Beginning reading instruction is an essential part of the kindergarten classroom. Though some students enter school with some basic reading skills, this is a prime period in the children’s development to build the foundation for reading. Kindergarten teachers and parents should focus on all three of the pillars of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics and reading comprehension. This article discusses all of these, with an emphasis on kindergarten reading comprehension.
Multiple Methods of Instruction
Just as every child looks different each has his or her own way of learning to read. Though there are many ways to teach a child to read there is not one single kindergarten reading comprehension checklist that works best for every child. Plus reading is not a simple activity. In fact it is one of the most complex cognitive activities that a human being can perform. Therefore it is incumbent upon those working with kindergarteners to use multiple methods of reading instruction. Different children will need different types and levels of support. Even individual children will need to have instruction varied as they reach particular reading milestones. It is important to know each child well and to use strategies that fit her individual learning style(s), interests and needs.
Phonemic awareness is one of the building blocks of a strong foundation for reading development. A phoneme is a sound unit in language. For example, say the word “apple” aloud. You use three distinct sound “chunks” to pronounce this word—“a”, “puh” and “l”. Each of these is a phoneme. Phonemic awareness is not only an understanding that these sound units exist, but also the recognition that they make up words. We are able to read unfamiliar words because we use our knowledge of phonemes to sound out the word. Very young readers do not know to do this. Therefore they must be taught phonemes. In order to help children transition between saying and reading phonemes, kindergarten teachers and parents should instruct children by connecting letters and phonemes. They should present written letters and teach the child the different ways that the letter is pronounced. Through this sort of instruction kindergarteners become aware not only of the different sounds in the English language, but also they begin to understand that specific letters represent specific sounds.
In addition to phonemic awareness, kindergarteners must be taught phonics. Phonics involves the ability to link sounds to letters and to use these to construct words. While it is helpful for children to be aware of particular phonemes and their letter representations, this knowledge is not enough for them to be able read. They need to be able to put letters and phonemes together to create words.
Phonics is best taught systematically. Parents and teachers of kindergarteners should begin by helping children sound out individual letters and then blending these letters into a word. For instance, if a child is learning to read the word bat the adult working with her should first help her figure out what sound each letter makes—“buh” a” “t”. Then she should be encouraged to link these sounds together to make the word. Often young children have many words in their verbal vocabularies that they have not learned to read. When they are assisted in sounding out and blending the sounds together to create the word, they quickly identify the word and are able to make a connection between the oral and print version of it.
Once children have become comfortable sounding out individual letters, they should be taught to read letters in “chunks”. This is where instruction in sound units like “th” and “st” comes in. Also, they should be encouraged to use entire words that they already know to help them read a new word. For example, a child may know how to read the word “car”. When he comes to the word “scar” his teacher should point out that “car” is a part of this word and that he can use it to help him figure out how to pronounce this new word.
Because reading comprehension cannot occur unless a child can identify the sounds making up each word, it is essential that kindergarteners have at least a basic foundation in phonemic awareness and phonics before they can be instructed in reading comprehension. Once they have this basic understanding they can begin working on comprehending what they are reading.
Kindergarten reading comprehension instruction begins on an individual word basis. Children should be taught to read basic high frequency words. Of all of the words in children’s stories, there are approximately 220 that make up 50 to 75% of the content. For this reason, these words are the best ones to focus on in kindergarten instruction. Both E.W. Dolch and Edward Fry have created lists of the most frequently used words in children’s texts. These lists are excellent resources for kindergarten parents and teachers to select vocabulary to instruct their children in. Pictures are an excellent tool for helping children transition between the spoken and written versions of a word. When the print word “ball” is presented under a photograph of a ball the child is able to make a connection between the two.
Kindergarten reading comprehension is also taught using repetitive reading. While it may seem that having a child read the same story over and over would deter her reading development it actually aids it. Repetitive reading allows a child to process a text multiple times. Often the first time she reads it she is focusing on decoding words rather than putting them together to make meaning. Once she has mastered the words she can move more fluently through the story and can begin making meaning. Kindergarten parents and teachers are encouraged to have children read texts aloud multiple times. This allows them to see where the child needs support in understanding words, phrases or sentences. Also, they can ask guiding questions to help children build the skills that they will eventually use independently when they read.
Modeling Good Reading
One of the most powerful tools for helping kindergartners learn to read is for parents and teachers to read themselves. Young children should not only see the adults they love reading they should also read with them. Reading storybooks aloud to kindergarteners helps build their vocabularies, appreciation and interest in reading and background knowledge. They also see the ways a “seasoned” reader uses strategies to make meaning. Reading a book aloud to a young child always benefits him.