How To Choose A Beginning Reading Program For Your Child

Are you looking for a reading program for your child? There are so many options out there and you’re not sure which one to pick. Many programs claim to be the best, but how can you evaluate these claims?

mom teaches reading how to choose the right reading program for your child

Teaching reading may sound daunting and complex, so some parents who want their child to start reading tend to take what is off-the-shelf or what may be the easiest package “in just a number of days”. 

However, there is more to teaching reading than what you see in a promotional video, a brochure, or your neighbor’s Instagram post of their reading child. Videos of very young babies and toddlers “reading” may look impressive, but are they truly “reading”? Is long-term reading success attributed to reading as early as possible? We have yet to see well-founded research that supports this claim.

If you knew more about the science of how children learn to read, you’ll be in a comfortable position to judge whether a program is worth your time and money. We’ve put together this guide to help you understand what to look for in a reading program and what aspects of reading development you need to consider.

Five Questions You Need to Ask Before Getting a Beginnning Reading Program For Your Child

1. Why are we teaching reading in the first place?

Let’s start with the end in mind. The overall goal of a beginning reading program is to prepare a child for successful reading development in their life span. Beyond preschool, you picture your grade-schooler who can read independently with joy as an everyday habit. Excellent grades in school would be a mere offshoot of reading with ease.

Fast forward a few more years, you dream of a high schooler who reads with the zest of learning and thrives in life obstacles because of the ability to use reading and writing as a means to clarify thought, express what is relevant, and communicate their purpose effectively. Again, excellent grades would be an added bonus, as school tasks are done with internal motivation, no matter how difficult.

why is the program design this way? mom teaches reading how to choose a reading program for your child
Your vision must be that your child reads with ease and joy for the rest of their life.

When we ask, “Why teach reading?”, a reasonable frame of mind is to think of reading as a lifetime journey.  This means that while your child is between the ages of 0-6, the long-term goal of reading with ease and joy for the rest of their life must remain your vision. The disposition you want them to acquire is that from birth, reading has always been a positive experience, and learning to read was a delight. The key is to know when and how to build these roots for growing your skilled reader.

2. When and how we teach reading?

At a period where they are still developing speech and language competencies, formal reading instruction is not to be forced or hurried. You will need to determine when the child is ready based on your constant observation of their communication skills and behavior. A readiness view of reading development assumes that there is a specific time in the early childhood years when the
the teaching of reading should begin.

It also assumes that physical and neurological maturation alone prepares the child to take advantage of instruction in reading and writing (NAEYC, 1998). Moreover, more recent studies by the ILA in 2019 discover that the two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness (the understanding that words are made up of a series of
discrete sounds called phonemes).

a child learning the alphabet how to choose a beginning reading program for your child
Alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness are the two best predictors of early reading success.

Alongside developing maturity, these two skills are taught. The specific time of readiness and capability for gaining new knowledge differ among children of the same age range, with skills varying across the same kindergarten level. The question of “when to give phonics instruction” will depend on their language abilities, attention span, working memory, visual and phonological processing skills, as well as other socio-emotional factors. Systematic and explicit phonics instruction can be given when readiness is observed. As a rule of thumb, we raise a red flag if a child is unable to read by 7 years old, so we have enough time to harness pre-reading skills.

Children are easily observable, what you see is what you get. Those who manifest readiness for formal instruction will experience productive flow in their learning. Those who lack readiness will be pushed to their frustration levels, manifesting in undesired behavior. We do not want them to associate forced reading instruction with a painful struggle for mastery and may develop anxiety over committing repeated errors. A negative reading disposition can remain with them for many years, and this is difficult to reverse.

Interestingly, recent research in reading education tackles the importance of literacy disposition as an essential factor alongside reading performance. A study shows that whereas children can learn to read and maintain reading abilities through the years, literacy disposition for leisure and academic reading may diminish in later grades (Auckerman, 2021). This motivation factor is likely to set apart successful readers and leave others behind, regardless of
reading ability.

