5 fun ways how to improve on reading skills for young children
Updated: Feb 3, 2022
Many parents and carers want to know how to improve on reading skills for their children as they realize that this is fundamental to great learning and so important for their future. Learning how to read can be a complicated process and the more opportunities children get, the more confident and competent they will become.
Why is reading difficult?
English is one of the most difficult languages to read. It may have only 26 letters but it has about 44 sounds – depending on the dialect – and these can be spelled in several ways.
Just think of words that sound the same but are spelled differently for example night and knight or knife – there is no reason why the ‘k’ should be silent but as you have seen this word written many times, you can read this instantly. We forget how many anomalies there are in our written words.
When we read we do not need to have every letter in the text, our minds fill in the gaps to make sense of what we see.
You cn prbably rd ths wth no prblms evn tho letrs r misng.
You can probably read this with no problems even though letters are missing. With our current trend of text language, it is easy to see why reading and spelling correctly will be challenging to learn.
When we come to spelling patterns there are several ways to write some single sounds i.e. phonemes e.g. the /ai/ sound can be written as a, day, date, sleigh, straight, fete, they – and children have to make sense of all of these different graphemes which are a combination of letters or 1 letter making a single sound.
Most children find reading easier as they see the words in front of them and do not have to decide which spelling pattern to choose, however they still have to recognize the different spelling patterns which can be very tricky.
I have created a course that will show you how you can teach more complex digraphs, including split digraphs which are tricky as the letters which make up one sound are separated by another letter such as in cake – the ‘ae’ make the /ai/ sound but that troublesome k gets in the way to make it a tricky word to spell.
This course also shows how you could teach about alternative spellings. It can be found on
What is the good news for everyone who is trying to help their children with reading?
Yes, there is good news. There are rules to follow and children can learn these rules so they can apply them in their reading and spelling, although as mentioned above, not all spellings will follow these patterns. The different ways of spelling a phoneme and then the exceptions will have to be learned in order to choose the correct spelling pattern.
Sadly many children are turned off by very formal teaching methods too early on in their learning. In some countries, children are pushed to write before their fine motor skills are ready for this skill and their fingers cannot yet hold and manipulate writing tools such as pencils. In this case, other tools are useful - they can be large paintbrushes outdoors with larger movements and other
wonderful objects children can find.
How about a twig or a feather dipped into mud or paint which can be so much more fascinating than a pencil or writing on a beach with a branch? If you capture their interest and are led by what they find exciting, their learning will be so much more engaging and meaningful.
Similarly, they may be pushed into reading too early when all they want to do is have fun and play games. Combining learning and playing is a win-win situation for many children. Capturing their interest using educational games or other means can really benefit children's development.
Reading and writing should be fun!
This blog is about ‘drip feeding’ reading in fun ways. There are many ways of doing this - whether it is kicking a ball outdoors and aiming at graphemes chalked on the wall or reading a menu and picking out the letters and sounds that make sense. It is about making reading enjoyable and doing this for a purpose. If I can read h-a-m I can see what sandwich options are available.
Some children do not like vegetables. Just as we may have to hide the carrots and peas in our children’s food because they are just not into the healthy way of eating, we may have to hide reading as a fun activity, so that they will practice those troublesome spelling patterns and not give up.
You may have a child who relishes reading and devours books by the dozen and keeping up with going to the library to get the next lot may be tiresome, however love of reading is fantastic as this fires up their imaginations and lets them enter the magical world of make-believe stories and facts.
If your child is the type with their nose in a book constantly, then you may only want to scan this blog quickly.
However there are many children who would rather run around the garden than read a book. If your child is more like this, then hopefully this post will give you some valuable ideas on how to encourage reading in a fun way so they enjoy the reading experience and will return to this often.
It goes without saying that the things you do are so important. According to Hearts radio, a study found that only 20% of parents read regularly to their children at bedtime.
Not only does reading to children pave the way to trigger imaginative minds by listening to marvelous stories, but also shows that the world of literature is wonderful. Plus it gives your child an opportunity to have that chat about the day – something funny they can tell you using their speaking skills, something hilarious that you can tell them which is great for their listening skills. Also it gives them the chance to talk to you about something that is worrying them – maybe they weren’t chosen to play with their friends and this is something that is really big on their minds.
