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Traffic Light Reading And Other Tips For Parents

As a Mum, Grandma, and with a daughter who is a primary teacher, Alison draws on a wealth of experience for her child-related Hubs.

Help your child to read at home with our tips on using the traffic light reading method

Help your child to read at home with our tips on using the traffic light reading method

Traffic Light Reading Method

If you have tried to help your child to read, specifically with reading school books at home, you may well have found that teaching kids to read can sometimes feel like a battle.

You are definitely not alone in this, it is quite common for parents to be unsure of the best way to support their child and help them to read. What should be a happy, shared time between you and your child, reading a book together, turns instead into almost a chore for both of you, another job to be ticked off in an already crowded day. It does not have to be this way, though.

If you try to visualise the experience of helping your child to read in three stages, like traffic lights changing from Red to Green, it will help you to divide the process into easy to manage steps.

The red stage is the first stage of the traffic light reading method and involves getting organized to read:

  • Find somewhere quiet and comfortable to read. Let your child help with choosing this quiet place and try to read in the same place each time.
  • Choose a regular time to read or create a simple timetable to track when reading is going to take place.
  • If your child is a reluctant reader you might want to consider creating a sticker chart or other reward strategy such as placing a marble in a jar which, when filled up would lead to a small treat. Have this on display in your reading space. This could be used every time you read with your child.
  • Set a timer. Decide on how long you are going to spend reading. It is unlikely that very young children would benefit from a very long reading session. Ten to fifteen minutes per day is a realistic goal. Remember you do not have to read the entire book in one sitting.
  • Assess your child’s mood and your own. Is reading time going to be successful today? It is important that reading is a positive experience. If your child is exhausted or you are feeling stressed out or rushed off your feet then the reading experience is not likely to be of much value.

Amber Stage, Introducing The Book

The amber stage is the second stage of the traffic light system and is where you introduce the book:

  • When your child brings home a new book, don’t just rush onto reading the words.
  • Look at the front cover together. What is the story called? What is happening on the front cover? What does your child think is going to happen in the story? (Predicting storylines is an important skill and helps develop early story writing skills).
  • You might want to look through the pictures first together. This will help your child consider what the story might be about and encourage your child to consider the types of words that might be used.
  • Is there a blurb (writing on the back of the book)? If so, read it to your child or encourage them to read the blurb.
  • If your child brings home a non-fiction book, ask them to talk about the photographs and the different features such as the contents page or index.

Green Stage, Reading The Book

The third, and final stage of the traffic light system is the green stage. This is where you actually begin to read the book with your child.

  • It is important that young children are encouraged to point to the words as they read. This helps them follow the text and can help them split words into sounds.
  • The majority of children learn best through the phonetic approach and this will be the key strategy taught in schools. This should be used as one of the strategies to read unknown words. So for example, if faced with the unknown word ‘frog’, children should be encouraged to sound it out ‘f’, ‘r’, ‘o’, ‘g’ and then blend the sounds together to make the word. Make sure the child says the word clearly after they have sounded it out so that you are sure they have blended the word correctly before going
  • Make sure the child says the word clearly after they have sounded it out so that you are sure they have blended the word correctly before going on to the next word. When the child is confident with their sounds, they will be introduced to blends such as ‘sh’, ‘ch’ ‘er’. The child should then be encouraged to use this knowledge when they read e.g. when faced with the unknown word, ‘shop’, they should be encouraged to sound it out ‘sh’, ‘o’, ‘p’.
  • Sounding out is not the only strategy to working out unknown words. Your child could be encouraged to look for clues in the pictures or carry on reading the sentence and then come back and try to work out the unknown word.
  • There are some words that cannot be read by sounding out for example ‘the’, ‘be’ and ‘there’. Your child is going to have to learn to recognise these words by sight. These could be taught through word cards shown in random order. Be careful to only introduce a few words at a time so your child is not overwhelmed. Lots of schools send home key words to learn.
  • You may wish to consider telling the child a word from time to time if the word is very tricky or your child is becoming frustrated after several attempts.
  • As your child is reading, stop from time to time to ask them about what they have read e.g. ‘How do you think Floppy is feeling?’ ‘Why did he do that?’ ’What do you think is going to happen next?’. The reason for doing this is to check your child’s comprehension. Many children can happily read a sentence without really understanding the significance of what they have read.
  • At the end of the reading session, find out how your child felt about the book. Did they enjoy it? Why? It is ok for your child not to enjoy a particular book. You may find it useful to jot down words that your child found hard so that you can refer to them at a different time. If your child has a reading record, note down the pages they have read, and add a brief note to let your child’s teacher/teaching assistant know how your child got on.
There may be thirty other children in your child's class at school, so any help you can give them with reading at home, is going to be a big bonus!

