It’s that time of year in Australia, as the last days of the school holidays wind down and our thoughts turn to A4-sized exercise books, glue sticks and shiny new school shoes.
For parents with kids in the early years of school, or even at preschool, thoughts might also turn to the best ways to help kids nail the basics of reading and become independent readers.
Writers might be thinking about how best to write stories for those kids.
The Your Kids’ Next Read Facebook group is a great source of advice when it comes to finding books for early readers. And, as it turns out, for those who might be wanting to try their hand at writing for those who are just grasping the basics.
Graeme Wilkinson is one such resource. As a parent supporting his own daughter who is taking her first steps into reading, and as a kindergarten teacher in Japan who has been teaching preschool children how to read more for than six years, he offers the following advice on what to look for in a book for early readers – and how to tailor stories to help first-time readers begin to read independently.
So, let’s turn the YKNR Author Spotlight on Graeme Wilkinson, with his five top tips for creating stories for early readers (and what to look for when you’re searching for books suitable for your new reader).
1. Try to use basic three-letter words as much as possible (words like cat, mat, rat, dog, fox, box, hop, nap, etc). Keep an open mind that there are three-letter words that don’t follow the fundamentals of basic phonics (words like ice, eat, eye, toe, day, fly, etc). Words that contain four or more letters are a challenge for first-time readers.
2. Keep your sentences short. Young children have short attention spans. For a first-time reader trying to read independently, it can take a long time to read a single word. Meaning comes only after reading a complete sentence, so keeping a sentence short allows them to combine all the words they can read and gain its meaning. This usually brings a great smile to their faces as they have conquered their first sentences as an independent reader.
3. A big text size is important. First-time readers learn best by physically touching each letter in a word on the page. If the text is too small, their fingers will touch one or two letters at the same time, letters may blend into a single-shaped word from their perspective and the result is more of a challenge for them. We should aim to set them up for reading success. So make it as easy as possible for them to succeed.
4. Try using word families in a story. Word families are words that share the same sound. If you are writing a story about a “hen” try and include words like pen, ten, den, men, Ben (perhaps the hen’s name) to emphasis the “en” sound. Once they become familiar enough with this sound, their reading speed (and enjoyment) will increase.
5. Try to avoid using too many sight words in a story. Sight words are generally regarded as high-frequency words that don’t follow the rules of phonics. Words like a, the, to, they, said, etc are words that cannot be read phonetically. These words are incredibly important for children to learn to read by sight alone. However, don’t overwhelm first-time readers with too many in a sentence or a story. This will result in a child’s frustration and their desire to have their parent read to them again.
“The aim for a book for first-time readers should be building a child’s confidence to read independently,” says Graeme. “There are a lot of good books out there for children to learn how to read, but few are basic enough for first-time readers to read without a parent’s support.”
Graeme set about creating his own stories. “Based on my experience teaching children to read, studying the research, discussing with colleagues and experts in this field, and the importance of decodable books for children who have dsylexia, I have developed my own stories pinpointing the most fundamental start to learning how to read for first-time readers,” he says.
The aim of a book for first-time readers should be building a child’s confidence and enjoyment to read.
You can try Graeme’s story Dex, a short story about a greedy dog, here for free as a mobi and PDF file. It’s designed to help first-time readers who know their basic phonics sounds to read independently. There is also a reading guide at the back for parents who check in on their child’s comprehension.
If your kid loves Dex, please leave a review on Goodreads here.
And please join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group here.