Most people think that children learn to read by looking at words and saying them out loud but the process of learning to read is more complex and very much a step-by-step process. By the time your child starts school, she or he will be beginning to learn to blend letters together, to sound out words and memorise simple words, like the consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words ‘cat’, ‘hat’ and ‘sit’.
The next step is to read simple sentences that combine a few simple words such as, ‘the cat sat on the mat’. By the time your child is in Year 1 (aged six) and Year 2 (aged seven) they will be learning how to read chapter books and develop fluency.
In short, learning to read means being able to look at a new word and decipher it using its alphabetical composition. It means being able to recognise and sound out a word by blending the string of letters it contains into the right sound.
What is phonics?
Phonics is a method of teaching, based on the sounds of letters and groups of letters. The phonics approach to reading teaches children to decode words by sounds, rather than recognising whole words. In the early years, teaching is based on breaking up words into phonemes, the smallest units of sound.
Children also learn the letters that represent the sounds and then blend them into words. For example, children are taught to read the letters in a word like d-o-g, and then merge them to pronounce the word dog.
Some teachers believe that teaching children to read with phonics alone isn’t the best method because it doesn’t help beginner readers to understand the meaning of words.
What are reading schemes?
Reading schemes are a series of books with the same characters, which get increasingly advanced. They aim to provide children with lots of small, achievable steps as they begin to read.
Each new level, or stage, within the reading scheme introduces new things and practises the skills and knowledge learned in the previous levels. Some schemes, like Oxford Reading Tree, work on stages, with the stages related to age, whilst others like Collins Big Cat, Rigby Star and Lighthouse, use book bands (colour coding) to indicate the next step up.
Schools commonly use reading schemes with beginning readers but some experts believe that children learn to read much faster if they are taught from real books instead. If a school does use a reading scheme it’s now common for them to use more than one and to use ‘real books’ as well.
Encourage a love of reading: 6 fabulous titles and collections for early readers
Inky Mouse and her friends Snake and Bee guide your child through simple adventures. These 72 books have a general fiction strand, featuring folk from fairytales, like the Three Billy Goats Gruff, and a non-fiction strand with titles including The Pond, Rainforests and Mountains.
- What’s the format? Four colour-coded levels of increasing difficulty, from beginners to confident. The first set introduces basic sounds and simple sentences, with later stages using blends and more complex words and sentences.
- What’s the story? Capers such as falling in mud or hunting for friends.
- We love The helpful way letters that are not sounded are written in a lighter type.
- Any extras? Flashcards, workbooks, CDs and DVDs are also available.
- Perfect for… Animal lovers and anyone who’s been learning Jolly Phonics.
Twins Biff and Chip, their little brother Kipper, dog Floppy and a host of family and friends are the stars of this reading series.
- What’s the format? Over 200 books in ten levels of increasing difficulty. The very first stage is wordless, encouraging children to talk about the pictures. The following books feature a mix of carefully chosen phonic blends and high-frequency words.
- What’s the story? The books cover a range of familiar everyday scenarios, such as naughty dogs, playing sports, going on a car journey and having a haircut.
- We love The lively illustrations, which often have extra humorous details to spot.
- Any extras? There’s also a complementary Read At Home series with ideas to help you talk about the story with your child.
- Perfect for… Anyone who lives in a house where there’s always lots happening!
The 26 alphabet folk – including Annie Apple, Oscar Orange and Peter Puppy – from the Letterland phonics scheme are your child’s cheery companions as they make their way through this series.
- What’s the format? Three colour-coded levels of increasing difficulty, with five or six books each, get your child to practise words containing short vowel sounds.
- What’s the story? Red books are very basic, along the lines of “Annie Apple had a cat”. Blue and orange books feature a host of adventures and mishaps. For example, Greedy Seagulls! in the orange set, tells of a spoiled picnic at the beach.
- We love The red books are so easy your child will soon be able to read them all, developing that all-important sense of confidence.
- Any extras? Flashcards, activity books, plus a cooking book and a craft book.
- Perfect for… Little socialites who love getting to know different characters.
Your child will embark on lots of fun adventures with colourful characters like Pirate Pat, three grizzly bears and a cow with big dreams.
- What’s the format? Fifteen books written in rhyme that gradually introduce different phonic sounds. The first seven books have separate parts for parents and children to read so beginners can both practise their reading and get involved with an exciting story. The following eight books are designed for children to read alone.
- What’s the story? Fantasy tales with a modern twist – the three grizzly bears play in a rock band and the reckless cow speeds away in a big red racing car.
- We love The interactive element that makes these great stories to share.
- Any extras? Puzzles at the back, like word and picture matching and filling in blanks.
- Perfect for… Children who love to have their own part to play in a story.
This collection features everyone from a queen who wants to brighten things up to a caveman by the name of Dave, to aunties with their own style sense and pointy-hatted princesses, who are stuck indoors on a rainy day.
- What’s the format? Six books written in rhyme with simple vocabulary and bright illustrations by Nick Sharratt.
- What’s the story? Original ideas with rhymes used to humorous effect. For example, “Caveman Dave lives in a cave, He doesn’t wash and he doesn’t shave, He’s very smelly, but very brave…” The stories often have a surprise at the end.
- We love The brilliant cartoon-style images.
- Any extras? Not for this series, but Nick Sharratt has illustrated lots of brilliant books suitable for early readers like the Daisy books written by Kes Gray.
- Perfect for… Those with a keen sense of humour who like to have fun with rhyme.
A cohort of superheroes comes speeding to the rescue in this action-filled series. Among them, Sky Boy, Top Dog, Jim Swim, Jumping Jade, Stella Stone and Space Hamster,
- What’s the format? Ten books of increasing difficulty, with eye-catching pictures accompanied by short sentences.
- What’s the story? Exciting tales of triumph and adventure – Sky Boy thwarts an aerial pirate, Jim Swim takes on a Jaws-like shark, while ninja Top Dog makes short work of mean gangs like the Mad Dogs.
- We love Those marvellous action-packed pictures bursting with colour and verve.
- Any extras? At the back there are quizzes to drill new words and a reward chart to fill in, as well as a sheet of fun stickers. Ladybird also has a Read It Yourself series featuring traditional tales.
- Perfect for… Superhero fans and super speedy readers in the making.