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Learning to read

This article contains lots of practical tips to help you support your child as they learn to read.

Learning to Read

Phonics is great in a traditional classroom setting as it is a practical way of getting large groups of children to read at the same time. However, the luxury of learning from home means you can beat this approach through layering in lots of organic reading experiences.


The National Curriculum requires schools to teach children to apply phonic knowledge and skills as the route to decode words. The Curriculum states that at the beginning of year 2 pupils should be able to read unfamiliar words containing graphemes (a letter that represents a sound in a word). 

Phonics is taught using a variety of approaches; using individual sounds that correspond to letters, learning sounds of groups of letters, or consonant blends, or syllables and also pupils reading books, playing games and activities that contain the sounds they are learning. 

There are plenty of ways of introducing phonics and there are loads of companies offering programmes to deliver this for you, many are now done through apps. This is fine but there are also some more hands-on/practical activities that are worth researching, depending how your child learns best.

Organic Reading

This route is more child led, with no set age or stage when they are expected to read at prescribed ‘levels’. The use of some phonics coaching here can still be useful, but isn’t the focus. Below are some ideas that might help you along this journey…

  • A love of books, select books with rich imagery and text, have a wide range of books in your house, from magazines, comics and story books to encyclopaedias and non fiction books.
  • Start using the library from a young age, it is a great way of allowing children to explore a wide range of books and understand genres.
  • To start with check out books without words, they are a great way of being creative, talking about the images and engaging in imaginative thoughts with your child. Avoid phased school style reading books, these are often really boring for children and don’t engage them towards a love of books. Some are better than others so check them out first such as Julia Donaldson books.
  • Rhyming books are great for helping children notice and work with sounds within words.
  • It is so tempting to check their reading through reading aloud but don’t force children to read aloud, you can see if they are reading by watching their eyes track words. Some children hate reading aloud so this needs to be done with the least pressure possible.
  • As a parent, model the enjoyment of reading as much as possible.
  • Read as much as possible with your child, until they no longer want you to as they are totally independent readers. However, it is more important to have quality reading time, so not feeling you have to read to them every day, feeling forced to try and squeeze it into a routine. Instead, find slots of time where you will be undisturbed and can immerse yourself in the text with your child.
  • Remember that reading can take place in many different places, on the beach, at home by the fire, in bed, on a journey somewhere, sharing books in many different circumstances will help embed things.
  • Embrace and encourage other people reading with your child. Grandparents are often great at this but you may also have other family or friends.
  • Sibling reading, you will often find children sharing books with each other, this can be great for their reading skills. My daughter used to read to her Grandad’s dog in the dog basket!
  • Avoid correcting words too quickly. It feels natural to want to step in and correct words but be careful as this can be very off putting and make your child feel like they can’t do it, many children will ask for help if they don’t understand something.
  • Audio books are a great background on car journeys and at home, immersing your child in rich language will help them not only read but it will also help them with their writing and language skills.
  • And finally, don’t panic if your child appears to be a late reader, many children following an organic route seem to be later readers but seem to pick it up really quickly, along with an inbuilt passion for it!

It is worth recording their reading journey with images or videos of your child reading or picking up books as this will help you track their progress. It has been interesting capturing my child’s reading journey through Collage app.


UK English National Curriculum

National Literacy Trust

BBC Alphablocks

Oxford Owl

Reading Eggs

Nessy – Reading with dyslexia

100 most frequent words