Support Emerging Readers

Support Emerging Readers

Reading with a child in the early years of their schooling can be a more collaborative process now. They are likely bringing home books from school to practice. It is important these stories are read as independently as possible, with you by their side to help when things get tricky.

For Emerging Readers – Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3

Background Information

Ages 5-9 is an exciting time for literacy development because the learning and growth happening during this phase is tremendous. In this phase our children are beginning to match letters to their sounds. Gradually, their attention will turn to the individual sounds that make up words. This is known as phonemic awareness, and is the most complex skill associated with phonological awareness. As this skill develops, they will be able to blend, or sound out, consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words. Their understanding of letters and sounds will gradually expand to include vowel teams (ea, ie, oe), digraphs (th, sh, ch), blends (cl, tr, sp), and so on in gradually increasing complexity, eventually leading to words with multiple syllables. 

While the English alphabet has 26 letters, students will need to learn 44 sounds (or phonemes) in order to successfully read and write independently. Those 44 sounds are written in up to 250 graphemes, or letter combinations. 

The key to learning the English Phonics system  is repeated practice! Children will benefit from many opportunities to read, from the grocery store, to road signs, to advertisements at the arena, all of these print-rich environments can be used to reinforce and practice letter sounds. Shared writing will be beneficial for children to “try on” spelling or to observe an adult sounding out a word. Invented spelling is acceptable as students begin learning to write, because it gives us important insight into the sounds they hear in words. 

Your child’s fluency, or their pace of reading, will be growing quickly during this time. Readers use a process called orthographic mapping to identify words they see frequently more and more accurately and rapidly . Practicing those high frequency words at school and at home will support your child’s fluency in reading and identifying sounds and words. While it might be tempting to use flash cards to practice letter sounds and sight words, there are many fun ways to incorporate practice into your day. Look below for some suggested games and activities that might work for your family.

While decoding, or reading words using phonics, is an important aspect of literacy at this age, it is not the only realm that is developing. Students are also learning to read for meaning, also known as reading comprehension. Talking about books is a helpful way to support children in their comprehension. Discuss the sequence of events in a book or movie you share together. Ask about how your child would solve the problem that the character is facing. Vocabulary is also likely developing rapidly. Encourage your child’s growth by using new and interesting words often, by pointing out words that might be unknown, or by using synonyms in response to them.  

As you can see, there are many facets to literacy development in the early years of school. Your child’s classroom teacher is an invaluable partner in their literacy development, and communicating frequently with them will lead to the best possible conditions for your child’s literacy to flourish!

Activities to Try

Fridge Fun

Magnetic letters are a great way to reinforce phonics skills at home. Try arranging the letters in alphabetical order. Pick a letter and together, spell simple three or four letter words that begin with that letter. Play word games by switching letters to build new words. 

Grocery Store Practice

When shopping with your child, ask them to find a particular flavour of an item by reading the labels. Can they find the peach yogurt. Help them by reminding them of the first sound of the word. 

Put your child in charge of the grocery list. As you put items into the cart, say the word and ask them to cross it off the list. 

Read Together 

Read often with your child. Have them try to sound out simple words or to read sight words that they are familiar with. Model using your finger as you read. If your child is reading, give them time to sound out words. If they are stuck, remind them of the sound they are stuck on. Say, “oa says OH”. 

Reread favourite books

Rereading books that your family loves is a way to improve fluency. You may notice that with each reading your child is able to read a bit easier, a bit faster, and eventually with more expression in their voice. 

Explore Nonfiction

Nonfiction and Informational books are wonderful ways to build vocabulary and background knowledge. As you read aloud, stop to think about new words and connect them to what you child already knows about.


Prefixes are sets of letters that are added to the beginning of a word, and suffixes are added to the end. Give your child a simple action word, such as heat. Ask your child to think of variations of the word by adding a prefix or suffix. For example: reheat, heated, heater, heating.

Practice Predicting

Making predictions is something experienced readers do automatically, but is a skill that new readers must learn and practice. Take a look at the cover and through the pictures together and predict what might happen at the end of the story. Talk about experiences you have that might relate to the story. 

Flashlight Games

Try this fast-paced game at night. Grab a flashlight and with the lights out shine it on an object in the room. Ask your child to tell you how may syllables or sounds that word has and to find a rhyming word (it can be a nonsense word!). With some words, you can extend the game and try sound swaps. Ask your child to tell you the new word if you change a sound from the beginning, middle, or end of the word. For example, what happens to chair if you change /ch/ to /b/ (bear). 

Books to Check Out!

Reading with a child in the early years of their schooling can be a more collaborative process now. They are likely bringing home books from school to practice. It is important these stories are read as independently as possible, with you by their side to help when things get tricky. When your child comes to a word they don’t know, wait! If they are stuck for a long time, give them the first sound of the word, or perhaps you sound it out slowly, with pauses in between each sound. Your child will then practice the important skill called blending to put the sounds together to decode the word. 

It is still important to read to your child at this stage. As you read together, sit side by side and both look at the book. You may choose to point at the words you are reading. Sometimes, you might stop and ask you child to read a word. Do this with words you know are familiar to them. Maybe you will each read a page, or a sentence. Sharing reading experiences will help your child develop their fluency, as well as their love of reading. 

For more information and explanations, check out the great resources at Reading Rockets

Reading Rockets Reading 101