Learning to read is a crucial part of a child’s development. Reading and writing are essential skills for adults. Being literate means that people can understand and follow written instructions, find out information online or in books, write letters and emails and send text messages. It also means that a child is able to participate fully in their education and learning.

How children learn to read and write and the best way to teach literacy is a hotly debated topic. Research has found that some of the essential skills that children need to be able to learn to read and write are;

  • An understanding that the words we say are made up of sounds and to be able to hear those sounds e.g. cat has three sounds c-a-t. This is known as phonological awareness
  • An understanding that letters represent sounds, and that these sounds are the sounds we use in English. Children need to be able to remember the sound of each letter quickly and easily. This is known as phonics
  • Knowledge that written words can be understood, and that writing them in a particular order can make different meanings

At school, children with reading difficulties may also have problems with academic performance, peer relationships and self-esteem. However research has shown that getting help for literacy problems early can prevent these problems becoming more severe. Some children may show signs of potential difficulties before they reach school. These signs may include;

  • Being very late to start talking
  • Using pronunciation patterns that are not typical ‘baby talk’ and that make the child difficult to understand
  • Having difficulty learning and remembering new words
  • Not being able to provide simple information clearly
  • Needing very simple instructions
  • Showing poor awareness of sounds in speech
  • Not learning to recognise alphabet letters
  • Not showing an interest in listening to stories
  • Any of these difficulties with a family history of literacy learning difficulties

When your child is at school some of the signs may include;

  • Not developing confidence with letters and sounds, not ‘having a go’ at spelling
  • Mispronouncing several longer words (e.g. ‘congratulations’, ‘computer’)
  • Persisting with immature grammar (e.g. “Her broked her glasses”)
  • Not developing the ability to tell stories and give explanations

As your child moves through the school you may notice that your child is;

  • Not reading grade-level texts fluently and accurately
  • Not using a strong range of spelling strategies
  • Not able to make inferences as they read, getting the main idea and reading ‘between the lines’

If your child is showing any of these potential problems, it would be useful to get some help from a Speech Pathologist. Speech Pathologists are a useful part of any literacy team and can help in the following ways;

  • Assess speech and language skills to determine if there are any difficulties and provide intervention and strategies to support oral language development
  • Support oral language development in areas that are relevant to literacy, in preschools and schools
  • Work with preschools, schools and families, providing strategies in order to support children’s oral language development
  • Use their specialist knowledge of the sound system of English to help children who are having difficulty with letter-sound relationships
  • Help children to use strategies for understanding what they read

This information was provided by Speech Pathology Australia. for more information, go to