#297 - How to Build Literacy Skills and a Love for Reading

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC February 27, 2024

#297 - How to Build Literacy Skills and a Love for Reading

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How to Build Literacy Skills and a Love for Reading

Sami Carrick is a Child Development & Certified Reading Specialist (M.Ed) who shares (research based) tips for busy parents to take a proactive approach to learning and reading in schools by building a really strong foundation in the younger years and really looking at the whole child. She believes that we can prevent a lot of learning struggles and help kids thrive by making some simple improvements in the younger years.

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Sami’s Website: https://sunnyseedco.com/

How to Teach Sight Words Freebie

Understanding Phonemic Awareness

Understanding Dyslexia

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How To Build Literacy Skills And A Love For Reading

Sami Carrick, a dedicated mother to three and military spouse, emerges as an expert in child development and a certified reading specialist. Armed with deep expertise and extensive experience in literacy, she explores the intricate set of skills necessary for mastery in reading and writing.

Literacy Milestones For Young Children

While children typically reach literacy milestones at expected times, they develop uniquely and at their own pace. Early reading difficulties, such as struggling with rhyming, letter recognition, and blending sounds into words, can appear as early as kindergarten.

It is possible to diagnose dyslexia accurately by age 5.5, highlighting the importance of early detection and intervention. Research shows that addressing these issues during kindergarten is four times more effective than during fourth grade, emphasizing the significance of taking action early to overcome reading difficulties.

Indicators Of Dyslexia In Young Children

Observing these signs doesn't conclusively diagnose dyslexia, yet they suggest further investigation. 

  • Difficulty with phonological awareness (identifying and manipulating sounds in words)
  • Trouble recognizing letters and numbers 
  • Reversing letters or numbers when writing
  • Struggles with spelling and reading fluency
  • Avoiding reading altogether. 

Dyslexic children often have advanced intellectual abilities, which allow them to develop compensatory strategies to overcome typical indicators of reading challenges or other learning disabilities. As a result, these issues may still need to be addressed and solved.

Thanks to scientific advancements in our understanding of the brain and how it learns, we now have better tools to detect and address learning challenges effectively. Additionally, increased awareness and education about dyslexia and other learning disabilities have helped teachers and parents recognize signs earlier, allowing prompt intervention.

Mastering Reading Skills

Reading is a learned skill rather than an innate one, involving a complex process that engages various areas of the brain across both hemispheres. Consider it as if visualizing a pie cut into three segments: early literacy skills, brain and body connection, and quality reading instruction

Early Literacy

Our capability to identify and manipulate sounds is pivotal, influencing approximately 90% of readers facing challenges. Fundamental components involve:

  • Improving language skills and vocabulary.
  • Mastering the alphabet.
  • Awareness of phonology and phonemics.
  • Working memory. 
  • Proficient handwriting. 
  • Ability to sequence.
  • Storytelling skills. 
  • Verbal reasoning skills. 
  • Enhanced visual capabilities.
  • Passion for reading. 
  • Parental support.

Effective Reading Instruction 

Evidence-based educational strategies, such as the science of reading, show promise for success in 95% of children. However, around 66% of children in our country are not proficient in reading, indicating a significant gap.

In the early stages of learning, the focus is usually on memorizing and recognizing visuals, which can lead to neglecting the importance of auditory processing in reading. Even though some kindergarteners may appear to be good readers initially, decoding becomes essential for about 80% of the words they encounter by the middle of their first grade.

Brain And Body Connection

The connection between cognitive skills and physical health is vital for: 

  • Sensory-motor skills.
  • Processing visual and auditory information.
  • Cognitive processes. 
  • Fundamental skills such as stability, balance, coordination
  • Reflexes.
  • Health factors like nutrition, toxin exposure, stress, sleep, and gut health.

Contributing Factors To Reading Challenges

Retained Primitive Reflexes

Research has shown that primitive reflexes can hinder the development of advanced skills and cause learning issues such as dyslexia, motor coordination difficulties, writing, and ADHD.

