Normal Development

It is a truism in education that every child is different. Teachers know this because they see hundreds(thousands) of children develop. Parents who only see their own children develop find it harder to accept this. They tend to think that there is something like an educational manual that applies to all children and that any deviation from this manual is problem. This is not the case, there are no hard and fast rules.

Having said that there are a number of well recognized language development stages that can be usefully described though it must be reiterated that the timing of these stages can vary greatly.

Ages 1 - 2 First spoken words

Speech develops gradually and continuously from very early and is still developing in early teens. Whilst parents may be able to identify the day they first hear a recognizable word from their child the reality is that early vocalisation progresses steadily but imperceptibly from sounds to words with no discernible boundary.

Ages 1 - 2 Start enjoying hearing stories

Parental involvement obviously plays a large part in this developmental stage. A child will enjoy simply sitting on their parent's lap hearing the sound of their voice and enjoying the attention long before they take in any intellectual content from the story being read.

Reading to your child so that the child can see the page - usually happens automatically because children’s books for this age invariably contain pictures that the children want to see. There is no benefit in drawing the child’s attention to the connection between the text and the sound of the words. The connection will be made subconsciously and if you try to make the connection explicitly there is a danger of confusing the child or making the experience stressful.

Age 2 - 4 Learn letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make.

Start to understand the connection between :-

Letters and words; and between

words and stories

There is no advantage to rushing this stage. There are physical brain development stages which limit a child's ability to identify the connection between letters and sounds and if you push it hard too early you will create anxiety which may stay with the child and hamper them when their brain has developed to the point where they should be able to cope.

Age 3-5 Individual word recognition/decoding.

This is a combination of

sounding out words from individual letter sounds; and

remembering whole words; and

guessing at words from clues supplied by letters, memory and context

At this point we are into formal instructional methods of which there are many and your child’s school will have one that they prefer. Leave it to your school to teach this stuff.

Of course, at some point your child will start bringing back reading to practice with you at home and this is a critical stage. The key here is ‘Do no harm’. By this we mean do not create any anxiety around the reading experience. Do not ever show any irritation or frustration with your child’s efforts. Not only does this not work but it very very quickly reduces your child’s confidence and makes it harder for your child to learn to read.

Ages 1. - 15 Vocabulary increases to thousands of words.

Typically the number of words a child understands vastly exceeds the number they use because most of their vocabulary will come from TV where they are only required to watch/listen.

Their spoken vocabulary will reflect the words they have to use to get what they want. You can expand your child’s spoken vocabulary by engaging them in discussion about subjects with specialist vocabulary. Notice you are going to have to get them to use the words so it has to be something they are interested in. A good strategy is to link a celebrity into the conversation. “I saw on TV last night that Beyonce is very interested in the way changing social standards are affecting social mobility.” ...well you get the idea.

Age 4 - 7 The transition from decoding to fluency.

'Decoding' is the word teachers use to describe constructing sounds from letters.

'Fluency' is the word teachers use to describe reading whole sentences confidently and steadily.

This is the critical stage when learning to read. Schools are very good these days at teaching children how to decode letter groups. If problems are going to arise it will be in the transition between decoding and fluency.

There is still a lot of debate about how a child transitions between decoding and fluency and why it is so problematic. Regardless of the theory, however, there is just one basic strategy for teaching fluency in the classroom. This is to get children to read aloud to adults who then help and correct the student. This practice is stressful for all kinds of reasons and some children become so anxious that it effects their ability to make the transition which further increases their anxiety in a vicious circle.

Having a child read aloud to you is a dangerous business. It is oh so very easy to make the child anxious by trying to micro manage their decoding.. There is a time for teaching decoding but whilst reading aloud is not that time - it is too stressful. In addition when a child makes a mistake or needs help it takes great skill to defuse the potential stress this causes.

We have developed a method for assisting a child whilst they are reading aloud which reduces the child's anxiety though the mere presence of an adult means that there is always, inevitably some stress. The method is called the 'Silent Sentence Method' and it is described fully here. In addition you can use the free home version of our interactive online Literacy Toolbox web application which does the job even better without any adult supervision and we urge you to try it out here.