Good reading habits for children

I received an email from someone who wants her child to learn good reading habits from the start. Here is my reply.


Thank you for your email about your daughter.

You, like me, learned to read using the Look and Say method. We learned to recognise the shape of words, rather than sound them out. Your daughter is learning using phonics. At some point word recognition will become automatic and she will stop ‘sounding out’ individual words. It is a stage in reading.

As the number of words she recognises by sight increases, sentence comprehension will become easier, as less processing of each word is involved. This leaves more capacity available for understanding the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

Supporters of phonics say that this method is the best for the majority of children learning to read. However, some children struggle with phonics. Some dyslexics have a ‘phonological deficit’ which means they have difficulty sounding out words. They may find the Look and Say approach easier.

There are lots of words in English which are not phonetic and this complicates things for beginner readers.

There are child development issues that affect reading. One of these is vision. In order to read, we have to use the area of focused vision. Our eyes work as a team and track along the lines of text. Developmentally, by age seven, both eyes are able to simultaneously converge on an object.

Many adults have difficulty with eye teaming and tracking when reading. Estimates vary. It could be as much as ten to fifteen percent.

It is beneficial to use a pointer (it could be your finger or a pencil) to guide your eyes along the lines of text. Many children do this naturally when they learn to read.

I always use a pointer, usually a pencil, when speed-reading.


Another developmental issue is working memory. This is our ability to keep information ‘in mind’. We need to hold information in the brain’s temporary storage to process what we are reading. Working memory capacity is still developing in children.

Reading is complicated in that there is a lot of processing of words and sentences going on. It is easier to explain working memory capacity in terms of something more straightforward, such an instruction to do something. For example, an average child of five can keep one instruction in mind and an average child of seven can cope with about three.


Stress affects both vision and working memory. Children and adults respond well to a relaxed atmosphere. I encourage beginner speed readers to practice the skill on books they enjoy. Similarly, it really makes a difference for children to read books they find interesting.


There are some simple things you can do which will help your child’s comprehension. These involve talking about what she is reading. Before reading, talk about what she thinks will be in her book. Look at the pictures. Ask her to guess what they are about.

What does she know already about what’s in the book? What would she like to find out? After she has finished reading, ask her to tell you about what she has read.


I teach speed reading to families from time to time. Children are more likely to speed read if they see their parents doing it. Set an example and your child will be more likely to benefit from the skill.


Speed reading techniques can help slow readers and speed reading is something gifted children enjoy.


Key points

  1. Use a guide to help eyes focus, work as a team and track.
  2. Make reading relaxed and fun to maximise working memory. Working memory helps makes sense of what we read as we read it.
  3. Talk about what your child is reading, before and afterwards. It can help comprehension and boosts recall.


Speed reading is about efficient reading. You choose the speed, fast or slow. The best way to encourage your child to learn is to use the skill yourself. Walk the talk, or in this case, read with speed!


Anne Jones, February 2018


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