What Skill is Most Important For a Student Just Learning To Read?

What Skill is Most Important For a Student Just Learning To Read?

As a parent, you already know how important reading is for your child. Reading ability is a key factor in everything from kindergarten readiness to solving word problems in math class. But do you know what skill is most important for a student just learning to read? There are several factors that impact a child’s ability to begin reading? Before your child can read chapter books or even a single sentence, they must develop pre-reading skills.

There are six key pre-reading skills children must develop before becoming proficient readers.


We all know that sounding out words is an important skill. But if your child doesn’t understand the words they sound out, the story will be meaningless. That’s why it’s so important for a child to develop a strong vocabulary before they learn to read.

The average child enters school knowing about 3,000 to 5,000 words. To help your child learn more, read aloud to them starting from infancy. As they grow, discuss the books you read together. Have many conversations — and allow your child to reply back. You can also enroll them in the Kumon Reading Program. In the program’s pre-reading levels, 7A to 3A, children are exposed to over 1,200 words before even beginning to read.

Print Motivation

A child’s print motivation refers to their enjoyment of books. A child who is interested in physical books, likes to be read to, and tries to write is said to have strong print motivation. Studies have shown that a child’s interest in reading correlates to their ability to read. The same is true even before a child actually starts reading. When a child shows an interest in books, they are more likely to improve their other pre-reading skills, thus putting them on the path to becoming a better reader.

Print Awareness

Print awareness is a key skill that is often taken for granted by fluent readers. As adult readers, we know that English texts are read from top to bottom and left to right. We automatically understand that individual letters make up words, which form sentences, which combine to make paragraphs. We can differentiate between words and pictures on a page. While these may seem intuitive to us, these are all things that we had to learn as children.

The Kumon Reading Program was designed to help children improve print awareness. Hand icons on the worksheets show children where to point, training them to distinguish between words and images on the page. Students are taught from the earliest levels that words go from left to right and up to down.  As students repeat after their parent or an assistant, they must point to individual words, one at a time, which helps them recognize each word separately. Many small details in the program train children to learn these skills seamlessly.

Letter Knowledge

Before learning to read, students should be able to recognize individual letters. Knowing both letter names and their sounds is important. Kumon Students work on this extensively, tracing letters as they sound them out. The connection between writing and memory has been well documented, and this is no different. By sounding out the letter as they write it, students cement the connection between the shape of the letter and the sound in their minds.  

Narrative Skills

A child’s storytelling ability can also help as they begin to read. Learning how to tell a story, like explaining what happened during a playdate, can familiarize a child with story structure. To nurture this, ask your child questions about their day. Encourage them to make up stories for their stuffed animals or figurines. Storytelling is a fun way to ignite your child’s imagination, and a great gateway to reading.

Phonological Awareness

Phonological, or phonemic, awareness has been cited as the biggest factor in a child’s future reading ability. Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize and use individual sounds in words. These sounds can be individual letter sounds, blends of consonants or vowels, or a combination. Understanding how different sounds work together is the key to learning how words work and is a necessary skill for children as they start reading.

In Kumon, students first learn letter sounds, then blends, and finally combine them together to form words. As is true of anything in the Kumon Program, these are learned step-by-step, with children learning easier sounds before they are introduced to more difficult blends.

Pre-reading skills are often misunderstood and underappreciated. Just as a toddler must learn to walk before they can run, they must develop pre-reading skills before they can read. When these six skills are fully cultivated, reading is a natural next step. The first levels of the Kumon Reading Program are dedicated solely to developing pre-reading skills. Once these skills are learned, your child will progress to reading progressively more difficult texts, building reading comprehension skills and a love of learning. Before you know it, your child will be reading Shakespeare!