It’s a known fact that literacy is a fundamental skill which has the ability to push a person to their best potential in life. Throughout the first three years of life, infants and toddlers begin acquiring the first of thousands of words that they will use throughout their lives. Illiteracy can result in disinterest in community involvement, low self-esteem and unstable employment.
As in many other countries, Cayman has been affected by poor literacy levels, particularly in Cayman’s public schools. So, we decided to do some research on how parents and preschool teachers can give their children a leg up on the path to reading and writing in Cayman. What we found was that there was overwhelming scientific evidence that teaching phonics is without a doubt the most effective way to teach children how to read. Period! Without it, some children will end up having serious reading difficulties.
So, what are phonics? It is a teaching method that focuses on the sounds within words and, very specifically, teaches the link between these sounds and the letters that represent them. By teaching this you allow children to decode letters into written words independently, without them having to guess or be told what the letters are. This is a skill that is essential for children when it comes to reading unfamiliar words by themselves. The term ‘phonics’ has been used quite loosely by several reading programmes, with some straying from these fundamental principles. We spoke to Dr. Bruce Murray, who has a PhD in Reading Education and is based at Auburn University, about what he would recommend parents, caregivers and preschool teachers in Cayman do to help their children learn to read. He told us that the letters of the alphabet are important because they are the symbols for the small actions your mouth makes as you say words. What’s equally important, however, is that your child learns the sound associated with each letter. These individual sounds are called phonemes, and children who know about the connection between a letter and its phoneme have an easier time learning to read. To learn about phonemes, children have to be detectives and ‘detect’ phonemes in spoken words. Learning phonemes is the first step in learning to read and can be started before you or your child’s school starts introducing phonics.
THE FIVE STAGES OF LEARNING TO READ ARE:
Phonemic awareness: learning the sound that letters make
4. Vocabulary: understanding the meaning of the words on the page
5. Text comprehension: understanding what you are reading about
Ask your children to search for words that are related in meaning (e.g., “does your mouth say /s/ in dirt or sand? In sun or moon?”). After finding the correct sound at the beginning or end of a word, ask them to search elsewhere in the word: “Is /s/ in horse or dog? In lost or found?” You can be creative! For example, you might say, “I’ll name some food. If they have /m/ in them, say ‘mmm-m’; if they don’t, say ‘yuck’”. You could challenge their metalinguistic focus by asking about ham, fish, lima beans, chocolate cake, and marshmallows.
Preschool and early Kindergarten are prime times for teaching phonemic awareness and to lay the groundwork for decoding letters. Experts recommend keeping teaching time short — around 10–20 minutes a day.
Support Your Child’s Literacy Development At Home
• Read story books and sing nursery rhymes aloud together
• Draw, create and practise writing
• Communication is key! Provide a system of support with constant interaction and communication
• Have children listen and follow along with audio recordings on podcasts or audio books
• Put an alphabet poster somewhere very visible (opposite the toilet is ideal!) and ask your child to sound out the phonetic sound of a few of the letters each day. Start this as soon as they can talk!
LIFE (Literacy Is for Everyone) Cayman has a mission to help improve the literacy levels of residents of the Cayman Islands by providing supplementary literacy programmes and initiatives for children and adults. They also aim to increase the quality of education throughout the public school system.
Paired Reading – LIFE has a very successful paired reading programme with over 150 volunteers who are paired with an individual student from a government school (who has been identified by the school as needing help with their reading) and the volunteer reads with the pupil at their school for 30 minutes each week.
Levelled Literacy Intervention – A small group supplementary intervention programme from Fountas & Pinnell (USA) which is aimed at helping teachers provide intensive small group instruction to students achieving the lowest grades at their level through the use of levelled reading books.
Partners in Print – A parent involved programme which includes a series of evening literacy workshops that allows parents, children and teachers to work together on key skills and strategies to help improve a child’s literacy skills.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED: LIFE is always looking for more people who are willing to volunteer 30 minutes of their time once per week to listen to a child read. To sign up please visit www.life.org.ky.
Cayman Learning Centre offers various programmes to increase the speed and stability of phonemic awareness and to help struggling students in reading, spelling and writing. Footsteps Tutoring is a private company run by professional and caring teachers who offer private tutoring and support for children aged three and over. High Achievement Academy offers small group and one-on-one tutoring for all ages provided by highly qualified and experienced teachers who are knowledgeable in UK, US, Caribbean and the IB Curriculum.
Is your child still struggling? Click here for tips on helping children with reading difficulties.
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