"My son, age 4, says he WANTS to do school and wants to read but I worry he isn't ready for it. He is great with manipulatives and puzzles and building things-that seems to be his forte and I have read all sorts of things about how boys are later readers and perhaps one should wait a bit to start teaching reading (for the sanity of both teacher and student) and yet-here you are, with three boys who are already reading well and loving it and I am wondering what your thoughts are on the matter. What is your "secret"? My Andrew has expressed the desire to want to read-so I would like to utilize that, but I don't want to frustrate him either. Right now, he doesn't even know the letter sounds. I'd love to hear your input."
I've posted previously on how we approach reading in our house (you can find the post here), but I'll go over a few specific points.
You can empower your children to begin reading as soon as they are ready if you give them some basic tools to work with.
Learning the letters and their sounds can be a very simple, painless thing at a very young age.
Get a lovely alphabet book (Museum ABC or I Spy: An Alphabet in Art are two of my favorites) and snuggle up and read with your child (my boys loved Museum ABC around the age of one). When you are reading, say the letter name AND sound (or just the sound if they are quickly turning pages). My oldest knew the letter names by the age of two (I didn't figure out how easy it was to add letter sounds until boy #2). My youngest had letter names and sounds by two, as well. My middle guy took a little longer because he didn't really enjoy being read to when he was little.
Around age 2 or 3, my guys watch Leap Frog Letter Factory. This video is brilliant. I've heard so many parents swear by it (even parents who generally limit videos and television time). This is how Levi learned all of his letter sounds in less than a week at the age of 3. Once they have their basic letter sounds down, you can move on to Talking Words Factory where children learn to sound out basic consonant-vowel-consonant words. (Did I mention that this is very painless?) Many libraries carry these DVDs, but they are worth purchasing.
The next step is to have reading material on hand (out and available) that emerging readers can actually read. This means very, very simple consonant-vowel-consonant words such as cat, dig, map, run, etc.
I Can Read Books and other 'beginning readers' such as Dr. Seuss books have many sight words and advanced phonics words. It often takes a long time before kids are ready to read these books, and they'll get frustrated quickly if that is all they have to cut their reading teeth on. You need books that start at the very beginning.
My very favorite beginning readers are the phonics-based incremental readers by Nora Gaydos. All three of my boys prefered these to the better-known Bob Books. Another handy reading tool is letter magnets. Use them on the fridge or on cookie sheets.
The emerging reader stage will appear at various ages, depending on the child.
My oldest didn't hit this stage until I began reading lessons with him at the age of four-ish. I might not have even started so soon, except that he had advanced verbal skills and advanced interest in stories and literature. Learning to read was unpleasant for him (and myself) because he disliked the technical aspect of it, but I knew that he could do it and if he got past a certain point his reading would take off. It did. It was definitely worth the struggle to get there.
Some kids need direct reading instruction, beginning around age 4 or 5. Some kids stay at this stage for a short while, some much longer. Some kids pick up reading skills naturally, with very little adult help.
My second boy didn't have advanced verbal skills (he didn't talk much at all) and very little interest in stories. I would have never have known he was ready to read if I hadn't given him the basic tools at an early age. Because he knew the letter sounds and had letter magnets to play with, he was able to 'tell' me, loud and clear, that he was ready to read at 3 1/2. My husband kept telling me Luke was reading the words. I didn't believe him. But he was. And because we had the phonics-based incremental readers, his reading took off with absolutely no pressure from me. We simply sat down and enjoyed the books together. (He has always loved one-on-one time with mom.) When he had trouble with a word, I'd tell him the phonics rule, help him sound it out, and we'd move on.
I am a lucky, lucky mom. I KNOW how hard it is to teach children to read when they don't want to do lessons, when they have to sound out a word for the 100th time, when it takes them 5 minutes to read a simple sentence. So I know that I'm simply lucky (and not a brilliant reading teacher) that boy #3 also decided to read at 3 1/2. He LOVES the Nora Gaydos readers. He loves the feeling of independence and accomplishment. And he really GETS the humorous stories. He loves nothing more than to share his reading with an adult who will snuggle up with him and laugh at the silly animals doing silly things. But I never would have known that he was ready to read if I didn't teach him his letter sounds and have simple books readily available to him.
This is probably where I should mention that you can't walk 2 feet in our house without tripping over books. They are in the living room, in the car, in the bedroom, in the bathroom, in the kitchen... When we go somewhere, the boys always have books to take along.
If you want your kids to love to read, show them that you value books, give them time to read (beginning with looking at board books and picture books), read aloud to them, let them see you reading for pleasure, and give them basic reading tools at an early age. Reading won't come easily for all children, but this gives them the best start possible!!