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Teaching Your Child to Read- The Complexity of Literacy


Written By: Melissa Gagnon, Owner of Empower Communication Services


When someone says the word “literacy”, what does it make you think of? Do you think of reading books? Or learning the ABCs? Or a child writing their name? Traditionally literacy was thought of as reading and writing; however, it is not as simple as this. According to the UNESCO, "Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts” and “it involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”*


This is a lengthy definition that can be summarized as the following: Literacy is a skill that is essential in life, but it is not one single skill. So then, what skills does a child require in order to be a successful reader and writer? There are five main components of literacy that need to be explicitly taught and need to be a part of a child’s skill set in order for them to be a successful reader and writer.


Component 1 – Phonological Awareness – this is a child’s ability to identify and manipulate parts of words. Phonological awareness can be broken down even further into:

· Word awareness- this is a child's ability to identify how many words are in a sentence and/or how many words are in a compound word

· Syllable awareness- this is a child's ability to identify how many syllables are in a word and their ability to blend syllables into words

· Onset-rime awareness- this is a child's ability to hear and identify rhymes as well as understand what we refer to as 'word families'

· Phonemic awareness- this is a child’s ability to hear, identify, and manipulate sounds. There are 44 phonemes in the English language, including sounds represented by letter combinations such as /th/.


Component 2 – Phonics – this is a child’s ability to identify and use letter sounds to read and write words- or as we know it- teaching the ABCs. Phonics is the relationship between sounds and written symbols.

Component 3 – Fluency this is a child’s ability to read with expression, quickly, and correctly.

Component 4– Vocabulary this is a child’s ability to understand the meaning of single words in text and how they relate to other words (e.g., synonyms and antonyms). It is key for reading comprehension.

Component 5 – Comprehension this is the child’s ability to process and understand the text they are reading. They are able to determine meaning of new words and understand the meaning of the text as a whole.


Component 4 and 5 are also part of language and areas that we work on jointly with literacy. Based on current research we are becoming more and more aware of the relationship between language and literacy skills, including early language! We know that a language delay in the early years is a primary risk factor for difficulties with literacy.


In a research paper called "The Relationship Between Early Language Delay and Later Difficulties in Literacy" by Rhona Larney, she concluded the following:

1) "There is strong evidence of continuity between early language delay and later reading difficulties for all children with early language delay, although some of these reading difficulties may be residual and mild"


2) "The likelihood that children with early language delay will develop later difficulties in literacy depends largely on the age to which language impairment persists and the severity of the impairment"


So where does this leave us? The great thing about literacy is that you can start working on many of these skills at home with your child now that you know about them! If your child struggles with any of the above and/or they are behind in reading and writing, please reach out to us today! We are here to help and support you on this journey!


This is an area that we are passionate about and all our clinicians have specialized training in using a structured, research based program to work with you and your child to help them achieve their literacy goals.


*Silvia Montoya(2018)Defining Literacy, http://gaml.uis.unesco.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/12/4.6.1_07_4.6-defining-literacy.pdf)

**Rhona Larney(2002)The Relationship Between Early Language Delay and Later Difficulties in Literacy,Early Child Development and Care,172:2,183-193,DOI: 10.1080/03004430210890

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