This is a really good question. It's one I get asked a lot. Most of us send our little ones off to school and assume they eventually learn to read, but don't always understand how. Maybe wishful thinking- The magic will just happen. Unfortunately that is not always the case, see national statistics (and they're actually getting worse). The reason the U.S. has less than 37% of their 4th graders reading at grade level (yes, you read that right), is mostly because teachers skip the foundational skills or skip phonics instruction all together. We should be seeing these foundational skills being modeled and taught in our children's classrooms- whether that's virtually or in person.
I've heard from various sources that these practices have been replaced with worksheets and 'busy work'. This is not the time to pause reading instruction.
You can read my past blog that discussed the 'reading wars' or even read about it here- it's everywhere. If you don't have time I'll summarize it for you: a systematic, explicit approach to phonics instruction mixed with vocabulary building, modeling comprehension strategies, & awesome, engaging literature have proven to work. Time and time again.
Since most of you have preK-3 kiddos, I'll focus on what should be happening in those grades. Hint: This is where the phonics instruction should take place. If it's done properly, you should not have to use phonics instruction 4th grade and up.
What does reading instruction look like?
Now that most of us have witnessed school on our kids’ screens at home, let me lay out what you SHOULD be observing-
Warm ups with phonological awareness activities (rhymes, clapping out syllables, playing with sounds like these games). PreK-1st
High Frequency or Sight Word practice- They should be learning new sight words weekly. K-3rd
Sound-Letter Introduction- This may be one letter in PreK/K/1st, or more advanced in 1st or 2nd grade where you should see diphthongs (like oi, ow) and digraphs (like th, ch) PK-2nd
Practice saying and writing the letters or sounds (like th, ch, oi, ow, etc.). PK-3rd
Practice reading the sounds that they are learning in a decodable book or text. K-3rd
Fluency practice-Your little one should be reading short books and passages that include decodable (can sound out) and high frequency words to practice building fluency. Reading a passage or book multiple times helps with this. K-3rd
Vocabulary strategies- not a list of vocabulary words to memorize, but actual strategies.PK-3rd
Reading aloud engaging literature and modeling what a good reader does- interact with the text. PK-3rd
Small group support- Your child should be receiving one-on-one or small group instruction targeting them at their level and skill set to help them grow. No matter where they are! (Speaking up even if you have an 'advanced' reader. They often get left out of small group support.) PK-3rd
The list is actually longer, but I don't want to exhaust you. It takes a lot to teach a little one to read. I know teachers are doing the best they can with the situation we're in right now. BUT, if you’re not seeing these practices above, talk with the teacher. Do some research. If you need a virtual advocate, book a free consultation with me. I’d be happy to give you some talking points.
If all else fails, fill in the gaps yourself. Moms do what moms gotta do. We won’t let our babies fall behind. Check out this new sequence of games I put together. Go along the path and see where your little one can use more support.
Once you have the right information, you can advocate for your little one. At the end of the day, I hope we can be partners with teachers on this journey. Take another minute to read through the good instruction models above. Then ask yourself- Am I secure my kiddo is getting the support and instruction they need to be a super reader? If not, do something.