How Children Learn to Read and Write

Reading is one of the most important skills your child will ever learn. Parents, though, are often uncertain about how children actually learn to read and how they can help. There are no hard and fast rules regarding how and when a child should learn but there is general agreement that, from very early in a child's life, parents can play an important role in the development of this skill. This includes the age parents begin teaching their children how to read and often influences the level of interest a child will have in reading.
How do children learn to read?
Reading is a complex process but there are two main ways by which children learn. The first is the 'look and say' method. Children learn to recognize words, by repeating them again and again. The other method is phonics. This involves learning words by breaking them down into the sounds of letters and groups of letters. The alphabet is taught by saying, for example, 'bah' for 'b' or 'sss' for 's'. The different vowel sounds are also taught, such as 'aw', 'ah', 'ay'. Eventually, a child might recognize the word 'chair' by breaking it down to 'ch' and 'air'. Most children learn by using a combination of these two methods.
When should children learn to read?
No two children are the same. All develop at different rates and the age at which they start to read can vary greatly from child to child. Some parents are keen to give their child a 'head start' by introducing reading from an early age. While showing young children flash cards (little cards on which the words are written) and training them to remember the words is often a good idea, there is concern amongst some experts that starting this too young might put some children off reading altogether.
In the UK, teaching children how to read at school usually begins when children are 5 years. Some schools promote a less formal approach to learning in the early years. Montessori schools, for instance, let the child choose their own direction, encouraging...