Unless you’re like my sister (an aerospace engineer at NASA), chances are that you are not a rocket scientist. Yet according to Louisa Moats, one of the leading researchers on the process of learning to read, teaching reading is rocket science. Huh? How is teaching a child the ABC’s and picture books rocket science?

Well, that’s exactly it – there’s A LOT more to teaching reading than just making sure your kids know the ABC’s, letter sounds, and words in books. I’m going to highlight some of the findings from her and other researchers’ work for you in the hopes that you’ll truly understand what a great task you undertake when teaching your child to read.

  • Learning to read is not natural or easy for most children because it is an acquired skill.
  • The difficulty of teaching reading has been underestimated. Not only does it mean a lot of work on the child’s part, but the teacher/parent must be very knowledgeable about the process of learning to read and what methods work best
  • Skilled reading happens too fast and is too automatic for us to really understand what is happening in our brains. First, we must recognize and connect the right sounds with the right letters and make those into words. Next, we put a bunch of words together into sentences, paragraphs, pages, etc. Then, we have to be thinking at the same time so that we can make sense of what just read. Wow! That’s a lot to do all at once!
  • Readers who struggle with connecting sounds to the right letter to make words have no mental energy or attention to think about what the words mean – so their comprehension really suffers! This is where explicit (with a purpose) teaching of phonics helps – kids learn to automatically connect those sounds with letters into words. When those skills are automatic, attention can then be paid to meaning.
  • When adults (some teachers included) were tested on their knowledge of our language, they showed very weak familiarity with the concepts of our written system. Their knowledge was not enough to be an effective reading teacher. This is why it is SO important for you to learn as much as possible about our language and writing system so that you can be prepared to thoroughly teach your child to read!
  • Without good knowledge about how kids learn how to read, you will most likely not be able to identify problems as they arise. You may be able to tell that your child is having difficulty with something, but you may not know with what or how to help them improve.
  • Today’s popular reading programs are full of great literature, pictures, thematic units, and motivational strategies for kids, but they’re very weak in helping the teacher/parent learn about how to teach reading and how children learn.

Most of these findings are also used to propose better teacher training programs in colleges around the country. The author repeatedly stress the importance that it takes more than just knowing how to read and how to teach to be a reading instructor. I think this applies to anyone attempting to teach a child to read -whether you’re a teacher at a school or a caring parent who home schools or helps their child after school. You have to know the ins and outs of how to teach reading for kids to become masters at learning to read so they can read to learn . . . for life!

Become a rocket scientist yourself by learning the specifics of teaching reading! For more detailed info on the ins and outs, please visit our tutorial section entitled Reading Fundamentals.


Moats, L. Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science