Please ensure they aren’t scared or worried before they go to sleep – but that is a whole different blog!
This is what I mean about ‘drip feeding’ the imaginative stuff which will make it more likely that they become competent readers and wonderful writers. If you drop in some unusual and new vocabulary, you are increasing their knowledge of words without even trying. Using a wide range of vocabulary in everyday language is great, as this gives your child a bigger repertoire to draw from when they have to decipher those complicated words in future reading.
5 fun tips for reading
1. Nursery rhyme songs
Nursery rhymes and songs are great because hearing the rhyme and rhythm such as in the word endings is such
an important pre-reading skill.
Your child cannot be ready to read or write 'cat' if they cannot hear the 3 distinctive sounds of c-a-t. The more they are exposed to great rhymes the better. There are lots of traditional and modern rhymes, and there are also some wonderful books with great rhyming words and fabulous vocabulary.
Make up silly rhymes that go with something personal, change the word endings to go with a name your child knows to make up funny words. If it is meaningful then it will stick. Use any time to sing nursery rhymes – whether it is walking through the woods, bath time, cooking time – any time is great to say or sing a nursery rhyme and have a giggle.
Nursery Rhymes for Babies
Singing and saying nursery rhymes from a very early age onwards is a good way to get your child ready for that vital pre-reading skill of discriminating sounds. Children will love listening to you sing to them or if you are sharing a book with them there will be those early connections between the spoken words and a book. Make it fun, sing a song, use expression in your voice, you don’t have to be able to sing like an opera singer, trust me my singing voice isn’t great, but I know that my children learned a lot from this.
Nursery Rhymes for children on YouTube
There are a lot of nursery rhymes on YouTube and some of them are great. I would add please be discerning with these and if you can sing to them yourself and interact with your child, then that may be better than sticking on another video clip. Our children are already exposed to a lot of digital material and although there is a place for this, interacting and responding to a person is so important. I feel sad when I see parents out with their children not talking to them about the wonders of the world, the color of nature, the sounds of the birds singing and interacting with their child.
The child may be looking around with interest and hears mum or dad on the phone speaking to someone else about something totally banal rather than what is happening around them. This is a precious time and the opportunity is lost forever, so please sing nursery rhymes and songs and use lots of descriptive language and questions, so that your child has an enriched treasure box of words to use in later life.
In my own experience, I have noticed that over the many years of teaching in early years, or kindergarten, that children seem to be less engaged when they are being spoken to and their sound discrimination is not as good as it was 20+ years ago. Although I have no scientific evidence for this, I suspect that many young children are watching a lot of digital films and are losing the art of communication and listening carefully.
2. Using environmental Print and reading outdoors
The world is full of words in print – whether it is the stop sign, the McDonalds sign, large advertising or the Coca-Cola label on a can. Open your child’s eyes to the print around us, recognize letters and use this to read together, explaining any tricky parts of the word.
You could use your mobile to take photographs of words – or if your child enjoys doing this and you trust them not to drop this into the only puddle of water there is for miles, then let your child take it as this will make it more interesting. Look at them on your phone at other times – can they remember the letters, the tricky bits and remember how it sounds?
Can they write the word and writing certainly does not have to be a pencil and paper activity, which will put some children off. Write it in the air with your magic finger, on your child's hand or back, in flour, sand, gloop (so wonderful to use), outdoor chalks, water and brush outside on the patio, shaving cream, jelly, on bath tiles, etc. Even small cars can ‘write’ if they go through some water first. Sometimes the messier writing gets the more fun it is! And for many children writing has to be fun.
3. Fun activities and games
The phonics resources in my TpT store tend to be how to learn and consolidate skills, whether they are mathematical or reading skills, in fun ways. You won’t often see the traditional worksheet lurking in there – although I have included it in some resources too, as some children relish writing and love getting all the ticks, something that should be encouraged.
