask: What is Goldilocks wearing? What colour is her hair? Does she look happy or sad? Is she hungry or thirsty? Whose porridge is she eating? Is she allowed to eat the porridge? What would you do if someone ate your breakfast?
3. Point out simple words
Read simple children's story books, such as picture books, that repeat key words such as 'the' and 'a' so your child can become familiar with the basics. Ask them to point out these words on each page and when they're doing this confidently, pause mid-sentence and let them fill in.
4. Connect words and images
Ask “Can you see the...?” and get them to point out different things on the page. This helps your child relate new words to objects. If the word is also written on the page, point this out too. Picture dictionaries are perfect for this activity.
5. Read activity books together
Try reading activity books together so your child can engage in the activity, such as using stickers or spotting things, whilst also picking up new word and enjoying using a book. Children’s recipes books are also great for reading and having fun at the same time.
6. Look at different styles of books
Pop to your local library to look at different styles of books – hardbacks and paperback, lift the flap or books using materials and textures, pop up books or books with fold out pages. This will show your child that the possibilities for books are endless and EVERYONE is able to find a children's book that they enjoy using.
7. Use a brand or characters to your advantage
Strong character-based books, especially in a series, are great for motivating kids to read the next installment of their adventures. If your child loves Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol or Hey Duggee, then try some books. Your child will love the new adventures and even books that are related to episodes that they know and love.
8. Brush up on your acting skills
You don't need to go all Eastenders-drama-esque, but simply inject some fun into what you're reading. Try to use humour and expression in your voice to entertain young children, and help them to understand the difference between narration and speech using a change of voice. Explain that punctuation such as speech marks "" shows how you should read. You'll have more fun with it too – it can become a new challenge for you to use a new voice for each of the hundreds of times you read the same book...!
9. Rhyme and songs work
There's a reason that many books use rhyme – they're fun to read, listen to and remember. Nursery rhymes are great for getting children excited about learning to read because they can relate the remembered word to what's on the page.
10. Build on what they love
Introduce both new and familiar topics, facts and ideas about a subject that they are really interested in to expand a child’s knowledge whilst they’re learning to read. If they're into vehicles – tap into that interest and try both fact and fiction children's books about racing cars, rockets or tractors. If they love visiting zoos and farm attractions, try nature handbooks, animal story books or habitat fact books. The list really is endless.
11. Away from the book
After reading, encourage children to draw or paint characters from the story, act out the story, watch a TV adaptation, or refer back to parts of the story when you see something relevant. This helps to strengthen their recall skills as they remember new words and ideas.
12. Make a reading area or nook
A special ‘reading den’ with cushions and books helps your child recognise this as a special area for them enjoy reading, with you or independently. It's often then good to use for quiet time or moments when you need them to calm down after stimulation overload.