How Do Children Learn to Read?

What are the stages of learning to read and how do children read at school?

How Do Children Learn to Read?

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.



By the time your child starts school, she 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’, ‘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 she is in Year 1 (aged six) and Year 2 (aged seven) she will learn 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 alphabectical 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 harder. 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 schemeslike 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.