As a parent of a child beginning to read, choose then a program that nurtures a positive learn-to-read experience, as this will have lasting effects on reading disposition. Do not assign your child’s beginning reading experience primarily to an attractive set of materials, bundles of worksheets, or a computer-aided app that cannot observe them, are unable to track their responses, nor provide human interaction. Teaching reading demands a lot of communication, modeling, and connecting with the child. Choose a program that is taught by an insightful reading teacher who will determine readiness, nurture your child’s love for reading and ensure their love for learning to read.

3. How should a beginning reading program look like? 

Actually, what materials “look like” should be the last thing on your mind. The first thing is to ask “why” you would use the set of activities in the first place. Do not simply purchase a “list of materials” or a checklist of “steps to teach reading”. Determine first your rationale. Gain an understanding of how children learn to read developmentally and note that there are stages of reading development and none of them must be skipped. The table below illustrates this (Roskos, et. al., 2009).

Source: First Principles for Early Grades Reading Programs in Development Countries. The International
Reading Association in cooperation with the American Institutes for Research under the EQUIP1 LWA.
Roskos, et. al. 2009

A well-designed beginning reading program focuses on pre-reading skills during emergent literacy (age 0-6), rather than teaching phonics straight away. Decades of research and evidence-based practices have shown that phonemic awareness remains critical in learning to read (National Reading Panel, 2000). An attempt to teach decoding before developing emergent literacy skills may be detrimental to reading development in the long term. We have seen several cases in reading intervention where a child had been taught to use inefficient default strategies during their early years (i.e. guesswork in “reading”) which had caused delays and difficulties through the grade levels.

A solid beginning reading program includes pre-reading components at its core. There are several longitudinal studies that track the long-term effects of pre-reading skills as having significant effects on reading comprehension in later grade levels. A recent study using path models of 1010 students in Finland discovered that rapid naming, vocabulary, and listening comprehension were significant predictors of reading comprehension in 9th grade (Manu, et. al. 2020).

Apart from pre-reading components, it is essential for a teacher to observe, utilize, and boost a child’s language learning abilities. There is a high correlation between a child’s overall language abilities and their reading achievement (Mehta, et. al., 2005). Spoken language competence involves several systems, such as those that represent meaning and facilitate learning sound structure of words and grammatical structure of sentences (Tomblin, 2005).

Here are some key questions you can consider in a beginning reading program:

  • Does the reading program consider developing phonemic awareness to prepare him for phonics instruction?
  • Does it expose the child to poems, rhymes, and songs?  
  • Does it enhance language abilities that promote oral language skills and listening comprehension?
  • Does it contain read aloud activities (by a teacher) and expose the child to well-written stories? These develop their vocabulary, expose them to correct structure of words and sentences, as well as help acquire a positive view of reading.
  • Does the program take its time teaching alphabet knowledge?
  • Does the program teach phonics in an, systematic, and organized way using direct, explicit instruction?
  • Are the activities expected of children developmentally appropriate?

4. Does the program take a comprehensive approach to reading, instead of focusing on only one aspect?

You might have come across reading programs that train babies to speak out “words” upon the flashing of a visual prompt (i.e. words on flashcards). There are also some who teach nonreaders to speak out words from a book, cover to cover by rote memory, and call it “reading”.

Are they truly reading?

At the pre-alphabetic phase, children do not understand that letters represent sounds in words, although they do know that print represents spoken messages. They have no strategy other than remote memory of visual pattern or recognizing a word in its physical or meaning context to read it (Moats, 2010). A program lacking the teaching of alphabetic principles results in weak decoding skills, so think carefully before purchasing such programs.

mom teaches reading does the program consider individual differences among kids?

In fact, there is more to reading than just decoding or word reading. A simple model of reading proposes that the meaning of “reading” equals the product of decoding and comprehension (Tunmer and Gough, 1986). These two components of skilled reading are both critical and necessary. Psychologist and literacy expert Hollis Scarborough further explains that these two major strands, language comprehension, and decoding, are both woven together, represented in her framework as a tight reading rope resulting in skilled reading (Scarborough, 2011).

