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For 3 to 5 yrs: Read and write together

Learning to read

Children learn a lot about reading long before they go to school. They learn from the world around them from seeing labels and notices in the supermarket, or road signs. They are interested in print.

Children are natural learners. As parents, you don't have to teach them. The most important thing you can do is to let them see that you enjoy learning. If they see you reading, they will want to copy you. 

Phonics are important

When children learn to read they have to learn to listen to the separate sounds of words. Then they learn that the sounds of words are made with letters. Next they start to work out which letter or letters stand for which sound. This is phonics. Its a very important part of reading. At Jesse Gray we follow The Letters and Sounds Programme.

Reading more than phonics

But reading is much more than just matching letters and sounds. When you read a story together, your child will be finding out about how stories work. When children start to read themselves, they will use their own experience to understand what they read.

They will be able to guess which word would make sense. They will begin to learn that in English, print goes from left to right.

Sharing rhymes

Children love rhymes. You may have heard your child making up nonsense rhymes. Learning nursery rhymes will help your child to notice the separate sounds in words. This will help with reading later on.

Play rhyming games with your child. Make up your own to go with the everyday things you do, This is the way we brush our teeth. Make silly rhymes for your child's name, Bing Bang Bolly, your name's Olly.

You can find out more hint and tips on how to help your young child by going to the Basic Skills Agency.

Sharing books

Books are fun and can help your child learn lots of new skills and new words. Don’t just save them for bedtime. Take books out with you to the shops and on journeys and make time to share stories and sing songs and rhymes during the day.

Here are a few ideas on how to share books with your toddler:

  • Choose a quiet place so there are no distractions from TV and radio. 
  • Sit the child on your knee or beside you and share the book. 
  • Choose a book which you like the look of and which you’ll enjoy reading. 
  • A book which you find boring will also bore your child. 
  • You may feel nervous or silly reading aloud, but remember your child is no critic. It's spending time together with a book that counts and the more you practice, the better you'll become. 
  • First look at the front of the book and say the title. Even at this early age, your child will learn how books work that you start at the front and have to turn the pages for the story to keep on going. They may want to hold the book and turn the pages themselves. 
  • When you talk to your child about what's going on in a book, give them time to respond. And don't only ask questions to which the answer is either yes or no. 
  • Point to the pictures and relate them to something your child knows. If there's a picture of a dog, talk about a dog that you know. Your child will soon learn to do this too and this helps your child build up a stock of familiar words. 
  • Follow the words with your finger. You are not teaching your toddler to read but they will begin to understand that those black squiggly things are important because they are telling the story. 

Most of all enjoy yourself. Sharing books is great fun and it's the ideal opportunity to share a cuddle at the same time. 

For 5 to 7 years: A little reading goes a long way


Between the ages of four and seven years old, most children learn to read. Even when they can read, you should still try to read to them as often as possible. Sharing stories with a grown-up will teach them new words and encourage them to become better readers.

Children develop their reading skills in different ways. Some may want to get every word exactly right while other children will race to the end of a story. Other children may read hesitantly. Try to respond to your child's needs and let them read at their own pace.

If they get stuck, encourage them to use all the available information and everything they know to make a guess. They should look at the pictures and remember what has happened in the story. Their ability to predict and guess accurately will gradually improve.

You can also help by doing the following:   

  • Make the most of books your child brings home from school. Read them, or parts of them, yourself and talk about them with your child.  
  • Check your child is really following what they're reading by asking them to tell you the story in their own words - who's it about? What happens?  
  • Allow your child to re-read favourite and familiar stories, or to hear you re-read them. Knowing a familiar book will help them notice more about the words on the page and they will start to recognise the patterns in new words and stories.  
  • Listen to stories learned by heart and encourage your child to re-tell them in their own words, or even act them out. Encourage this.  
  • Buy books as presents instead of toys.  
  • Set up a special place for books from the library or their own books. 
  • Some more ideas to help your child to read when you haven't got a book. 
  • At breakfast time. Look at the words on cereal packets, milk and fruit juice cartons. Get them to see how many words they can make out of the letters. 

  • Going to the shops.  Some shops still have a sign over the door that says what they sell. Can your child put the words together with what's in the window (hairdressers, shoes, and so on)? 

  • Look in the papers.  If your child recognises a famous face (e.g. a footballer or a TV star) it will make them want to try to read the story.  

  • In the streets.  You'll see advertising posters and place names.  
  • In the shops.  Your child can help you find things in the supermarket by reading out what's in the aisles.  
  • Videos.  Video boxes usually tell you the story. Get your child to read what's on the box as well as just watching the film.  
  • On a bus or train trip.  Place names on the front of the bus or train, posters on the bus or tube. Even the ticket is worth reading to a child. 
  • Look at holiday brochures together.  Help your child read about other places.  
  • Unpacking the shopping.  Your child can read the words on your groceries while helping you put things away.  
  • Some CDs and tapes have song words printed on them.  Your child will probably find it easier to follow words if they hear them at the same time. 

You can help by doing the following:  

  • Whenever you’re reading together, make sure your child feels OK and is comfortable.  
  • Use books with pictures, and later, with pictures and words. Picture books help children match the pictures to the words. Don't cover up the pictures to make your child 'read properly'.  
  • Write titles under pictures to show them that words belong to things. You can also stick labels on things at home or when they're older get them to do it themselves. Start with simple words.