Is there a right way for schools to teach children to read?

Twenty years ago, there were lots of disagreements on how best to teach children to read. So the U.S. government gathered a group of the leading experts and created the National Reading Panel. The group’s task was to look at the most rigorous studies that had ever been done on reading instruction, decide what was scientifically proven to help children, and then make their findings public. In 2000, they published their report, which is still the guiding document for reading instruction.

What did the report conclude? That there are five areas of instruction children need, and there are proven best practices within each one.

Why should parents care?

  1. We think it’s helpful to know what children should be working on in schools over the years. (Read more about these skills for children birth to 3 years, or 4 yrs–9 yrs, in the Science behind Abound Parenting.)
  • Phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words)
  • Phonics (using the relationship between letters and sounds to decode words)
  • Oral reading fluency (reading a passage aloud quickly, accurately, and with the appropriate expression)
  • Vocabulary (learning the meanings of words)
  • Comprehension (understanding and interpreting the meaning in a passage)

    2. We know that this report talked about reading instruction in school, but parents can help at home by doing certain activities with children throughout the days and years. And what happens at home makes a big difference. For example:

  • You are working on your baby’s/young child’s phonemic awareness whenever you play with sounds and rhyme (or rhyme together).
  • You are helping your young child with phonics when you talk about the letters on a sign or on the cover of a book, and point to and call out (for example) how in Go, Dog, Go, the word Go starts with the /g/ sound and the O says its own name.
  • You are building an older child’s oral reading fluency when you take turns reading to each other, and whenever there are opportunities for him to reread a passage aloud.
  • You are helping your child build vocabulary at any age whenever you call attention to an interesting word in a book you are reading, and then use that word again in other situations over the next days or weeks – encouraging him to use the words, too.
  • You are building your child’s reading comprehension whenever you work together to figure out a book’s meaning, giving him an opportunity to actively take part in the figuring-out process.

And let’s not forget, you are working on your child’s oh-so-important social emotional skills (Abound’s Awareness & Regulation skills) whenever he is sitting with you and engaged in hearing and talking about the ideas and characters in a book! 

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