I often talk to parents about reading schemes.
It is important to remember that reading schemes are a tool, written using a graded vocabulary, to reinforce children’s learning of synthetic phonics. They allow practice of decoding new words and introduce other skills required for reading such as ‘look and say’.
As such, reading schemes can be less exciting than other books but the Oxford Reading Tree is, in my experience, one of the best. No one reading scheme will provide everything that all children need, and most schools use several different schemes to ensure breadth and to allow for the development of comprehension skills. Of course, many children can decode words quickly and read the words if they have been taught how to, but this is often without understanding the content of the text. Comprehension of the text is vital. The graded vocabulary used by reading schemes helps to ensure that this knowledge is developed.
Non-fiction books are included in the graded systems from all scheme publishers and I recommend the wealth of resources available to support all texts, including software and toys.
My suggestion, as a head teacher and mother, is that children who are not reading before they start school are taught to read once they start school using reading-scheme books which will ensure both coverage of the basic skills needed to read and ensure that the children become competent and confident readers. Alongside the reading-scheme books children must always be read to and have access to books that are beyond their own reading ability. The excitement and enjoyment of books is a huge stimulus to the development of the skill of reading.
When a child starts in the nursery or reception class already able to read the graded scheme books should be used to assess the child’s level and ability. Once this assessment has been made appropriate books can then be provided to support, reinforce and extend a child’s learning. There are many excellent books available for early readers and it is important to find books with age-appropriate content as early readers can often read beyond their experience. I would recommend the Horrid Henry series by Francesca Simon and books by Dick King-Smith, Jill Murphy and Michael Morpurgo who have all written for early readers aged between 5 and 8. Many young readers also thoroughly enjoy Enid Blyton.
A librarian either in school or the local library is an excellent resource and will be able to guide a parent’s selection. We are lucky at St Swithun’s to have a qualified librarian with an MA in Children’s Literature to guide and extend our children.