Pre-Reading and Spelling skills

Why movement is important for the brain
May 5, 2021
Voorvaardighede vir Spel en Lees
May 20, 2021

By Hayley Cockcroft.

Reading is more than seeing words clearly, more than pronouncing printed words correctly, more than recognising the meaning of isolated words.  Reading requires you to think, feel and imagine. Ruth Strang

Becoming school ready is a complex concept that means that a learner is “learning ready” when he can comply with the minimum requirements and has developed the minimum skills necessary to experience success and make progress in the school environment.

For a learner to be successful in learning to read and spell accurately, he needs to be competent in the following:

  • Gross and fine motor skills
  • Age-appropriate emotional development
  • Be able to cope socially in the school environment
  • Have a good visual and auditory perception
  • Have a good concept of numbers
  • Be able to reason on a concrete, semi-concrete and abstract level
  • Be able to distinguish between left and right
  • Be able to cross his midline
  • Have a good sense of spatial orientation
  • Have good use of vocabulary
  • Be able to recall rhymes, songs, home address, etc.

Learning readiness needs to be seen as a process and not a single event.  Pre-reading and spelling skill development begins at birth and goes hand-in-hand with the sequential stages of development in children. When a child is provided with sufficient opportunities to develop healthily, he is usually school ready by the compulsory school age.

Factors affecting learning readiness

The following factors can affect learning readiness:

  • Health
  • Nutrition
  • Routine
  • Low muscle tone
  • Skipping of developmental phases
  • Parents attitude towards learning
  • Socio-economic circumstances
  • Attitudes toward gender
  • Trauma
  • Language ability.

These factors can either enhance or inhibit the process of achieving a state of learning readiness.  When a learner cannot see or hear well, is over-active, sickly or whose natural perceptual development seems to be inhibited for whatever reason, then he may well not be ready for learning at the expected time (regardless of ample opportunity being provided). Such a learner would require professional or other assistance to aid him in the normal process of school preparation.

The role of the Triune Brain

According to De Jager (2019,) a learner’s level of development in the following three areas may indicate whether he is ready for learning to read and spell.

  • Physical development (PQ) – Survival Brain
  • Emotional development (EQ) – Limbic System
  • Intellectual development (IQ) – Neocortex

Physical development (PQ)

When a learner is physically prepared for school, he has the ability to meet demands which are made on him.  He can hold his pencil with ease and can also sit still long enough for him to concentrate and learn.  Such a learner is not only able to learn but is also capable of listening to and carrying out instructions.

When a learner is physically independent, he develops a positive self-concept, confidence and assertiveness.  The result of these skills is that the learner will have a good sense of safety, healthy risk-taking and learning readiness.  Learning skills do not only refer to academic skills but also includes the making of friends (shows that the learner has the emotional maturity to get along with others).  Motivation and memory are the emotional and social skills that act as glue to join the head (thinking) with the heart (feeling).

Emotional development (EQ)

A learner who, at the age of six, has not yet reached an age-appropriate level of maturation often displays the need to play.  This can be an indication that he is not yet emotionally ready to meet the demands that are being made on him, he is unable to orientate himself to complete tasks and may tire easily in the formal teaching situation.

Intellectual development (IQ)

Other than physical and emotional readiness, a learner also needs to be intellectually and perceptually ready for school.  A learner should be able to distinguish between left and right, understand spatial concepts like “behind, beside, in front of …” and show comprehension of numerical concepts such as bigger/smaller, more/less as well as numbers. These skills enable a learner to make sense of his experiences, think about them, make plans and respond appropriately in the language of instruction.

Besides being physically, emotionally and intellectually ready, a young learner might still face various barriers to learning.

What influences reading and spelling readiness?

The ability to:

  • hear and see well
  • speak the language of teaching and learning fluently and use vocabulary accurately
  • listen to instructions
  • listen with understanding
  • follow simple instructions
  • remember what he’s seen
  • remember what he’s heard
  • remember what he’s learnt.

The importance of Core Muscle Development

Gross motor skills refer to the movement and control of the body’s large muscles which are involved in daily activities such as walking, running, kicking and catching.  Gross motor development is a reptilian response and is made up of several skills at a level of unconscious competence to maintain posture and a sense of independence.  Underdeveloped core muscles result in low muscle tone, poor posture, poor concentration and fatigue.  Rather than focusing on learning, the brain concentrates on staying upright through constant movement.

The importance of auditory perception

A learner has well developed auditory perception when he is able to recognise and distinguish between similar and different sounds, pitch, volume and speed.  He also needs to be able to recognise similarities and differences between similar sounds.  Auditory perception includes skills such as:

  • Auditory discrimination: The ability to distinguish minor differences between words, e.g. 15 / 50.
  • Auditory sequencing:  The ability to recall and understand sounds in the order in which they were heard, e.g. r-a-t not t-a-r.  This is also applicable to numbers, e.g. the educator said 184 and not 148.  This is a very important part of the reading and writing process.
  • Auditory memory:  The ability for a learner to remember what he has heard, enabling them to learn rhythm and poems. The three aspects of auditory memory are short-term memory (instant recall), working memory (remembering until the task is complete) and long-term memory (recalling information heard a long time ago).
  • Auditory foreground-background discrimination:  The ability to hear and recognise the educator’s voice above the noise of the classroom.

