How do we learn to read?

When our children are in the last year of pre-school, it seems that parents turn our attention on “acceleration of cognitive processes” switch. And that’s when we get into trouble because our child, only 5 years old, begins to read (among many other things that belong to the formal learning). And here the wonderful comparison and competition between parents comes into play: “my son already recognizes his name”, “ah well mine already reads his name and some words”, “well mine doesn’t do none of that. I think I’m going to get a teacher to come home to help him.”

Let’s see gentlemen! Have we gone crazy? Written language, like oral language, is a PROCESS. Yes, that big and that slow. Do you know everything that needs to be built before start reading? And everything that needs to be analyzed before becoming effective readers?

I´ll try to explain in a simple way several things that are necessary for a child to follow the reading process and become an effective reader (if there is no underlying difficulty) or can re-enable this function if there is a disorder.
And it turns out that these basic necessary things are being formed and consolidated during the first years of life and, in a more consistent and formal way, in the childhood stage.

During the first years, what we call “phonetic patterns” is basic: what makes up our brain the sound of each phoneme and its possible combinations in our language). Then what we call “lexical store”, which is nothing more than the vocabulary that we acquired. Then the “mophosyntactic” level, that is, the grammar of the language… In short, the language at all its levels.

So daycare teachers stimulate all these skills (along with the motor skills that are fundamental but which I am not going to focus on in this article) through games and activities. When children begin the second stage of preschool, teachers continue to stimulate these skills along with the work routines that will be fundamental along the academic life.

While for many parents the nursery and/or the infant stages are a space for “family-work conciliation” (what I crudely call a children’s parking lot), the essential skills for all subsequent formal learning are in formation. That is why it is very important to choose nursery and get involved in activities. But hey, we can talk about this another time.

Now, some of the activities that preschool teachers design and that, although many may seem silly, they have a lot of scientific basis and usefulness, they are:

  • Tell stories, play a lot simulating everyday situations, use puppets and/or dolls, use toys that simulate reality. And all this to stimulate oral language so all language levels are consolidated
  • Movement imitation games, recognition of body parts, sequential movements of the body, work in different postures (floor, table, face down)… All of this helps develop body outline
  • In the assembly teachers present days of the week, they discuss what they did during the weekend, they talk about what they are going to do in the afternoon… Everything that develops temporary and space orientation
  • Puzzles, towers, search for the same shapes or colors…Activities that encourage hand-eye coordination and visual perception.
  • They also sing repetitive and rhyming songs, following a certain rhythm or speed to stimulate phonological awareness
  • They work with onomatopoeia, “veo-veo” game to play with sounds, plan excursions and outings that allow kids to recognize sounds in the environment. This serves to develop auditory discrimination
  • They begin to play simple memory games to stimulate working memory

And during the early stages, the work and promotion of perceptual processes is essential. Between 6-7 years old and until approximately 9, is when the linguistic processes starts to be stimulated: phoneme-grapheme  correspondence, word recognition, position of the word within the phrase, extraction of the meaning and integration of this in the memory, decode and spelling processes.

Therefore, to be able to read (as well as to write but that is not our task in this article) it is necessary that the brain circuits that carry information from the eyes, to the area where de language is processed, function correctly. That is, it is necessary that neurodevelopment has advanced enough to be launched effectively. And all this happens around 6 years old.

That is why we cannot speed up processes or go faster than what the brain needs or is prepared to.

In another article we will talk about when we should consult with a specialist or when we can suspect of a difficulty in reading.

Letting kids to experiment with books is a great learning. And sharing books and reading moments with them is wonderful and highly recommended.


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