Expert help


Oxford Owl is packed with guidance and advice on how to help your child’s reading, but here we also give answers to some of the questions parents often ask and that you might want to ask too.


  1. When should I start reading with my child?
  2. It’s never too early and you can start reading to your baby! Every child is different but the golden rule is that you should start as early as possible and enjoy reading together!

  3. When and how should I ask my child to try to read with me?Be guided by your child but don’t force the pace too early and run the risk of switching your child off! If your child is asking what words say, then he or she is probably ready to begin. Start with a familiar story that features lots of repetition so you can join in together!

  4. How often should I hear my child read? Every day if at all possible, but little and often is the golden rule. And reading to your child is as important.

  5. How do I teach the alphabet? Is it by sound or letter? If you want your child to know the alphabet then it will be by letter name. Many children learn the Alphabet song at nursery or playgroups. For phonic skills your child will need to know the sounds each letter or group of letters makes.

  6. Does it matter if my child uses the picture to help guess what the sentence/word is?
    It depends on what you are reading and why!
    If you are reading a decodable book which is to encourage your child to practise early reading skills, then it is important to read the words not the pictures! In picture books , the pictures really add to the meaning.

  7. What should I do if my child keeps wanting the same book again and again?
    Don’t discourage your child! It’s good to have favourite books, and reading familiar stories gives confidence.

  8. Shouldn’t I leave my child’s reading to the school in case I make mistakes?
    The teacher at school will be counting on your support and will enjoy working with you. Ask them how reading is taught and how you can help. For further information, look at Top tips and At school sections of this site.

  9. What do the colours on the books that come home from school mean?
    Colour coding is used to level books by difficulty. There are many different colour coding systems.

  10. I don’t read much myself so will that affect my child’s reading?
    If your child sees you reading it will encourage him or her to read too. You don’t have to start reading blockbuster novels - any reading material such as magazines, websites, posters, newspapers (the list is endless!) all count as reading. Sharing a picture book is one of the most relaxing things to do with your child at the end of the day.

  11. My child is a really good reader but I worry that she’ll pick up books that are unsuitable. How can I find suitable books?
    The levelled books your child brings home from school should still be appropriate in terms of content. At the library or bookshop it is trickier because you’re looking for books that are easily readable but with content that is not too sophisticated. Your library should be able to advise you. It’s important to keep able readers motivated so on balance be guided by your child’s interests and also do a bit of quick online research around a book if you’re not sure. Publishers will normally give a good indication of interest age as a guide so look out for that too.

Getting stuck and reluctance to read

  1. What should I do if my child gets stuck on a word?
    Start by encouraging your child to sound out the word using phonics . If it’s a tricky word or a word that is beyond your child’s current phonic skills then just give the word. It’s often helpful to re-read the sentence to make sure it makes sense.

  2. What if my child makes a mistake while reading?
    Don’t stop the flow of the reading unless what they’ve read doesn’t make sense.

  3. What if my child is more interested in the pictures than the words?
    The pictures are definitely part of any book and to be enjoyed. Continue to read stories to your child as they focus on the pictures but when they are reading decodable books encourage them to focus on the words first and then talk about the pictures. You can also focus on words and letters in games too. See Fun ideas .

  4. What if my child seems to stop making reading progress?
    Don’t worry. Children develop at different speeds and they always need to consolidate what they are learning before moving on. Continue to re-read familiar books, introduce new books at the same level, play games and always be encouraging. They’ll soon make progress again. Don’t put pressure on them – this can have the opposite effect and put them off reading completely.

  5. What do I do if my child is reluctant to read?
    Try not to worry or let your child know you are worried. Focus on the enjoyment of reading by playing games , reading aloud and linking books to your child’s interests. These are good ways to motivate them and develop confidence. Do also speak to your child’s teacher if you need further advice.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (or SEND)

  1. My child has been identified as having special educational needs. What does it mean?
  2. The term ‘special educational needs and disabilities’ covers a huge number of areas and if you haven’t received any specific information it’s a good idea to pop into school to make an appointment to see your child’s teacher. You can also check out .

  3. I’m worried about my child’s hearing. Is that likely to affect their reading skills?
  4. Children who have a strong ear-brain connection tend to be good readers! Children with multiple ear infections, speech or hearing difficulties, may find reading more challenging. If you are concerned, talk to your child’s teacher and also visit the doctor to make sure there is nothing medical that may be affecting your child’s progress.

  5. What do I do if I think my child might be dyslexic?
  6. In the first instance, talk to your child’s teacher and also their doctor to check out eyesight and hearing as a first step. The British Dyslexia Association website has lots of helpful advice too.

  7. My child has been described as ‘gifted and talented’. What does that mean?
  8. Schools are now asked to identify children who are exceptionally able and this is sometimes referred to as ‘gifted and talented’. Being very able can create its own challenges in learning and so schools acknowledge this as a special educational need and aim to provide special provision for your child. Pop into school to find out more about this if you are unsure and check out the National Association for Able Children in Education .

