Generally, kids learn to recognise their letters and group them into words that they associate with the sounds from everyday chat by the time they hit preschool. Certainly, they need to be able to read and write a little by the time they are enrolled in Primary school.
But what if your child is still struggling with it? How can you help them?
Lois Lim, assistant director of admissions to the MOE-aided Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) literacy programme, has been working at the association since 2005 as a psychologist.
She says DAS advocates early intervention when a child is struggling to read. “Early help is crucial to prevent unnecessary failure or negative feelings about [reading and writing], especially for those who may need a little more explicit support in developing these skills but who may not be dyslexic.”
“It’s crucial to prevent unnecessary failure or negative feelings about [reading and writing]...”
She adds, “For those who are dyslexic, support in building good foundations at as young an age as possible is even more crucial as their underlying weaknesses prevent them from doing so at a typical pace.”
A study published in the British Journal of Special Education in 2015 by DAS looked at the reading and spelling improvements of students after one year of DAS remedial classes. It suggested that these students show significant improvements in their literacy skills; also the earlier the children were enrolled in the programme, the more significant were their improvements.
For parents who would like to send their child to the DAS mass screening events might be at risk for dyslexia, check the DAS site for news about dates and times, or contact DAS directly.
But can you do something at home, by yourself? Yes — click next to find out…
Lim suggests ways you can help your child with reading and writing:
1. “Exposing children to print as much as possible.”
We’re not just talking about burying them in books, for example, one could point to items carrying words in the child's immediate environment such as road or shop signs; show them labels on their favourite sweets and food packaging, or pick up flyers, magazines and books that feature things they like. For very young children, Lim suggests you start with identifying individual letters first; and as your child progresses, help them to read out the printed words.
2. “Playing games that emphasise sounds in words.”
Lim suggests that these games include beginning sounds (like bat, ball, boy) and rhymes (such as call, ball, tall). These help to build good phonological awareness, which is an important underlying skill for reading and writing. For example, you can use familiar games such as “I Spy” and set the child to find things that begin or end with a certain sound. For older children, perhaps a game of “Snap” — where they “snap” the cards when the words rhyme.
3. “Make reading and writing interesting and fun.”
It helps to know your child’s likes and dislikes so you can select books or games with pictures and words reflecting their preferences, to develop the child’s love of print and learn about its usefulness (“Do you want to read more about superheroes like Spider-Man?” for instance).
4. “Talk about the stories and expand their vocabulary.”
When reading aloud stories with your child, engage them in the story by relating it to their own experiences. For example, “‘Sam was excited to go to the zoo.’ Did you also feel excited about going to the zoo when we brought you there last week? What were you excited about?”
It is also very helpful to discuss new words by explaining them and even relating them to words that your child already knows (“Another way of saying ‘excited’ is ‘thrilled’. What other things are you thrilled about doing?”). Developing children’s oral vocabulary base goes a long way in supporting a child in reading development as it makes it easier for them to link the words used in conversations with how they are shown in print.
5. “Making it multisensory and experiential where possible.”
Do this by engaging as many of the child’s senses as you can while you read. Point to visual elements on the page to keep the child’s interest; use dramatic movements when acting out the story; and if you have them available, use books that have touch-and-feel elements — all help to make the printed word with something “experiential”.
6. For writing, Lim says, it is helpful to allow your child to experiment with different kinds of writing tools such as crayons, pencils, chalk, markers, and for you to be okay with messy scribbling as your child experiments at first. You can gently encourage the appropriate pencil grip, bearing in mind the readiness of your child's fine motor control. It may be beneficial to do other fine-motor-skill-related activities apart from writing to maintain an element of fun (using tongs to pick up small objects, crushing paper into small balls, for instance).
When your child is ready (able to recognise some letters of the alphabet and his pencil grip becomes better), you can first demonstrate how to write letters while repeating aloud the sequences of strokes. You can also encourage the child in tracing over dotted outlines of letters.
Helping your child learn the correct sequence of strokes doesn’t have to always be with a piece of paper and pencil. Your child can also learn by using their finger to trace letters cut out of textured paper, “writing” on paper with fingerpaints or on the bathroom wall with shaving cream, among other ways.
Lim says, “Remember to do these reading and writing activities for fairly short periods but regularly, so that the child gets more exposure and practice.” These activities are beneficial in promoting literacy development in all young children — not just those who have learning difficulties. If your child needs more help, well, that’s what the DAS is hoping to promote!
Lois Lim is the assistant director of admissions for the Ministry of Education-aided DAS literacy programme, Dyslexia Association of Singapore.