There is no doubt that reading is a very complex process. Although it is generally not recognized as a complex system of tasks, it is so for a child learning to read. Anyone with a child who appears to be intelligent, but fails to learn to read, will immediately understand just how complex reading skills are. While speaking is natural and spontaneous, reading has to be taught.
Children may learn to read through instruction or by imitating and modeling after family members—older brothers, sisters, aunts, and others. In a literate community, the children are exposed to reading long before they are able to read. We know that the right kind of atmosphere or ambience for reading is provided by older brothers and sisters who are already reading at home.
Magical Marks on Paper
Preschoolers who are not yet reading are frequently noticed to go through a series of developmental stages related to literacy. First of all, we have to remember that, for most children, reading and writing go together, that is, as children begin to read they are also writing.
Just below the level of acquiring reading ability, children often consider any kind of mark made by a pen as equivalent to a word or a sentence. This is the magical or the symbolic stage. In this stage there is no real connection between the scribble that a child makes and the words the scribble is supposed to represent. “I can write dog,” the child says, and then scribbles something that bears no similarity to a letter or a word.
The next stage is known as the pictorial or words-as-pictures stage. As the child gets older and reaches the preschool level, he/she suddenly realizes that words can be read like pictures. Children can recognize and describe pictures at an early age and can also recognize simple words from the pattern of letters, but they are still unable to read the word phonologically, that is, they still do not associate the spelling of a word with its pronunciation; they just read it as a whole using “whole word learning.” This is the traditional “look and say” method used by teachers with preschoolers and kindergarten children.
Whole word reading is gradually transformed to reading the word by sound rather than by sight, when children acquire an understanding of the connection between letters and sounds (remember the grapheme-phoneme correspondence). In this stage children learn the sounds of letters, and realize that sounds can be combined to form words and determine the pronunciation of the word. When confronted by the printed word, the ability to read it depends on how well a child can engage with what we have described as phonological coding.
This is the alphabetic stage, that is, when alphabets acquire sounds that are extremely specific to that alphabet. Children must pay attention to the order in which the letters of the alphabet occur in a particular word (such as Japanese). If they do not pay attention to the sequence of the letters, they will never spell it correctly. But it is sufficient to say here that phonological coding appears later than reading by sight or pictorial reading. The alphabetic stage starts with the child recognizing the letters, associating the letter with a particular sound, and then combining the letters with their associated sounds into words. Only then is the child able to read the word.