Kindergarten Reading: What Happens from January to April?
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You and your child have survived the first chunk of kindergarten. It’s been a fast and furious few months, but now she's a real kindergartener, well into the swing of school. With a few weeks of holiday vacation to recharge your batteries, and a new year begun, you’re ready to start thinking about the reading skills that will be presented to you child in the upcoming months.
By January, most kindergarten classes are practicing letter recognition and sound matching skills every day. Some teachers will have taught the entire alphabet already, while others may continue their intense teaching of one letter at a time. Either way, the early months of the new year are all about putting new letter and sound knowledge into action, and beginning to read sentences.
Many teachers consider the time between January and April to be the most challenging for their students. This is the time when reading skills start to really emerge, and your child will be asked to work hard in order to take advantage of the developmental changes that are happening within her. Blood (from paper cuts!), sweat, and a few wayward tears may be shed during this challenging period. But take heart! Things will likely get much easier for your child around March. Many kids experience a “sweet spot” in springtime in which everything clicks, and they become the reader they've worked so hard to be.
What kind of reading skills can you expect your child to be practicing this winter? As always, schedules and skills vary, but here are some reading areas that are commonly covered from January through April:
1. Mastery of Letter Recognition and Corresponding Sounds: Your kindergartener will continue his progress towards letter recognition mastery, as well as matching each letter with all of the sounds it makes. During this time period, things get more advanced, as teachers begin to challenge students with lots of sound discrimination exercises. Translation: they'll work on things that hone in on the comparison of two sounds that are very similar. If you think about it, letters like b and p, or v and f require virtually the same mouth movements. This makes them difficult to learn and decipher from each other, so teachers spend a lot of time working to help kids hear the difference.
2. Vowel versus Consonant: In wintertime, teachers often begin using the idea of vowels and consonants as a teaching tool for reading. Knowing what the vowels are, and being aware of the patterns they make when combined with other vowels or consonants, will give your kid a big edge as she starts to read and spell new words. For example, if she knows that the word mat has a consonant, vowel, consonant pattern, she'll have an easier time recognizing similar patterns in other words, like map, or hat.
3. Short and Long Vowel Sounds: Once your child is aware of which letters are vowels, his teacher can begin teaching the long and short vowel sounds. For example, the letter A has two sounds, the short a as in apple, or the long a as in ape. This can be challenging for kids, as it's a whole new set of rules that can be hard to master. There are several rules for reading and spelling long and short vowel sounds, but they have exceptions. For example, the silent e on the end of ape is what makes the a in ape make the long vowel sound. Learning the vowel sounds in a combination of both memorization and trial and error.
4. Blending, Digraphs, and Diphthongs: Blending is a skill that helps children decode, or sound out, new words. It allows them to take a bunch of distinct sounds and push them together to form a word. Digraphs are two letters that, together, make one sound, such as ch or sh. Diphthongs are a set of two vowels that make one sound, such as the ee in peel or the ou in shout. Don’t expect your kindergartener to know terminology like digraphs and diphthongs. As long as they know how to use the skills, that's all they need!
5. Beginning and Ending Sounds: This Winter and Spring, expect to see tons of pencil and paper practice of beginning and ending sound recognition. For example, you may see a worksheet that has a picture of a cat, and the label: _at. Your blooming reader will be very proud of the fact that he can not only recognize the missing sound, but also write it in himself to complete the word. Beginning and ending sounds are a huge part of decoding, because if a child knows the beginning and ending sounds of a simple word, he can often figure out what the word is, using other clues (like illustrations and surrounding text.)
6. High Frequency Words: That infamous list of "sight words"-- words your kindergartener is expected to read without sounding them out, will still be lingering in January, and likely will be a part of your child’s reading instruction for the next couple of years. Expect your child’s teacher to continue drilling these words, since they turn up extremely frequently in the things we read each day, and memorizing them will help your child read more fluently. This may be the only skill for which flashcards are appropriate in kindergarten!
7. Comprehension Skills: Now that your child is officially an emergent reader, teachers want to make sure she understands what she’s read. Winter and Spring bring new comprehension skills, such as identifying favorite stories; making connections between life experiences, the world, and books being read; using story vocabulary to answer questions about what was read; and summarizing and recalling details about the text.
8. Reading Strategies: Stretching and sounding out aside, there's a whole set of other strategies kids are taught as they begin reading. Teachers often use visual tools to help kids remember tips and tricks to make themselves better readers. They give them a set of things to do if they don't know a word, teaching them to use beginning and ending sounds, picture clues, and text clues to decode what they're reading. Still can’t get it? Kids are often encouraged to read the sentence without the challenging word, and try to fill in what they think makes sense. Teaching beginning self-monitoring skills may also be started in the early part of the new year. For example, kids will be taught that when they get stuck they can ask themselves if what they've read makes sense when they picture it. So if they read "The clown is in the sky" they'd use their self-monitoring skills to realize that the sentence doesn't make sense, then go back and read it again, and hopefully come up with, "The cloud is in the sky" instead. Voila! Reading strategies at work!
9. Poetry: In kindergarten classrooms across the U.S., poetry pops up in full force during wintertime. In many classes, poetry is taught all year long, but Winter brings about lots of observable weather and exciting holidays to use as inspiration for poetry. Rhyme helps kids with reading because it teaches them to recognize the similar sounds in words. Kindergarteners also now have the capacity to recognize the elements that make poetry great, such as rhyme, rhythm, and alliteration.
10. Leveled Reading: Because your child is now starting to read simple sentences, she's ready to begin reading entire books. Don't worry, we're not talking about Shakespeare here, we're talking about books specifically written to encourage emerging readers to read on their own. Books are "leveled" according to the number of words in the book and the difficulty of those words. Knowing the exact level of each book makes it easy for teachers to provide kids with books that they can read without frustration. Think of it as custom-fit reading! There is a leveled book to fit each type of reader and you can give your child extra practice at home.
Remember that this is a challenging time -- your kindergarten kid is essentially making the leap from non-reader to reader in just a few months’ time. Although it's challenging, it can also be incredibly exciting for your child, as she steps into the world of literature and self sufficiency. As always, congratulate every small milestone, and stay up to date on how your child is progressing in school, in order to reinforce the skills being taught in class at home.
Getting your head around all that your child will be learning during the January through April time period can be daunting. But if long vowels and short vowels and digraphs and diphthongs make your head spin, you can only imagine the workout your five or six-year-old’s brain is getting! So take an active role and offer plenty of support. Keep things fun with playful activities. Before you know it, you'll have a child ready to read to you for a change!
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