If you look at my resources you will find fun games such as Battle Words which is similar to the popular game of Battleships but you have to be able to find and use your phonic strategies to sink the words and win before you can go onto the next one. There are different levels of Battle Words and at the time of writing this blog there is at least one more resource in the
pipeline to add to this bundle.
Or play a version of Connect 4, in this version you win the space by reading the word. The first person to get 4 words in a row wins. Although this specific resource uses clipart for the Chinese New Year, animals are always popular so this can be used throughout the year.
There are further ideas for great games to encourage reading in the post by Mahak Arora from First cry Parenting.
4. Writing activities preschool
Although this post is mainly about reading, writing is such an important part which is why I have included this.
Early attempts at mark-making will look as scribbles and marks. They are precious first efforts into the scary world of literature and whatever the outcome, please give your child a lot of praise for their endeavors. It is a long jump from the early marks they make and their emergent writing to when you can read what it is meant to say. This is an experimental phase and all attempts have to be applauded.
Model writing skills - write cards and ask your child to add their name, which may be a little scribble but that is great as it gives meaning to these marks. Make a shopping list together and you write your words and your child can write their words, use both lists as you go round the shop, ask your child what is still on their list and let them check - this makes their writing important.
It is a long and exciting journey from the early scribbles to letters you can decipher and to then using wonderful vocabulary in their stories. With a lot of encouragement and praise, they will get there.
I have mentioned above about using fun stuff to write with – it helps many children. However I realize there comes a time when children will have to start writing using a pencil and paper. It is no good writing in shaving foam, however much fun that may be, when you are 8 and have to write a whole story – beginning, middle and end. That would be a whole table full of shaving foam and a rather smelly room as well as the obvious mess. There comes a time when we do have to formalize the writing process and continue to make it fun.
Use colored/ coloured pencils or paper, there is no reason why we have to write in black on white paper. Have different sizes, it is great to write short notes on post-its and write posters on much larger paper. Collaborate and write stories together.
Have fun resources to write on, such as small booklets – please watch the video below about how to make them. The first one may be tricky to make but I promise you once you get the hang of this, it is super easy. They can be in any color/colour, size paper, you can write on this to scaffold their writing, you can make a template to do this – some of my phonics and RE resources have templates already to make little word booklets or explanations.
Your child will hopefully love using these templates to write their first 'serious' story or facts you didn’t know about dinosaurs and bumper cars. A real treat to keep and put on display on their 18th birthday to show the beginning of their writing journey.
There are some great ideas in this article by Veronica from TeachEzy that may add interest to your child’s writing.
5. Incorporating reading into evereyday activites
I have alluded to this already – use everyday activities to make reading fun. If you are dusting and there is enough dust, write some words your child is struggling with and ask them to read them out loud. It may get you out of dusting for a day too! If you are baking, add some flour on the table and write in this.
Write any words that your child has to know on post-its and stick them on the wall where they brush their teeth. Even more fun, have them in their bedroom and stick them on the wall opposite where they sleep
and play a game of ‘….Light Up ‘ – call it by your child’s name. Use a torch and ask your child to find the word ........ and they have to go from one word to the next to find this. Or shine a torch and take it in turns to read the words. Obviously, this is not a good idea if it stops your bedtime routine, as children need their sleep to be wide awake for tomorrow’s learning.
If you can drip feed reading into everyday activities you will be on a winning streak. You can read more about using everyday activities in the 2nd activity of this article by Reading rockets.
What is also important is that you know the sounds the different graphemes make – they may sound really strange and there are many websites that will give you examples - here is one example. Ask your child – the sounds they learn at kindergarten and school may be hugely different as to how you would say them. Let them teach you, they will love that and don’t assume that you are right as the teaching methods may have changed since you were 5.
Ask your child’s teacher, they are there to help and on the whole, we are a friendly bunch of people who love it when parents are proactive and ask for our help.
We are coming in to land ...
I could certainly go on as I am so passionate that children enjoy reading and take that love throughout their lives to be able to read wonderful and complicated words. With good foundations in reading, nothing is impossible. Thank you for reading this blog about 5 fun ways to improve on reading skills for young children.
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