Headstart for Life

Acquiring skills for reading: Learning to read

“I hate reading mummy!” “I don’t want to read anymore!” *pout* – sound familiar?

I’m sure many of us have heard that from our kids.

You may also observe, our kids can’t seem to learn to read words no matter how many times they tried with the numerous phonics classes they attend. They have difficulty identifying the sounds that make up the words like drum, elephant or they don’t know what word rhymes with ‘bit’. Hence, our children get frustrated and would resist any more reading stuff.

Parents tend to get frustrated as well, when they don’t see their child reading books voluntarily or for leisure. Some children prefer books to be read to them, often flipping through the pages or blindly pointing to any printed words they see. Some children may have less interest or no interest at all in books.

But did you know that there are several ways that a child can learn to read words. One is by sight, by decoding the individual letters of the words. The other is by the process of analogy to known words, and by prediction from context. Sight word reading is used to read familiar words. (Cain, 2010)


Skills that are needed to aid in word reading.

Phonological awareness refers to the ability of identifying and manipulating the sound structure of words that is the units of oral language – parts such as words, syllables, and onsets and rhymes. Children who have phonological awareness are able to identify and make oral rhymes, can clap out the number of syllables in a word, and can recognize words. Performance on measures of phonological awareness is strongly related to the development of word reading and spelling ability (Bryant et al.;1990 in Cain 2010)

Phonemic awareness refers to the specific ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Phonemes are the smallest units comprising spoken language. Phonemes combine to form syllables and words. For example, the word ‘dog’ has three phonemes: /d/ /o/ /g/. There are 44 phonemes in the English language, including sounds represented by letter combinations such as /th/.

Acquiring phonemic awareness is important because it is the foundation for spelling and word recognition skills. Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of school instruction.

Awareness of print, knowledge about the names and sounds of the letters in the alphabet, and phonological processing skills all predict how easily a child will read. Phonological awareness is the phonological processing skills most closely related to word reading development (Cain, 2010)

Students at risk for reading difficulty often have lower levels of phonological awareness and phonemic awareness than do their classmates. However,phonemic awareness and phonological awareness can be developed through a number of activities.


Strategies that reinforce good reading development.

  1. Kids should be encouraged to play words and language games with parents, teachers and friends.
  2. They could practice listening activities highlighting individual sounds in words.
  3. Enrol your child in programmes that are focused heavily on learning to read and teaches students to discover and label the oral-motor movements of phonemes. Students can then verify the identity, number and sequence of sounds in words. Once established, phonemic awareness is then applied to reading, spelling and speech.
  4. Read books with rhymes. Teach your child rhymes, short poems and songs.
  5. Practice the alphabet by pointing out letters wherever you see them and by reading alphabet books.
  6. Consider using computer software that focuses on developing phonological and phonemic awareness skills

Many of these programs use colorful graphics and animation that keep young children engaged and motivated but perhaps the most important strategy of all, be very encouraging and keep your child motivated on his learning journey!

Keep on reading!



Cain, K. (2010). Reading development and difficulties (Vol. 8). John Wiley & Sons.

"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Zunaida

Zunaida likes to browse through websites looking for more background information on her favourite topics such as speech difficulties and pragmatic skills disorders. She has more than 10 years of experience working with children with special needs in Singapore.

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