The Science of Reading for Parents: An Essential Guide to Enhancing Your Child's Reading Skills at Home

Reading is so much more than just a skill—it's the secret ingredient for success in every aspect of our lives. It's a beautiful blend of neuroscience, psychology, and linguistics that brings about a profound transformation in us. It's not just about flipping pages of a book, it's about expanding horizons, nurturing intellect, and fostering empathy. Mastering reading skills early in childhood forms the bedrock for future academic achievements and navigating the practical world for our future adults. So, let's dive deep into the magical world behind the Science of Reading.

The Science of Reading: An Overview

Around the globe, educators are changing the way they teach students to read. Backed with knowledge from the Science of Reading, many educators are moving away from balanced literacy approaches (which focus on teaching reading through context rather than explicit phonics instruction) and toward a structured literacy approach. Research has shown balanced literacy is less effective for students at risk for reading difficulties or those with special needs, as they especially require direct and systematic instruction in foundational skills like phonics. The Science of Reading refers to research that has been conducted over the past four decades by reading experts and cognitive scientists. This research outlines the most effective methods for teaching children to read.

The Science of Reading has demonstrated that there is a key mental process that supports learning to read. This process is called Orthographic Mapping. It enables students to store words for immediate retrieval, turning unfamiliar words into sight words. In order for this mental process to take place, children need direct instruction to connect sounds with written words.

How the Brain Decodes Written Language

Let's pause for a moment and take a joyful trip down memory lane, revisiting our unique reading journey. As adults, it's easy to overlook the hurdles we overcame in learning to read. Letters and words, so familiar to us now, were once strange symbols we had to decode. Remembering our early reading experiences as children is like playing a 'memory match' game. This game called upon our memory, visual perception, language, and cognitive skills. The game becomes more difficult if you introduce unfamiliar symbols. This resulting complexity beautifully mirrors the intricate process of learning to read which we successfully navigated.

The science behind reading is a fascinating exploration of how the human brain processes spoken and written language. Understanding how the brain decodes written language can help parents support their child's reading journey. Each new word a child encounters is a puzzle that needs solving—recognizing the letters, decoding the words, understanding their meaning, and finally, putting it all together.

Reading is the Cornerstone for Long-Term Success

The early mastery of reading skills is a cornerstone for long-standing achievement. When the door to reading opens, it paves the way for cognitive development. Reading stimulates imaginative and critical thinking. It's an engaging exercise that challenges our minds, pushing us to comprehend, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information.

Moreover, reading is an emotional journey that nurtures our emotional intelligence. As we delve into the lives of characters in stories, we empathize with their feelings, struggles, and triumphs. This empathy extends beyond the pages of books and into our real-life interactions. In essence, reading develops skills  that transcend beyond literacy—it’s a stepping stone towards becoming well-rounded individuals capable of intentional, independent thought and deep empathy for others.

Children who have a love of reading excel academically compared to their counterparts. Furthermore, adults who were avid readers in their youth tend to have a higher income than those who weren't.

A child who reads only 5 minutes a day will encounter only 200 thousand words. A child who reads about an hour per day will experience 4 million words per year. That is 20 times more opportunities for cognitive development!1.

In addition, science has shown a connection between reading and the formation of fresh neural pathways, especially in children who find it challenging. This incredible capacity of our brains to forge new bonds and routes offers a beacon of hope for children with reading struggles. 

When children facing difficulties receive rigorous, top-notch reading interventions early, they do more than just catch up; they forge new brain connections and enhance their cognitive abilities, highlighting the transformative potential of reading.

The Significance of Early Reading

Recognizing the significance of early reading in a child's academic journey is vital. The optimal age to build strong decoding skills and develop orthographic mapping or “learning to read” falls between 4 and 7 years old. It's a sensitive yet opportune time to introduce phonemic awareness and phonics, especially to those children who are at risk of facing reading challenges. Cultivating these skills early can result in notable improvements in reading fluency and comprehension as they grow older. The process starts with the early detection of potential risks, enabling caregivers and teachers to identify promptly when children require additional literacy support. Unfortunately, schools often overlook the importance of signaling the need for reading intervention so using risk screeners like Sharpen’s Early Advantage Assessment enables parents to take action early and monitor progress over time. 

Sharpen Reading: Aligning with the Science of Reading

Sharpen Reading, a program that has proven to be effective with all kinds of readers, including those with reading delays or dyslexia, is designed around the principles of the science of reading. It incorporates research from various disciplines to facilitate the reading acquisition process. Sharpen Reading focuses on four key elements:

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Phonemic Awareness: Understanding that words comprise individual sounds.

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Phonics: Knowledge of the relationships between letters and the sounds they represent.

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Explicit Instruction: Systematic teaching of reading components to nurture proficient readers.

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Varied Practice: Frequent exposure in multiple ways to words solidifies their memory.

“The best decoding and recoding method we've found to help our child have a rock solid understanding of basic reading.” - Sharpen Parent

The Benefits of Sharpen Reading

Sharpen Reading offers a comprehensive, multi-sensory structured, highly effective reading program that incorporates the spelling code, integrates handwriting with phonics instruction and provides efficient phonemic awareness and spelling instruction. This unique and robust combination works together to reinforce reading proficiency and enables parents or instructors to correct errors in real-time and motivates students to read extensively.

“My daughter fell behind, especially in reading and writing in kindergarten. Using Sharpen Reading, I was able to get her from barely reading any words to reading at a 3rd-grade level in one year.” - Sharpen Parent.

Science of Reading At-Home Activities

In addition to formal reading instruction, at-home activities that incorporate the principles established by the science of reading can enhance your child's reading skills. These activities can range from reading aloud to interactive word games, all designed to provide engaging, hands-on reading practice. Structured literacy provides a systematic approach to teaching reading, incorporating phonology, sound-symbol association, syllables, morphology, syntax, and semantics. Implementing structured literacy at home can supplement formal reading instruction and provide additional reinforcement of reading skills.

The art of teaching reading skills is embedded in the Science of Reading. By understanding how it works, we, as parents, become well-equipped to aid our children on their reading journey. Employing programs and activities that make it easy to implement best practices in the science of reading, without having to be a reading expert, like Sharpen Reading, integrating at-home activities, and adopting a structured literacy approach can significantly amplify your child's reading development. It's about setting them on the runway to future success, one word at a time.

Free Sharpen Parent Guide

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1:  Anderson, R. C., Wilson, P. T., & Fielding, L. G. (1988). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, 23, 285–303.