Ocular Motor Skills

Enhancing ocular motor skills can help children follow words on a page, reducing skipped or repeated lines that hinder comprehension. Activities that can improve these skills include tracking objects, copying patterns, and reading aloud with finger guidance.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)

APD can make processing and interpreting auditory information difficult, affecting language comprehension and following instructions. Auditory memory exercises and listening games can improve auditory processing skills.

Spelling Accuracy

Difficulties with spelling may indicate issues with phonemic awareness or auditory processing. Practicing phoneme isolation and manipulation can enhance spelling proficiency.

Handwriting Skills

Research indicates that handwriting is crucial in reading development, as it shares cognitive functions such as motor skills, visual processing, and language abilities. This highlights the importance of multisensory learning techniques that offer a comprehensive approach. 

Effective Methods For Teaching Literacy

Sami Carrick provides strategies to enhance literacy in young children, integrating logic, social, and emotional aspects for holistic, long-term success.

Focus on sounding out words phonetically instead of memorizing them.

Decoding is crucial, requiring a solid grasp of phonological and phonemic awareness. This means working with sounds, manipulating them, recognizing initial sounds and syllables, and breaking words into simpler parts.

Sami recommends teaching a skill, reinforcing it with decodable texts, and expanding systematically. This approach builds confidence and gives learners a solid base, moving from memorizing sight words to fundamental reading proficiency.

Learn Root Words

Root words, prefixes, and suffixes serve as foundational elements that enable the precise decoding of complex words. By leveraging root words, readers can unlock the meanings of unfamiliar terms with greater understanding.

Improve Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills help with the brain's cross-hemispheric processing. To develop these skills, focus on building hand muscle strength and including literacy activities like:

  • Using lettered clothespins for matching games on paper plates.
  • Using pipettes or spray bottles to remove chalk letters outside.
  • Improving letter formation with sensory tray activities and singing songs about letters and numbers.
  • Handwriting Without Tears writing program. 

Build Reading Confidence

Creating a supportive reading environment can boost confidence and love for reading. Start with the following:

  • Read aloud regularly to your child.
  • Encourage children to read out loud, promoting phonological awareness. 
  • Introduce books that relate to their interests. 
  • Provide plenty of encouragement and praise.

Apps To Boost Literacy Skills

Sami strongly endorses the following reading apps, which are supported by research:

  • Reading.com: Parent-child interaction in 15 minutes daily with a curriculum that begins with letter recognition and progressively improves reading fluency.
  • Head Sprout: Boosts literacy from pre-K to grade five through engaging activities, games, and lessons.
  • Epic!: Offers unlimited access to over 40,000 books, audiobooks, and videos for kids 12 and under. Parents can track progress and customize content based on interests, including quizzes and interactive elements for enhanced learning.

Collaboration Between School And Parents

Sami is committed to boosting awareness and improving educational methods. She aims to educate parents on their crucial role in early childhood development, using her experiences to advocate for a proactive approach to prevent future problems.

It's vital to support parents without overwhelming them since replacing old practices with new ones is a big request. Some schools do not offer the necessary support or resources for adopting the science of reading, leading to a challenging mix of two diverging worlds.

Fostering collaboration between parents and teachers is a nuanced challenge, but it's essential for change. Elevating society's literacy and nurturing a culture of empathy and support is paramount to guaranteeing our children optimal outcomes. 

Moreover, addressing the challenges faced by educators is critical. Despite their dedication and good intentions, recognizing the flaws in traditional reading teaching methods or curriculums can be unsettling and challenging. 

Final Thoughts

Fostering a passion for reading within the home is equally vital as instructing it in educational settings. Parents can cultivate this by designing a warm, inviting space dedicated to reading, providing a diverse selection of reading materials, and engaging in shared reading sessions with their children. 

The school can enhance literacy outcomes by offering a comprehensive curriculum, employing proven instructional techniques and resources, and engaging parents in their children's education. Through a collaborative effort between educators and parents, we can provide our children with the fundamental skills required for reading success and beyond. 

Let's work collectively towards a future in which all children have the same access to exceptional literacy education. We can cultivate a lasting passion for reading by breaking down obstacles together.







While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

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