Reading and writing

Ready to read and write. What skills does my child need?

Learning to read and write are complex tasks but there is now lots of research available about what skills are most important to help children be ready to soak up learning when they start school.

At Talking Matters we have found the following people's work to be very relevant to parents, teachers and speech pathologists: Laura Justice from the US and her work on “emergent literacy”, Deslea Konza’s work in South Australia on “the Big Six” aspects of literacy and materials developed by Diana Rigg from “Promoting Literacy Development” in Western Australia. These writers have a lot in common in terms of what skills are important for children. Here are the most vital skills:

Oral language. Literacy is a language skill, so the better child’s language the more easily they develop literacy. Particular skills that have been shown to be important are:

  • vocabulary
  • oral story telling
  • comprehension

The more words a child knows and understands and the more practice they have talking with adults, sharing their ideas, asking and answering questions, hearing and telling stories, the more knowledge they will have to draw on when making sense of the things they read and putting their ideas down on paper.

Talking Matters have developed some easy to use resources for parents, carers and teachers to help develop oral language skills.

Phonological awareness. This is a knowledge of sounds and sound patterns in words. The most important skills for beginning readers are hearing beginning sounds, matching rhyming words and counting syllables. As children begin to learn to read and write the ability to break words into individual sounds and blend sounds to make words is vital.

You can download some information about developing phonological awareness and some printable activities from Our website.

Letter/sound knowledge or alphabet knowledge. Children need to know the sounds that letters make as well as the names of the sounds. They also need to be familiar with lower case letters, not just capitals.

You can help your child be familiar with letters by:

  • Talking about the letters in their name and helping them to learn to write it
  • Playing with letter puzzles and magnetic letters
  • Making letters from playdough and in painting and craft activities
  • Looking at alphabet books and games together

Print awareness or book awareness. Reading aloud to children and sharing books together helps children feel confident and familiar with written materials and understand how books and writing work. You can help your child learn print and book awareness by:

  • Reading together regularly
  • Talking about the book, what is the cover, title, author?
  • Talking about the words in books and how they tell about the pictures
  • Talking about how to use the book, where to start, which way the words go, how to turn the pages
  • Pointing out familiar letters and words as you read
  • Talking about the story, the characters, the problem and how the problem is solved
  • Helping your child to predict what might happen next in the story
  • Using books with repetitive lines to help predict or rhyme to predict what word might come next
  • Looking at a range of other written materials such as newspapers, catalogues, shopping lists, magazines, brochures with your child and talking about them

An environment that values literacy and makes books and other literacy materials available to children. Children need to see the important adults in their lives reading and writing. They need the chance to practice their skills and have their attempts valued. You can help your child by:

  • Having books in your home. These can include library books, second hand books and hand me down books as well as a few special books.
  • Having paper and pencils available for children to use
  • Letting your child see you read and write
  • Reading and writing together
  • Setting aside time for reading and "pencil and paper" activities

So how can speech pathologists help with reading and writing?

Reading and writing difficulties impact on learning in all other subjects areas. Up to 20% of all Australians have difficulty learning to read and write which can have an enormous impact on their lives. Children with reading and writing problems may have difficulty learning at school. Speech pathologists are professionals who have the specialist skills to help people with reading and writing difficulties.

Why do some children have difficulty learning to read and write?

Some children have difficulty because they do not have the speaking and listening skills or the knowledge about sounds needed to learn to read and write. This may be due to:

  • Limited access to education
  • A specific difficulty related to speaking, listening or knowing about sounds
  • A family history of reading and writing difficulties

Most children develop speaking and listening skills and knowledge about sounds easily. These children learn to read and write at school. However, some children need special support to help them learn the skills they need for reading and writing. Speech pathologists can help children develop the skills they need to be ready to read and write at school and can also help develop literacy skills through targeted one on one support when there is a difficulty.

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