Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Joining the Literati

I've been chewing on some sort of post for a while about teaching the small fry to read. I've never bought any fancy phonics program, but I guess I'm somewhere along the road to expertise now, having 1) learned to read myself, and 2) taught one and a half children to read. Meaning that Eliza is still learning. Actually, I really can't claim much credit for Ian, since he did a lot of it by holing up in his room with the Bob books until one day he handed me the box and said, "OK, I'm done." Which was the most exciting thing ever, and I rushed to Barnes and Noble to buy him Level 1,2, and 3 books about dinosaurs. This brings me to my first tip:

1. It is sooo much easier to help a child learn to read when (s)he is passionate about something. I really think Ian learned to read the word "mamenchisaurus" before "cat," "hat" and the like. When they're poring over books about trains, stars, insects, whatever, they're bound to pick up many words by sight (especially those repeated over and over), PLUS they're very motivated. And you totally support their motivation because do you really want to read that book about earthmovers aloud for the 40th time in a row? Not so much.

2. Children learn to read on completely different time tables. My experience with my first reader totally spoiled me. Why are people shelling out for learn-to-read programs? I asked myself with wide-eyed wonder. Then I had a second child. She's different, in almost every way possible. I don't mean that she's unintelligent, of course, but her learning style is just ... well ... of a different species than her brother's. She's a child who needs tons of habitual practice and reinforcement on my part, which requires better character than I have. Some days she feels like reading with me, others she doesn't. I don't push it. Like so many other milestones in development (crawling, sleeping through the night, walking, toilet "training," etc.) readiness is everything. One day, this reading thing is really going to click with her and I just know she'll take off. Until then, we keep it light and pleasant, and don't worry about what her brother, friends or anyone else is doing.

3. Play lots of word games. I don't mean Boggle or Quiddler -- yet. I mean the lilypad game, where you write very simple words on the driveway in sidewalk chalk and then call them out and have your little "frog" hop to the right "lilypad." I mean getting out some magnetic letters and their toy animals and having them match each animal to its letter to make a "zoo." I mean making a trail of easy words for them to sound out, with a plate of tasty snacks at the end. I mean writing the names of the colors in pencil and having them trace over the names in the appropriate color crayon. There are oodles of ideas and those are just from my own piddling brain. Check out Peggy Kaye's wonderful books, including Games for Reading: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Read, for some terrific ones.

4. Listen to audiobooks together. This is why I really don't worry about my six year old's reading. The girl listens to long chapter books on CD in her room for hours on end, often the same ones over and over. (Of course, reading aloud to your child just goes without saying, but Mama's voice can only take so much.) Why is this so effective? Because when children hear great writing read aloud, their minds fill in the images (rather than having TV do it for them). Their vocabularies expand by leaps and bounds. So when they're sounding out words on their own, they have a rich treasury of words to recognize. They're familiar with speech patterns and figures of speech. They can make educated guesses about words they don't know. Nothing wrong with that -- and quite often, they're right.

5. Along the same lines, expose them to plenty of real life experiences. A long time ago, when I had the time to read lots of parenting books, I came across something in a book -- which was it? Maybe Magic Trees of the Mind. Anyway, a study was conducted in which one class of children were taught reading intensively at age five or six. Another class was not given formal reading instruction but instead did lots of hands-on science experiments, nature walks, etc. etc. When they were eventually "taught" to read a couple years later, the researchers found that they not only caught up, but also quickly reached a more sophistical reading level than those with the standard reading education. Why? Along the lines I mentioned in #4, their familiarity with the words and its contents not only deepened their desire to explore through reading, but also gave them a richer knowledge base from which a broad range of words had become old friends.

Any other tips you'd care to share? I'm off to read to the kids.


Naomi said...

Oh thank you thank you! This is great advice. It's funny, for the first year with Elim (and before of course), I was always reading parenting books, but now, I just don't do much anymore in that regards. I wonder a lot about what's the best way to go about doing things, e.g. reading, but haven't taken the time to research it much. So I'm so glad you wrote down your thoughts on this topic. