Pathways To Learning Hong Kong Registered School 566985 & 600733

How Very Young Learners Learn to Crack the Code of Reading

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Some time, usually between the ages of four and six, most children begin to read. Watching a child transition from a non-reader to one who can both entertain and educate herself with a book is, for many parents, one of the milestones and miracles of family life.

At first, printed words are just squiggles to children. This is their first step at cracking the code and learning how to read. Learning to read accurately, fluidly, with good comprehension and stamina is also a crucial set of skills for school success. Schools know this. That’s why in the best ones, the early years of primary education are devoted to teaching kids to read using scientifically proven methods to ensure that all kids are reading at grade level.

The earlier children become familiar with the printed word, the better readers they become. And preschool is a good time to start. Not reading, exactly, but letting children know that what is being read to them is contained on a printed page. It starts small: pointing out letters and words on the pages, showing capital letters and showing that you read from left to right and top to bottom. And it only takes a small change for preschool teachers to start children on this road since storybook reading is already part of most preschool classes.

There are some children for whom reading comes very easily and there are children at the other end of the spectrum who struggle a lot. In general, boys start reading later than girls do — boys tend to be later in showing interest and later in getting started — but they generally catch up right away once they start.

Reading opens the door to a child's early academic success, imparts a love of learning and leads to higher grades in every subject. Numerous studies have shown that strong oral language skills are the basis for literacy development. When children learn to read at an early age, they have greater general knowledge, expand their vocabulary and become more fluent readers. Early readers can recognize a larger number of words by sight, which enables them to learn more from and about their environment.

There are many day to day activities; teachers do with children to develop the skills that underpin children’s literacy development. These include developing their vocabulary, teaching children how words sound and link together and explaining how books work through play. Learn more how these reading activities and programmes are delivered at some of Singapore’s most popular international schools.


Cracking the Code: Reading for Beginners

Canadian International School (CIS) Lakeside campus, has a library stocked with thousands of books, overlooking the tranquil Chinese Gardens. To many children, this is the perfect setting - to be curled up in any of the many reading corners, totally absorbed in a book.

“At CIS we help scaffold our students to independence by first describing the strategy, modeling it in action, getting them to use it with support and then working towards releasing their dependence from it.” Celeste Krochak, CIS Vice Principal, Primary School

At CIS, the reading programme is taught both through the IB PYP Units of Inquiry and explicitly. Students learn language, about language and through language. The underlying goal is to create a balanced literacy programme. This involves giving students opportunities for guided reading, choral reading, readers’ theatre, word study, genre study, shared reading, partner reading, songs, chants, rhymes, independent reading, specific text type studies, speaking, listening, viewing and presenting.

The focus is on the shared enjoyment of reading based on personal purposes and critical inquiries. Key to reading and writing through the IB PYP Units of Inquiry is developing the ability to construct meaning where reading and writing are tools for thinking about the self and the world.

To help the youngest students at CIS take their first steps to reading, teachers use a range of strategies to support them including sound it out, chunk the word, getting your lips ready for the sound, flipping the vowel sound, skipping the word, reading on and asking for help. Explicit teaching of these strategies is key to their reading progress.

Ms Krochak also adds that, “Making sure our young students have a true understanding of what they are reading is also key. If a child can 'decode' a word but not understand its meaning, they will struggle to enjoy reading. After finishing a story, we ask our students questions about the book, have them make up versions of what could happen next and get them to retell the story using the pictures in the book for support. The final goal is to create readers and writers who can connect, understand, and communicate in their world.”


Early Years Education at Tanglin Trust School 

The first crucial step is that the children need to learn to listen – to stories, to songs and soon they wait for those joyous moments of being read to by a parent, sibling or a teacher.  At Tanglin Trust School reading usually starts with the basics of hearing and differentiating between sounds; a vital skill. 

Alongside this is to play games, sing rhymes and explore language. Once they have mastered these skills one can move onto sound recognition. The next key step after this is blending and segmenting words orally, before introducing letters and words. With this approach the children quickly progress from telling their own stories with the use of pictures, to reading books – always a magical moment! 

Ms Deborah Pearce has been a teacher at the Infant School for 14 years and often works with children coming from different backgrounds with different reading levels. “Making sure that the children possess the key skills they need is really important. Without the basic skills, such as sound recognition, differentiation, blending, segmenting, they will not be able to move on to comprehension and enjoying the story.

Our Infant School adopts a child-led approach in all areas of the curriculum and this is very much the case when they are learning to read. Individual reading sessions with each child ensure that they get the right level of support for their needs but we also have break-out groups for children who are progressing faster and need to be challenged more.” Each child will progress at their own pace and to meet these individual needs, teachers at Tanglin spend a lot of one-on-one time with children.  This ensures they are getting the support they need to learn but also making sure that they are being challenged sufficiently to progress.

Another concern she addresses is about the invasion of electronic gadgets into our lives. Ms Pearce finds that screens do not detract from this love of books; in fact screens can enhance the reading experience. The school uses iPads to video the children and they absolutely love watching themselves speaking and it gives them a sense of achievement and pride, thereby building their confidence. The school also uses educational apps that help the children bring books to life and allow them to create their own books.

Tanglin Trust School believes that the biggest gift a parent can give their child is to read to them. Establishing a good bedtime routine that includes stories is fundamental - and then bringing those stories to life through tone of voice, role play or props just builds on the fun and feeds that innate love that children have for storytelling and reading.


Supporting Young Children to Become Readers

Carla Marschall, Assistant Head of Infants at UWCSEA Dover and Wendy Jones, Literary Coach at UWCSEA Dover both believe that children must make connections and think beyond the literal text to “crack a code” that contains personal meaning.


Cracking the “reading code” requires far more than an understanding of letter-sound relationships.

Children’s author Mem Fox, states in her popular book, Reading Magic, that children should have heard around one thousand stories before they begin to read. The telling of stories and reading of books in the classroom builds on important work started in the home, bringing to the child a rich vocabulary, an understanding of how stories and information books sound and most importantly that books create a response and allow people to make meaning. Thinking is at the heart of this meaning making: strong readers connect to their prior experience, ask questions, make predictions and use textual clues to make sense of what they read. “Some parents may feel that learning how to read is akin to cracking a code”, says Carla.

If letters are symbols representing sounds used in spoken language, learning how to read simply requires memorizing which sound goes with each letter. With this knowledge of letter-sound relationships and practice, practice, practice, emergent readers become proficient. Or do they?

Decoding, the ability to apply letter-sound relationships to new words described above, is often hailed by parents as the most important reading skill. Decoding is often taught within discrete phonics programmes, but unless it is used in conjunction with other reading skills, decoding falls flat in creating well-rounded readers. An ability to decode does not guarantee fluency or comprehension. Instead an overreliance on decoding can lead to robot-like readers that lack the ability to infer, predict or make connections when reading.

Wendy Jones, speaks about the unique approach used by teachers. “With our youngest of readers in Kindergarten 1, songs, rhymes and wordless books are used throughout the school year to support development of myriad literacy concepts. Songs and rhymes develop phonemic awareness, the ability to hear and differentiate between sounds, in a playful, age-appropriate way.

They also expand each child’s vocabulary and give them an opportunity to be exposed to and analyze rhyming structures found in texts. In their work with wordless books, our K1 children think about story elements such as setting, plot and characters, explore traditional story structures and develop the skills to use illustrations and other textual clues to infer and make predictions.

Cracking the “reading code” requires far more than an understanding of letter-sound relationships. Readers must engage intellectually with a text, thinking beyond individual sounds to consider big ideas about books. By using a balanced approach that focuses on speaking and listening as well as discrete reading skills, UWCSEA’s youngest students make personal meaning out of diverse texts and become proficient readers.

Useful Websites

Here you will find many free e-books, book recommendations and resources that will support your child with reading.

Here you will find a free eBooks collection, developed for children aged 3 - 11 years old. Help your young child learn to read with The Oxford Reading Tree (featuring our much-loved Biff, Chip and Kipper characters), watch your child develop their love of reading with Project X, or simply browse the range of over 200 eBooks for inspiration.

Lovereading4kids was created to be the best recommendation site for Children’s Book from toddlers to teens. It has been created using the experience of parents and book lovers, who want our children to read great books.

Free Kids Books is a growing library of unique children’s books and literary resources available for download in a user friendly pdf format.

We aim to provide easy access to great free children’s books and resources, for the enjoyment of reading and writing, and to promote improved literacy standards, and thus improved lives.”

  • Access the Junior Britannica online(enter your library card number to start).
  • Get help with homework and projects using the collection of books.
  • Take part in activities during holiday periods.