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What skills do children need to be good readers?

Updated: Aug 16


Children begin learning skills for reading when they attend and focus to stimulation, such as their mothers’ voice. They begin to make sounds, develop language skills and learn the meanings of words. Most children need a vocabulary of 5000 words before developing reading skills. You can help your children develop their vocabulary by talking to them about what they are doing, commenting, asking questions and explaining. You can help by giving simple instructions, helping your child to follow them and having conversations. 


Early reading skills include joining in with group discussions, and social interaction with their friends. Being able to listen, share, take turns and enjoy play with small world toys or outdoor activities, singing familiar songs, and nursery rhymes with actions can also help. Children can ask for things they need and express their feelings. These skills can be practiced at home and at school. 


Children enjoy learning through play. You can join in with play and read to your child from a very early age. You can teach your child to hold a book the right way up and point to words so they know that print is important.


From an early age you can enjoy sharing books by looking and pointing at pictures and commenting on what they see.  Encourage your child to look at books independently and take time to answer their questions.  Point at words as you read. You can help your child to develop understanding by re-reading favourite stories regularly so they can build a mental picture, anticipate and join in with familiar rhymes, songs. Reading to your child is important for enjoyment and can continue until your child can read independently and beyond as it helps to build up a picture of what is happening in the story without the effort of having to decode and work out the words.


Many children will recognise familiar logo’s such as McDonalds, Tesco’s etc. even before they recognise their own name.  At school they will be taught to break words into single sounds (phonics) to help them work out new words and build up their memory.  Children need to see individual words many times before recognising them on sight. Work on 1-2 words at a time and build up a sight vocabulary little by little. How can you do this? Write the words on cards and play matching games- FIND THE WORD THAT SAYS- cat. Can you find another one that says cat? If there is any difficulty add in a picture to support them. For high frequency words where there is no picture, use a very limited number of words and many copies of the same word in different colours and of different sizes i.e. from, and, they etc. Remember tricky words such as ‘was’ cannot be successfully sounded out.


A little time practicing every day, playing games and reading stories will help your child become a fluent reader.  Have fun.

Sylvia Hart

Specialist literacy teacher.

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