There may be thirty other children in your child's class at school, so any help you can give them with reading at home, is going to be a big bonus!

Other Tips And Opportunities For Reading

Some parents frequently become frustrated by the number of times their child changes their book at school. Ideally, a child should be heard once or twice a week and their book changed at least once a week. Teachers and their assistants have a great deal of expectations laid on their shoulders and have a great many other things to do and teach during the day – imagine trying to read with 30 children on your own every day. Having said that, reading is a vital part of school life and I think that you would be surprised by the amount that takes place each day at school e.g. guided reading, phonics, Literacy, topic work.....

Scroll to Continue

Your child’s school book is a useful starting place for reading but there are many other opportunities such as:

  • reading books around the house
  • reading interest books – fiction and non-fiction
  • using the internet (under supervision). There are some great websites to support early reading e.g. the CBeebies or Starfall websites
  • reading comics
  • playing literacy games and puzzles
  • using read-along story tapes
  • looking at instructions e.g. manuals, recipes, and guides
  • looking at brochures for places that you visit
  • visiting your local library is also a good way of encouraging children to read a range of books.

It is also possible to extend reading into other experiences such as:

  • Make-believe, (vital for the basis of good story writing). This can include dressing up, taking on different roles, making and using puppets, playing with small world toys such as a farm set.
  • Story writing – children can create their own picture books or simple, written versions.
  • Creating props or making things linked to the book e.g. if you read the story ‘The Gingerbread Man’, you could make ‘Gingerbread men biscuits’. If you are reading a book about pirates why not encourage your child to make a treasure map?

Links and Learning Resources

  • Jolly Learning
    Jolly Learning is an independent British publisher which produces the Jolly Learning range of Jolly Phonics, Jolly Grammar, and Jolly Readers.It teaches the letter sounds in an enjoyable, multisensory way. Good for Literacy games and Home School
  • BBC - CBeebies - Home
    CBeebies - literacy games, fun and learning for children aged 0 - 6 - a BBC site in UK. A good resource for Home School
Online resources can be invaluable in helping your child read

Online resources can be invaluable in helping your child read

Other helpful articles on reading with your child

And Finally ...

I hope that the tips I have provided on using the traffic light reading method at home with your child will prove useful. I have given some ideas for other reading opportunities but I am sure you could come up with many more of your own.

If you still have some concerns about the progress your child is making with their reading or if, for some reason, you are not able to read with your child at home, it is very important that you arrange a time to go and see your child’s class teacher and share your concerns or problems. I am sure they would be glad to help and full of their own ideas on teaching kids to read and to improve their early reading skills.

Author's note. This article has been produced in collaboration with my daughter, Zoe, who is a Reception/Year 1 Primary School Teacher.


Alison Graham (author) from UK on January 20, 2011:

Thanks gajanis786, I will pass on your kind comment to my daughter who should take the credit for the information in this hub - I am very proud her and of what she has achieved as a primary school teacher.

gajanis from Pakistan on January 20, 2011:

Very useful for parents...and as a parent I can endorse all of your opinions which are a must for raising confident kids and reading at early stages of their lives is an integral part of their physical and mental development.Thanks.

