Learn To Read

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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Entire sections of libraries are devoted to the topic of how people learn to read. There are volumes and volumes about "beginning" reading, adult literacy, learning disabilities (LD), and reading theory. While experts disagree on the methods employed and their effectiveness, they rarely disagree on the deleterious lifelong consequences of illiteracy.

As you might suspect, the ways in which adults learn to read are markedly different from those in which kids learn to read. Because adults bring a lifetime's worth of experiences to the classroom, they are often taught to read through the "language experience" approach, which focuses on favorite hobbies and pastimes to make reading a relevant and enjoyable experience. When it comes to primary education, however, the debate is more intense.

Approaches to Beginning Reading

One way in which youngsters learn to read is through the "whole language" method, which favors the integrity of the text over its deconstruction. This approach, proponents say, is most suitable for connecting the reading and writing of languages. For this reason, the whole language system is also frequently known as the "literature-based" method.

Another strategy teachers of beginning reading favor is phonics, which explores the constituent parts of words, namely their sounds or "phonemes." Here, children are taught to link letters and letter combinations to these phonemes and become familiar with the rules that govern their usage. Children using this method to learn to read are more likely to be found "sounding out" difficult words based on the rules they've learned.

So How Should My Child Learn To Read?

Were it only so easy that one method of beginning reading applied to all children universally! Instead, some children prosper through whole language learning while others thrive on phonics--and those are only two of many strategies employed by reading instructors. A successful approach then requires a strong knowledge of the individual child, which means parents must involve themselves in the process.

Unfortunately (but predictably) politics plays a significant role in how children learn to read. Thus, many parents are shackled by local, statewide, and federal mandates when it comes to education, even if they, the parents, have a better idea of how their children most effectively learn. Parents must be careful then not to confuse children by introducing different strategies at home than those used by teachers at school. Ideally, a concerned parent will meet with the child's teacher or even principal before the child begins the year's lessons.

The Consequences of Illiteracy

It hardly bears mentioning, but the future for children who never learn to read is bleak. Reading comprehension is the biggest single determinant of a child's success or failure throughout the course of his or her education, which is why so much emphasis is placed on beginning reading. Kids who fail to establish a solid base in the first years will only find their difficulties compounded as reading material becomes more sophisticated.

Concerns such as these cause some parents to panic or even yank their children out of school and try home schooling instead. Others opt for a supplementary approach through at-home learning courses and software, which can be helpful. These materials, however, use just as many different approaches as do schools, so it's imperative that parents find one that jibes with their children's natural learning tendencies, which a reading coach or other counselor can help identify.

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