The importance of visual perception skills

“The eyes look, but the brain ‘sees’” (De Jager, 2019). A learner has mastered his visual perception skills when he can sort, match and classify objects according to shape, colour, size, texture and position, as well as be able to recognise differences and similarities in pictures, letters and words.

Visual perception includes skills such as:

  • Visual discrimination:  The ability to see differences between pictures, letters, words and numbers that are similar in appearance, e.g. 6 / 9.
  • Foreground-background discrimination:  The ability to isolate a figure that may be in the foreground or background of a picture by focusing on one object at a time.  Activities such as cutting, colouring-in, reading and spelling require figure-ground discrimination.
  • Visual memory:  The ability to recall visual images.  This is an important skill as learners need to be able to recognise sight words.
  • Visual sequencing:  The ability to see letters in order, e.g. b-a-t = bat.

Encouraging learners to develop pre-reading and spelling skills

Speech and language develop naturally when a learner participates in various experiences.  Speech refers to a learner’s ability to know and use language with understanding.  A learner needs to belong both emotionally and socially and needs to develop language as a way to communicate and bond with his peers.  Adequate language development in the early years is important for the development of cognitive skills, e.g. comparison, classification and organisation.  Learners can be encouraged to develop pre-reading and spelling skills in the following ways:

  • Speak to them often
  • Listen to what they have to say
  • Avoid “baby” language
  • Allow them to tell you what they want – do not anticipate their needs
  • Play games together
  • Read books together – discuss the pictures/storyline
  • Take them on outings
  • Afford them plenty of time to socialise with other children.

It is essential to note that when entering school, a learner may have attained varying degrees of learning readiness in the different areas. The variation in areas of development will impact his success at school.

To assess whether a learner is learning ready or not, it is important to form a picture of the whole child, considering all aspects.

Questionnaire:  Is your learner ready for reading?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to most of these questions, then your learner may well be ready for reading:

Is he able to concentrate throughout a short story?
Is he able to match similar pictures?
Is he able to match similar shapes?
Can he express himself using appropriate language?
Does he have a good vocabulary?
Can he tell a story in the correct sequence?
Can he recall songs and rhymes?
Does he recognise his name in print?
Is he able to identify one or more letters of the alphabet?
Does he recognise the way words are set out on paper?   (Left to right; top to bottom)
Does he show interest in books?
Does he show an interest in reading?

Fun games to play to encourage reading and spelling skills

As a result of learners being unique individuals, they all learn to read and spell in different ways.  By employing various teaching methods, learning becomes a more enjoyable activity.  Below is just a few of the many games which can be played to encourage young learners to develop reading and spelling skills:

  • I spy …
  • Memory Card Games
  • Look and Say games with flashcards
  • What’s that sound like?
  • What comes next? Sequencing cards
  • Name puzzles e.g. birth + day = birthday
  • Broken Telephone
  • Listen and imitate

Enhancing pre-reading and spelling skills with Mind Moves

Spatial orientation is essential for reading and spelling.  Well stimulated eyes, ears and vestibular system provide the foundation upon which knowledge can be added.

Mouse Pad        

The eyes are to the brain what the mouse is to the computer. The eyes access different parts of the brain when turning up, down, horizontal, left and right. Focus on the thumb held at elbow distance from the eyes. Move the thumb upwards, first around the left eye and then around the right eye outlining the shape of an infinity sign. Repeat five times. Swop hands and repeat the same process, always first drawing a circle around the left eye and then around the right eye. This move stimulates the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic receptive ability while crossing the midline to integrate the left and right parts of the brain and body. It develops eye-hand coordination and visual integration.

Antennae Adjuster

Massage both ear lobes simultaneously from top to bottom using circular movements. This move develops the near senses, auditory processing, auditory perception as well as receptive language ability.

Temporal Toner

Starting in front of the ears, using both hands simultaneously, gently tap upwards around the ears. This movement promotes temporal lobe stimulation to improve listening skills, auditory perception, vestibular stimulation, proprioception and balance. It also promotes integration between listening and communicating both in verbal and written form.

Bilateral Walk

Touch the left knee with the right hand, twisting the trunk to bring the opposite shoulder and hip towards each other, extending the other arm and leg. Now touch the right knee with the left hand, extending the other arm and leg. This movement stimulates left-right integration by crossing the lateral midline and is best done first lying down and then standing up. Repeat at least 10 times. The exercise can also be done while singing or doing some form of rote learning. This move integrates the left and right parts of the brain and body while crossing the midline. When eyes are moved into visual, auditory and kinaesthetic positions, this move also crosses all three midlines.

Communication is at the heart of a child’s development, be it cognitive, social, emotional or behaviour.  L.S. Vygotsky

De Jager, M. 2018. Learning Readiness Assessment. Johannesburg: Mind Moves Publishing.

De Jager, M. 2019. Mind Moves – removing barriers to learning. Johannesburg: Mind Moves Publishing.

Maree, D & Ford, M. 1998. Ready to Read. Florida Hills: Smile Education Systems (Pty.) Ltd.


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