Understanding the Science of Reading: A Guide for Parents  

“Is this __ science of reading?” teachers ask in peer support groups on social media. That’s not a question that can be answered with a simple yes or no. It’s a shorthand that refers to the broad, long-standing body of scientific evidence that shows that all children learn to read one way: they come to understand the English spelling code.

The science of reading is grounded in extensive research that identifies the most effective ways to teach reading. It helps teachers choose good curriculum and teaching practices that have the greatest effect on students’ reading skills. It also helps teachers cut out the fluff activities that do not help their students make progress.

The Science of Reading focuses on several key components:

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. This skill is critical for learning to read and spell because it helps children to segment and blend words.

Decoding

To fully decode words, students must understand the relationship between sounds and their corresponding letters or groups of letters. Teaching children phonics helps them decode new words by sounding them out, which is essential for reading fluency. In addition to sounds, students also need to know how to divide longer words into syllables, or how to add and remove prefixes and suffixes.

Fluency

Reading fluency is the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. Fluent readers can focus on understanding the text rather than decoding each word, which improves comprehension. A problem with fluent reading often means that the student doesn’t have automatic decoding skills, or does not know the spelling patterns in the words they are trying to read. That means that repeated readings, while they may seem a logical way to boost reading speed, don’t really help until the student has the decoding skills they need.

Vocabulary

A robust vocabulary is vital for reading comprehension. Children need to know the meanings of words they read to understand the text fully. Building vocabulary can be achieved through reading diverse materials and direct instruction.

Vocabulary is also uniquely individual. A student who loves dinosaurs might easily make connections between the word tyrant and their beloved Tyrannosaurus Rex, the tyrant king of the dinosaurs. We can help students expand their vocabulary by reading deeply and widely. If the student is interested in dinosaurs, but still learning to decode, don’t limit their reading to easy readers on the topic. Make more complex books available through read-alouds, audiobooks, and assistive technology.

Comprehension

Reading comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading instruction. It involves understanding and interpreting the meaning of the text. Strategies for improving comprehension include asking questions about the text, summarizing, and predicting what will happen next.

When people talk about maintaining a love of reading for children, what they really mean is a love of stories, a love of learning through reading. And unless students can read the words on the page, they can’t develop reading comprehension. And they can’t enjoy something they cannot do! As we secure and strengthen a child’s decoding skills, it’s important to build their comprehension, too. Students with lagging reading skills miss opportunities to read texts that their peers have read. Students who learn to read later than peers can be slow to develop an understanding of complex texts because they do not get enough early practice.

Why the Science of Reading Matters for Your Child

Applying the principles of the science of reading can significantly impact your child’s literacy development and academic success. Here’s why it matters:

Evidence-Based Approaches

The science of reading is backed by rigorous research and evidence. By following these methods, you can be confident that you are using the most effective strategies to help your child learn to read.

Improved Literacy Skills

Children who receive instruction based on the science of reading are more likely to develop strong literacy skills. This foundation is crucial not only for reading but also for overall academic performance and lifelong learning. While explicit literacy instruction does no harm to any learner, it can be essential for struggling learners. It provides a secure start to academics for all students.

Early Intervention

Understanding the science of reading can help you identify early signs of reading difficulties. Early intervention is key to addressing these issues before they become significant obstacles to learning. Children in school should be assessed regularly for reading skills and their progress should be monitored closely. It’s not uncommon for students to begin well and go on to struggle, or vice versa. It’s important to keep track of progress.

Empowerment and Confidence

When parents are equipped with knowledge about the science of reading, they can better support their children’s learning at home. This support boosts children’s confidence and motivation to read.

Resources for Learning the Science of Reading

Note: Some links on this page are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I make make a small commission.

There are many resources available to help parents learn about and implement the science of reading:

Recommended Reading

  • The Reading Mind by Daniel Willingham – This book explains the processes that happen in our brain when we read in an accessible and entertaining way.
  • Reader Come Home by Maryanne Wolf – Dr Wolf brings her expertise on the reading brain to the subject of digital content consumption and modern distractions.
  • Language at the Speed of Sight by Mark Seidenberg – A book that delves into the cognitive science of reading.
  • Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is a great book for parents who want to give their kids a strong start in phonics. It’s not intensive enough for kids who really struggle, but it is great for kids who need a boost to get started as readers.

Online Resources

Science of Reading in print media

  • In 2024, the Boston Globe’s coverage of literacy instruction in Massachusetts stirred many parents and school districts into action.
  • Emily Hanford’s 2020 piece, “What the Words Say,” tells the heartbreaking story of kids who struggle to read, and describes it in the larger context of research, politics, and economics. 

Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey

As a parent, there are several practical ways you can support your child’s reading development:

Create a Reading-Friendly Environment

  • Establish a quiet, comfortable reading space at home.
  • Provide a variety of books that cater to your child’s interests and reading level.
  • Encourage kids to read magazines, recipes, menus, websites, and even Pokemon cards!

Practice Regularly

  • Set aside time each day for reading activities.
  • Read aloud to your child and encourage them to read to you.

Engage in Discussions

  • Talk about the stories you read together.
  • Ask questions that encourage your child to think critically about the text.

Monitor Progress

  • Keep track of your child’s reading milestones and celebrate their achievements.
  • Seek professional help if you notice persistent reading difficulties.

More resources

To provide additional support and resources, consider exploring the following pages on our site:

  • Orton-Gillingham Tutoring Services – Contact us to find out more about how individualized explicit reading tutoring, using the Orton-Gillingham approach, can help your child overcome reading challenges and become a confident reader and writer.
  • Dyslexia Resources – When learning to read does not proceed smoothly, students may be diagnosed with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition and getting your child the teaching and accommodations they need can make their lives better.

Conclusion

Understanding the science of reading equips parents with the knowledge and tools necessary to support their child’s literacy development. By implementing evidence-based practices at home, you can foster a love of reading and ensure your child has the skills needed for academic success and beyond. Embrace the journey of learning to read together, and watch your child’s confidence and abilities grow.