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3 Important Skills Children Should Have When Learning to Read

Literacy is one of the most fundamental skills for a child to have success at as they continue with their education. Reading is the foundation on which nearly all other subjects can be learned to a certain degree; comprehension of textbooks, assignments, and exams all depend upon a student being able to read them. Thus, if a student struggles to learn to read they can easily fall behind their peers and continue to struggle with learning in general.

This means that as clinicians and professionals who help children with various developmental issues and learning disabilities, you will more than likely end up being called upon to work with a child who is having difficulty learning to read. Understanding what is causing their struggles, as well as what particular issues they’re having with literacy will go a long way in creating an effective treatment program. To do this it’s helpful to know the skills a child should possess before they’re able to learn to read successfully.

Essential Skills for Literacy

In her article “What Are the Signs Your Child Will Have Difficulty Learning to Read,” Kathleen T. Williams, Ph.D, NCSP describes these three in detail, explaining that without mastering them, a child will find it difficult to master reading. The skills are based upon extensive research by the National Early Literacy Panel (NELP).

These skills are:

  • Alphabet knowledge
  • Phonological awareness
  • Oral language

A further breakdown of each of these skills will help provide you with the knowledge you need to best help young children who struggle with literacy.

Alphabet knowledge: This skill encompasses both simply knowing the names of and recognizing each letter in the alphabet,and also understanding that the letters put together form recognizable words and phrases. This is known as print awareness. According to Dr. Williams when a child has print awareness they know:

  • Words are not pictures
  • There is a beginning, middle and end to sentences, books, etc.
  • Text is read top to bottom and left to right
  • Words read sound like language heard
  • Letters represent the sounds of words

Phonological Awareness: According to Dr. Williams, phonological awareness is the mindfulness of the sound structure of language. So, for example, a child would be able to recognize words that rhyme. Or when phonological awareness becomes more advanced, they could identify individual syllables in words and the letters/sounds that create them. It’s the brain’s ability to interpret the sound of words into some sort of meaning.

Oral language: Oral language simply means that a child has a well-developed vocabulary that continues to grow as expected for their given age. Before a child can read and understand a text they must be able to speak and understand what is spoken to them. Without this skill they won’t make the connection with words on a page.

How to Test for a Child’s Ability to Learn to Read

If you are working with a child whose parent or guardian suspects is struggling to learn to read there are clinical assessments that can help you make a determination on what exactly they’re struggling with. The (PPA Scale) Phonological and Print Awareness Scale is a well-respected assessment that both quickly and effectively evaluates a child’s phonological and print awareness so that you’re able to see which essential literacy skill may be lacking. This assessment requires the child to complete six tasks that measure: rhyming, print knowledge, initial and final sound matching, sound-symbol matching, and phonemic awareness. It’s appropriate for children aged 3.5 to 8 years.

Once the assessment is administered and scored, you can begin forming a treatment plan to help the child learn to read more successfully.

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