At this time of year, many children will be very excited to be taking their first book home from school. Depending on the school, this may be a book for you to read to your child, a book with simple words that your child is expected to read to you, or a wordless book for you to share together.
Before starting school, some children will already have started on the road to reading – they may know lots of letter sounds and be able to read simple words or books. For others, this will be the very beginning of their journey on the road to reading – for some even their first introduction to books.
Realistically, if you have taken the time to read this blog, it is likely that your child is one of the former and you may be disappointed that the books that are appearing in the book bag are wordless picture books as this may seem like a step backwards. You are not alone – many parents struggle with the idea of wordless books and what to do with them.
Learning to read involves reading the words on the page (through decoding by phonics) and understanding what has been read (comprehension).
Wordless picture books can help develop these important comprehension skills and they are particularly useful for children with language problems. Whilst looking through the book and taking time to discuss what is happening in the pictures, there is no pressure to focus on trying to read the words. It is a perfect time to develop vocabulary, follow up on questions, and encourage your child’s own storytelling. It is a useful way of learning about story structure and sequencing of events.
One of the potential problems with using wordless picture books is that once books with words are introduced, children may have more of a tendency to rely on picture clues which in turn may lead to guessing words rather than actually reading them. This will tend to happen when reading schemes are used that are not decodable (i.e. can be read by sounding out the letters and blending them to read the words) but include lots of high frequency words so children have to learn to read them by sight. So when your child moves on to books with words (hopefully from a good phonically decodable reading scheme), they need to realise that they must sound out all through the word to read it, rather than looking at the first letter and guessing what it might be from the picture.
Many heated discussions routinely take place between those who teach purely with phonics and those who like to encourage children to use all the clues available to work out what words might be. On the face of it, it sounds a logical argument that children should use every clue available to read words, but the reality is that children then get distracted from actually developing an independent strategy for reading the words – something that becomes more important as they progress when there are no longer any pictures to help.
Your child’s teacher will no doubt be assessing their new class in the first few weeks to find out what skills they do have. Meanwhile, try to make the most of having the chance to have some stress-free time helping your child develop a love of reading books.