Saturday, November 20, 2010

How I Taught My Oldest Child to Read

My friend, Emily over at Creative Disaster, asked a question on my last post about books.  She said, "I wanted to ask how you taught Miss Dainty to read, did you use a program or what?"  So, I figured I'd write a post about it, because I did several different things with Miss Dainty, and even though I know Emily's son is older, I'm going to start all the way at the beginning in case any other friends or readers were wondering this too.

The biggest thing I can vouch for is reading nonstop to your kids (and start early!)  Don't just do it at bedtime, do it all the time!  Read a story at breakfast, read at quiet time, snack time, any time!  Have books available to your kids, even the babies.  Miss Dainty had cloth and board books from when she was teeny tiny.  She got her first paperback books when she was about 6 or 7 months old.  (Very young, I know, and quite a few of them got torn up, but she loved the bigger pictures.)  Don't keep books away from your small children because they might write in them, or don't know how to handle them.  If you don't expose them to books they won't be able to learn how to treat and appreciate them.

I do understand that babies can be destructive towards books.  Baby D just recently got past her writing in books phase (so thankful for that!)  So, try to keep library books in a special put up place, and only pull them out when you're ready to read them.  That goes for special books that you want to keep forever, too.  But other books, board books, yard sale finds, etc, let your child explore them on her own time and free will.  It really gives them the chance to become interested all on their own.

So, that is how I raised my first child in books from the get go.  The second thing we naturally started doing with her was teaching letter sounds.  We didn't worry too much about whether she knew her alphabet, but instead focused on the sounds.  (Along these same lines, I always talked "grown up" to her, enunciated clearly, used big words, etc.  I never lowered my speaking level even when she was very, very young.  I honestly think this helped tremendously.)

Anyway, on her second birthday, someone gave her the Leap Frog Fridge Phonics educational toy.  At first, it was nothing more than a game to her to take all the letter magnets off the fridge, and I would say the sounds of each letter as I helped her pick them up.  Eventually she started playing with it in the intentional way.  The toy sings a song about each letter's sound when you put one of the magnets into it.  "A says aaaa (short a) and A says AAAA (long A,) every letter makes a sound, A says a and A!  (and on and on for each letter.)  This was Miss Dainty's first introduction to phonics:  through play.  She learned the song and started learning her letters from it.

After seeing how much she loved that particular toy and its song, I bought her the Leap Frog Letter Factory DVD when she was about 3.  It follows the same idea:  teaches each letter's sound.  The plot is very fun for kids, the characters are lovable, and the tunes and actions that each letter goes through are very memorable.  Basically, in the movie, Tad's dad works in a letter factory where the letters make their sounds, and he's giving a dictionary publisher a tour of the factory.  At first, Tad doesn't know his ABCs, and his brother and sister can't see how Tad can help.  Tad ends up looking around the factory and meets a professor who takes him through each letter's room, where the letters are learning how to make their correct sounds, and in the meantime, Tad also learns each letter and its sound.  In the end, after Tad learns his ABCs, he is able to help with the final production to try to convince the publisher to use letters from the factory in his new dictionary.  Miss Dainty loved watching this DVD, and it was one that I didn't mind her watching.  It really furthered her understanding of letter sounds.

At about the same time (around 3 or 3 1/2, I can't quite remember,) she wanted to start doing "school."  Some of her friends had started going to day care ("school") and she wanted to go, too.  But of course, I didn't put her in.  However, I did start teaching her more intentionally, following her lead.  We began to focus on a letter per week.  Some things we used around the same time, were:

Letter of the Week Preschool Curriculum:  We used a cork board instead of making a new poster board each week.  Miss Dainty loved this program.

My First Steps to Reading book set by Jane Belk Moncure:  This is out of print now, but if you can find something comparable, it's really neat.  I found my set at a yard sale for $15, so I really lucked out.  Each book focuses on one letter and tells a story with as many words that start with that letter as possible, while still maintaining an easy to follow plot.  For example, in My "b" Book, page 8-9 reads:  "Little b found a bird and a birdbath.  She put them into her box."

