How do children learn to read? The brain has specific areas that are for seeing, hearing, and even our senses, but not reading. Different parts of the brain need to work together for a child to read. Oral language has been spoken for over 100,000 years, but written language only between 5,000 – 6,000 years. Because of this, many educators call learning to read “cracking the code.” The following steps describe what a child goes through to acquire the skills to read. It is utterly amazing!
The Pre-Reading stage is when “reading readiness” starts. During this stage, children recognize that spoken language is made up of individual sounds. This is called Phonemic awareness. It is also the time when Alphabetic Awareness occurs. It would be one thing if memorizing the ABCs was all that was needed, but a child needs to also match the correct sound to each letter. To make things more complicated there are 26 letters and 44 sounds. Some of those letters have two different sounds AND there are letters that have the same sound. This is such an abstract concept. The letters are just symbols that have no context for a young child. If you say the word apple, a child knows what an apple is because it’s a concrete item. Letters are just abstract symbols. The letter A could be represented by anything, except thousands of years ago it was decided that it should be A.
Once a child has learned the 26 letters and the consonant and short vowel sounds that represent each letter, that child has entered the Emergent Stage of reading. During this stage, children learn how to connect written letters to verbally decode a word. This blending skill is slow at first. And why not, this is more difficult that is sounds. Take for example the word dog. Dog is made up of three sounds that are connected to three letters: d-o-g. To be able to read the word dog, a child must recognize the letters, the sounds that are connected to the letters, and then understand that by putting these abstract sounds together, it creates a new, larger symbol, called a word. In this case, dog. When a child can do this, she has reached the unexplainable moment of Cracking the Code. There are many more steps a child will take before becoming an independent reader, but the magic happens at the beginning when the code is cracked and the abstract becomes concrete.