Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Early Reading

Jess asks: I have a 3.5 year old boy and 20 mo girl. My son has known his letters and their sounds for about a year. He's always asking me what words say and I'm wondering how your eldest learned to read. Were there specific things you did or did it naturally occur? I think Jack is capable of learning to read right now but I don't want to suck the fun out of it (I'm a voracious reader and hope the same for my kids). Nor do I want to push him too early. Suggestions?

Heidi answers: Levi also knew his letters and sounds early, but the beginning stages of reading did not occur naturally. I began using The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading with him somewhere around the age of four. He didn't particularly like learning to read, but we plugged away (over a year and a half before he took off) and now he is a voracious reader.

Luke was a completely different story. He also knew his letters and sounds early, but wasn't much interested in books. I figured it would take longer for him to develop reading skills, so I planned to start lessons with him a little later. Something about plans, mice, and men.... Luke decided on his own to start reading before he turned four. Now he is 4 1/2, and he reads at about a second grade level. I'll share what I learned the second time around:

The best thing we used for the first stages of reading was magnetic lowercase letters. I love the letters and board which comes with the Teaching Reading Combo Pack at Peace Hill Press, but any magnetic letter set will work, as long as it has lowercase letters. (A large metal cookie sheet works well for playing with the magnets at a table.) (Work with your child to familiarize them with the lowercase letters if they aren't yet comfortable with them.)
***ETA: I like these colorful wooden letters from Melissa and Doug. Both uppercase and lowercase letters are included.

Luke had watched the Leap Frog Talking Words Factory, which prepared him for the basic idea of reading three letter words. So, we simply started playing around with the magnets. I would make words such as hat, sit, dad, mom, and pot. He would read them. Stay with this stage until it becomes fairly easy for your child to read these words. Treat it like a game, and if your child looses interest, put it away and try again another day.

(We also occasionally used the Boggle Jr. game during the first two stages of reading. The other word magnets pictured are from the Magnetic Poetry Kids' Magnetic First Words set.)

After Luke was reading the simple words with ease, we moved on to Playful Pals and Bob Books. Both of my boys preferred Playful Pals, but levels 3 and 4 of the Bob Books were very helpful between levels 1 and 2 of the Nora Gaydos series (beginning with Playful Pals). Both of these series are phonics based and very slowly introduce phonics sounds and rules. Both sets come with helpful hints and instructions for parents. Again, at such an early age, follow your child's cues when it comes to reading time. Make time to read with mom available on a consistent basis.

It is so easy to get frustrated during this time, both for the child and parent. (Listening to a child slowly labor over 'the cat sat' can be tedious at times.) Remember, they are very young. Reading doesn't click for all children at the same age. Stay relaxed and enjoy this process!

(My general Learning To Read Tips can be found here.)


Anonymous said...

Hi Heidi,I check in every day to see what's going on in your corner of the world. Thanks for answering my question, I feel somewhat famous to be on a blog! Jack read "Hop" the other day after sounding it out. I think I scared him with my enthusiasm. We hopped around after that and I hope to keep the fun in it. Thanks again, Jess from sunny FL

Amy Jo said...

This post comes at a great time for me too! My son is 3 and can spell out (and fingerspell) many 5 letter words. He's always surprising me, so I will look for some of the resources you mentioned. I got the Leap Frog out of the library last year on your suggestion too! Thanks!

Heather said...


I love your suggestion re: magnetic letters and a cookie sheet!! I've taught 2 boys to read thus far, but that idea never once occurred to me. I'll certainly give it a shot w/ my other two; I think my 4 yo (who's ready to get started w/ this whole process) will get a real kick out of it :)

Unfortunately, the magnets you recommend thru PHP are only available as part of a package deal so I'll have to look elsewhere for a decent set; hopefully it won't be too difficult.

Thanks again for this great suggestion (and all the others!)~

Heidi said...

Heather~ I added another link to magnetic letters in my post. Hope that helps!!

Heather said...

Thank you *so* much, Heidi.... I really appreciate that!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your posts about homeschooling. My oldest is 4 and we've been planning to homeschool for over a year now and it's nice to see how it works for other families. I've looked at several of your suggestions regarding curriculum. Thanks for all the links you've been providing. We have Bauer's book The Well-Trained Mind and it was what convinced us that homeschooling was what we wanted to do. I do have a question and I apologize if you've already answered it somewhere. Bauer mentions a few different yearly schedules and I was wondering what you do. Do you go year round in some fashion or take the summers off and why did you choose that?
Thanks again!

Tiffany said...

This post is perfect! I am just starting to homeschool my 5 year old and I think she is brilliant in so many ways-but to see her just give up on an easy 3 letter word, because she just won't put forth the effort frustrates me to no end! Reading this made me realize that I am not the only one who get's frustrated and also to just follow their cues and put it away when she becomes bored with it. I also have to say the Leap Frog videos are so great-both of my older kids love them and have learned a lot. My now almost 3 year old learned all his letters and sounds by 2 from those alone. Fabulous!

jillian said...

thank you for reminding me that just because they aren't crazy about learning to read now, their is hope they will love to read later. thank you also for your encouragement to stay relaxed and to enjoy the process.

Amy @ Literacy Launchpad said...

I love hearing about your experience teaching your little ones to read. It's fascinating and inspiring to me. I appreciate your tips and tool suggestions. So helpful!