Writing and spelling

  1. When should I encourage my child to write?
    Children love to experiment with ‘writing’ from an early age – even if it’s play writing. Encourage them to do this with whatever tools you have, including chalk, paint, crayons or in the sand! Once your child starts nursery or reception then writing will be developed alongside reading.

  2. What do I do if my child’s writing is just scribble?Don’t worry as this is your child exploring and playing with language. It shows that your child already understands that marks in print carry a meaning. You can help them gradually to understand that the marks need to be letters which then make words! You can also show them how to hold the pencil or pen more comfortably too.
  3. What do I do if my child’s attempts at spelling words are just nonsense?
    In reception and into Year 1 (P1/P2 in Scotland) children will make useful mistakes in their spelling attempts. It’s an important part of the learning process and is sometimes called ‘inventive’ spelling. So long as the guess has a logic to it, then it shows that your child is learning to use the rules of spelling e.g. spelling hear instead of here shows that your child knows about the ear sound.

  4. My child learns spellings every week but then makes the same mistakes in their writing?Don’t worry this is very common. Children can often learn a list of words but then forget to apply what they have learned in their writing when they are thinking about the creative content of their work! It’s just a question of reminding them (sometimes), and also providing opportunities to point out examples of the word in a context. You can also play games to ‘test’ them in a fun way. Car journeys are great for this quick-fire type game (see Fun ideas ).
  5. My child is left handed. What can I do to help?
    The majority of left-handers write as well as right-handers, but they may develop fluency a little later because they are ‘pushing’ the pen across the page rather than ‘pulling’ it. This shouldn’t be a problem in the long-term. See the parent section at for further guidance on supporting left-handers.

Progress and testing

  1. What will my child have to do for the phonic check for six year olds? How can I help?
  2. In June 2012 the Government in England introduced a statutory 'phonic screening check' to help identify and support children who need extra help with phonics from an early stage. Find out more with frequently asked questions about the phonic check.

  3. How do I know what level of reading and writing my child should be at?
  4. No two children will progress at the same rate, but there are tests which allow us to compare a child’s reading with that of children of a similar age. They give us some idea about whether a child is developing at an average pace. Some reading tests give a ‘reading age’ which indicates whether your child is reading at a similar level to children at a similar age. If you have any concerns it is always best to talk to your child’s teacher first.

  5. What testing usually happens in primary schools?
  6. You will find that whatever stage your child is at in primary school, there will be regular and on-going teacher assessment and national tests. This is particularly the case as your child moves from Reception/P1 (in Scotland) into Year 1/P2 and then from Year 2/P3 into Year 3/P4. These are important times of change.
    In England assessment reforms have been underway and assessment and testing is set to look like this:
    - A short reception baseline test (from September 2015)
    - A phonics check near the end of Year 1
    - A teacher assessment at the end of Key Stage 1 in maths, reading and writing
    - A grammar, punctuation and spelling test at the end of Key Stage 1 (from Summer 2016)
    - A teacher assessment of speaking and listening, science at the end of Key Stage 1
    - A formal standardised assessment task or end of primary school test (Year 6) in mathematics; reading; grammar, punctuation and spelling in order to check their progress in preparation for secondary school
    - Teacher assessments of maths, reading, writing and science at the end of Key Stage 2.

  7. Surely my 4 year old won’t be tested?
  8. Your child won’t be formally tested but the teacher will be constantly monitoring your child’s progress, mainly through observation in different situations over a period of time and across different types of teaching and learning. This process builds a picture or profile of your child which the teacher will then discuss this with you to give you an overview of how well your child has started formal learning. A simple baseline test will be used by the teacher from September 2015. To find out more about The Early Years Foundation Stage visit

  9. Will my child be tested on grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS)?
  10. From 2016 there will be a short GPS test in the Summer Term of Year 2 (age 6-7) which, alongside the reading and writing tests marked by the teacher, will help to paint a fuller picture of how your child is doing. Then again at the end of Year 6 (age 10-11) your child will take a GPS test as part of the national tests in May. This reflects a greater emphasis on GPS in the new National Curriculum for England.

  11. What is Ofsted and how does it affect my child?
  12. Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) is the organisation appointed by the government to inspect schools in England. Schools are visited for inspection from time to time and the results will be shared with you and posted on the school website. When a school is visited the inspection team will visit classrooms to observe lessons and to talk with children about their learning. This is informal and children will not necessarily know that the person is an inspector – rather just another classroom visitor.

  13. I’ve heard that National Curriculum levels are going so what will replace them and how will I know how my child is doing?
  14. National Curriculum levels have been removed so schools are developing their own means of assessing children’s progress. Schools will work from ‘performance descriptors’ for core subjects which are English, Maths and Science. Your child’s school will tell you more about how they intend to do this.

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