Alison Graham (author) from UK on December 18, 2010:

Thanks Lady Wordsmith, I have read your excellent hub, thanks for sharing the link. Imparting a love of reading to any young person is a great joy, well done.

Linda Rawlinson from Lancaster, UK on December 18, 2010:

Great hub Alison. I was glad to read it, because it made me realise that I am really doing as much as I can to help my eldest son learn to read. I sometimes feel like I'm not doing enough, but I'm beginning to notice that I do more than his teachers do!! Sad, but this year he seems to have a teacher who is only interested in sports, and doesn't listen to any of the children read at all (the teaching assistant is the one who listens to them read). My son is the youngest in his class, and he is 7, but he's having a go at 'Swallows and Amazons' (his choice), so I guess I have nothing at all to worry about with his reading ability :)

Now to work on the maths...!

I wrote a hub on my experience of watching my son learn to read, if you'd like to read it (although if you don't want to that's fine :D ):

Thanks for this hub - I found it so encouraging.


Alison Graham (author) from UK on November 19, 2010:

Mathan42, thank you for your comment - I have read your excellent hub thank you for sharing it.

mathan42 on November 18, 2010:

Nice info and good presentation Alison Graham....Keep up the good work...Check out my hub on parenting tips at and give your views...Your comments are welcome...

Alison Graham (author) from UK on November 13, 2010:

I agree writer83, one of the greatest joys is to watch your child learning new skills. My grandson has joined the local library and gets new books out each week to find out more about the things that interest him and this is all because he learned to read well.

writer83 from Cyber Space on November 12, 2010:

As a mother, i really want to help my kids read because it helps them to learn something new.

Alison Graham (author) from UK on October 13, 2010:

Thanks scholarshipsformo, children do love to be read to and it is a wonderful thing to be able to give a child the joy of reading.

scholarshipsformo from California on October 13, 2010:

This is some excellent info. I have a 3 year old daughter that loves it when I read to her. I can already tell she has interest in learning how to read already

Alison Graham (author) from UK on August 30, 2010:

Hi advocateforchild, I cannot advise you as I only have experience with primary school age readers - however, I could point you to which has recommended books for children in each age group and this might help you to get him fired up again! I hope you are successful, love of reading is a wonderful thing.

advocateforchild from Orange, CA on August 29, 2010:

Wonderful tips :0)

My son was at first a reluctant reader, then became an avid reader (but only of books about baseball), and now he's a wee bit more reluctant. My son just turned 13-any ideas on how to approach a reader his age? He reads very well actually-just want to encourage him to enjoy reading more.

Alison Graham (author) from UK on August 04, 2010:

Thank you for your kind comment arizonataylor.

arizonataylor from Arizona on August 03, 2010:

I've been teaching for years, and I enjoyed your article. This was a great presentation of information. Thank you.

Alison Graham (author) from UK on July 08, 2010:

Hi Veianet, thanks for your comment, glad to hear your daughter reads well. We should all encourage children to read, I think.

Veia on July 08, 2010:

Hi, Great hub. My daughter reads very well and is very advance in her class when it comes to reading. Your tips work well for those who want to encourage their kids to read more.

wink wink!!

Alison Graham (author) from UK on May 12, 2010:

Betty, so sorry for the delay in replying to your comment - I absolutely agree with you. Thanks for taking the time to post your comment.

DonnyBoy from Western New York on April 07, 2010:

might stop bullying later too

Spacey Gracey from Essex, UK on April 07, 2010:

Hi I've been checking out your hubs because, like me, you are new and from the UK, and a mum. You've done so well yo get so many hubs out and get such a high personal hub score. I've been mostly doing Amazon product hubs because with 2 small children at home I have no hope of concentrating to write something informative. I will be watching you closely because it seems you have a lot to teach me.

Betty on April 06, 2010:

Great article. I especially like the idea of letting them read comic books. This has worked out really well for my kids as a treat for after they finish their homework. My daughter enjoys the Disney Fairies and is excited about a new comic coming out April 13th. It's called Disney Fairies: Prilla’s Talent. As parents we have to use whatever works.

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