Alphabet Art - With A-Z Animal Art & Fingerplays by Judy Press and Sue Dennen.  We just did the activities for the letter we were working on each week.

We also played quite a few games around this time.  The two I remember most were:  a Montessori type game, and our Letter Box Game.  In the Montessori game, I made a small card for each letter and wrote it in glitter glue.  This way each letter was raised off the card, and she could trace it with her finger.  I would put a few small items in a group, and she would match each item with it's beginning sound (once again stressing letter sounds, not names.)  One time we had small figurines/toys of: Apple, Bottle, Cat, Dinosaur, Egg.

The Letter Box Game had a similar idea, but I put in a bunch of small objects, and I had her pick out the objects that started with whatever sound we happened to be working on.  For example, in the box perhaps there was:  a button, a pencil, a domino, a bell, a penny, a ball, a toy bee, a plastic egg, etc.  Then I would tell her we were looking for things that started with the sound "b," and one item at a time, she would tell me what it was and whether or not it started with "b."  This was a very simple game, and yet she absolutely loved it.  We also drew letters in sand saying the letter's sound (not the name,) as we did so.  Playdough is also a good hands on activity for letters, too.  I would have Miss Dainty roll out playdough snakes, and then she would lay it on top of a letter card following the letter's shape, and saying the sound as she did so.

Over all, I think the main thing that helped in the beginning was that I focused on the letter sounds, because once she knew what each letter said on its own, it was so much easier for her to start blending.  And we did that through a game, also.  I found this Picture Word Puzzles game at a teaching shop when I first returned to the States.  Miss Dainty had just turned 4, and I really hadn't planned on using it yet.  I was planning on saving it for when we got settled in and started homeschooling "for real."  But of course, Miss Dainty doesn't like following Mommy's plans...  She wanted to play right away.  The deck of cards has 56 two-sided cards.  Each 3 make a different word and picture on one side, and a sentence on the other.  It took her a while of playing the game, with her matching the picture up, and me helping her read the word one letter sound at a time, but eventually she read her first 3 letter word: cat.  She was so excited when it clicked.  

So, at 4 1/2, Miss Dainty knew all of her letter's sounds and was blending three letter words, thanks to the word puzzle game.  At this point, when I would read books to her, I'd follow the words with my finger as I read, and let her read the words I knew she could.  For example, in The Cat in the Hat, I would read all the words except the "at" words, at which I would pause and let Miss Dainty read.  She loved doing that... for a while, but eventually she got hungry for more.  She kept asking me to teach her to read "real" words.  So, how could I refuse?

I ended up buying Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  I've heard that this method does not work for all kids, but it did for Miss Dainty.  It really built upon her knowledge of phonics in a very progressive way.  Through this book, she learned the harder letter blends, and by the end of the book was able to read fluently.  I do think that it helped that she already knew the basic phonics, but it's definitely not required.  The book starts at basic phonics. 

Alongside that book, we used the Bob book sets since Miss Dainty wanted to read an actual book, not just the short stories in Teach Your Child to Read.  These mini books were great.  They are fun, simple to follow stories that are just challenging enough for beginning readers.  The illustrations are very basic and do not distract from the written words too much.  Miss Dainty enjoyed these.  

From there, she took off on her own, pretty much.  I would take her to the library and show her the level 1, 2, and 3 books as she progressed in her reading, and she devoured them.  Now, she is constantly reading on her own.  She absolutely loves it.

Of course, everything is always different for each child, so I definitely suggest following your child's lead.  I also would emphasize to make it fun, don't pressure, and try not to make it drudgery.  And (again) emphasize letter sounds, not names.  It makes it so much easier.  We read in sounds: CAT not SEE AAYY TEE.  See what I mean?  And once they learn those individual sounds, and further, how they work together, a whole new world will unlock for them.  =)  

I hope something in this post can help, Emily!  And I know you and your boys love books, and I know they will have so much fun with reading!  Good luck!

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