Choose a program that also strengthens language comprehension apart from decoding, including the components below. They are to be developed simultaneously (not in order of steps) through the first six years:

Listening and listening comprehension.
Oral language expression.
Phonemic and phonological awareness.
Alphabet knowledge.
Knowledge of print conventions and book handling.
Prewriting and writing letters.

Don’t hesitate to ask your reading teacher how instruction is designed to address these components.

5. Does the program consider individual differences among kids?

Aside from teaching pre-reading skills, a reading teacher must be able to recognize readiness in individual students of a group and help each one transition from the emergent literacy stage to the decoding stage.

A developmental approach to phonics instruction at the kindergarten level is recommended, where a teacher could identify children for which to tailor intervention, depending on the individual children’s level of knowledge. This is important because kindergarteners vary greatly in how much they already know about letters when they enter school (National Reading Panel, 2000). A teacher should be aware of red flags for reading disability, upon which an appropriate referral to a reading specialist can be made.

Conclusion

As you choose a reading program, it helps to reflect on where you wish to take your child. Visualize reading as part of their life in the future. The early years come only once. Take a moment to reflect on who to trust and approach for help with your child’s reading development.

You may also ask, who is the best teacher? Can I, as Mom, be equipped to teach reading? You don’t need to be a professional teacher and you don’t need a degree in education to be able to teach your child. With the right support and mindset, parents may actually be the best teacher a child beginning to read.

We’d love to support you on your journey. Check out our other resources and the Mom Teaches Reading course, an online parent coaching program. You will be surprised at how you can best influence your child’s reading development.

About the author: Teacher Tasha Reyes-Mendoza is a reading intervention specialist and mom of four. She is the director of the Center for Reading Assessment and Intervention.

References:

  • Aukerman, M., & Chambers Schuldt, L. (2021). What Matters Most? Toward a Robust and Socially Just Science of Reading. Read Res Q, 56(S1), S85– S103. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.406
  • Shriver, E. K. (2000). National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH, DHHS. Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read: Reports of the Subgroups (00-4754). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office
  • Roskos, et. al. (2009). First Principles for Early Grades Reading Programs in Development Countries.  The International Reading Association in cooperation with the American Institutes for Research under the EQUIP1 LWA.
  • Gough Philip B. and Tunmer William E. Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability in RASE Volume 7 Issue 1 January/February 1986
  • International Literacy Association. (2019). Meeting the Challenges of Early Literacy Phonics Instruction (Literacy Leadership Brief). Newark, DE
  • Roskos, et. al. (2009). First Principles for Early Grades Reading Programs in Developing Countries. Available at: http://works.bepress.com/kathleen_roskos/22/
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children. (1998). Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children. In Young Children. 53 (4) : 30-46
  • Manu, et. al. (2021). Reading and Writing 34:753–771 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-020-10090-w 1 3
  • 30 August 2020. Kindergarten Pre‑Reading Skills Predict Grade 9 Reading Comprehension (PISA Reading) But fail To Explain Gender Difference. Published online: 10 September 2020
  • Mehta, P. D., Foorman, B. R., Branum-Martin, L., & Taylor, W. P. (2005). Literacy As a Unidimensional Multilevel Construct: Validation, Sources of Influence, and Implications in a Longitudinal Study in Grades 1 to 4. Scientific Studies of Reading, 9(2), 85–116.
  • Moats, Louisa Cook (2010). Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers, Second Edition. Paul H. Brookes Publishing.
  • Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting Early Language and Literacy To Later Reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, Theory, and Practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.),
  • Tomblin, B. (2005). Handbook for Research in Early Literacy. New York: Guilford Press
  • 2010. Literacy as an Outcome of Language Development and its Impact on Children’s Psychosocial and Emotional Development. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. 2nd ed.

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