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Author: David Messer

Reading and child development: Research findings: Describing the way children start to read

Updated Saturday, 19th February 2011

Children start to make the link between printed words and sounds - but how do they do this?

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Several descriptions of the stages of development that occur when children begin to read have been proposed. One of the most famous was put forward by Uta Frith in 1985. Uta Frith’s stage theory and others like it have provided a very useful description of children’s strategies when reading. Frith proposed that the earliest stage, which she termed the logographic stage, involves children being able to recognise written words on the basis of remembering certain key characteristics of the printed word.

At this stage, because only some letters of a word are recognised, children can make errors when they see words with similar letters (e.g. train and tram). In addition, because children read by recognising a whole word from a group of letters, when they are given new words they cannot read them by breaking these new words into different sounds.

The next stage was termed the alphabetic stage. At this stage children start to be able to relate sounds to letters, so they can read words that they have not seen before. However, when reading these words they mispronounce them, for example, they might read ‘coal’ as ‘co + al’ because they are using the usual pronunciation of letters

It is thought that progress to this stage might be helped by children learning to write which means they are better able to recognise the link between letters and sounds.

Child reading a book

The orthographic stage is supposed to follow the alphabetic stage. During this stage, children start to be able to recognise written words as a whole, and as a result do not have to sound out each individual letter which is time consuming and can result in errors.

It is worth mentioning that there have been criticisms of stage models like the one proposed by Frith. The order of the stages does not appear to be universal and can depend on the type of teaching and the nature of the language being read.


Putting it together: Letters and sounds

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Reading and child development: Research findings


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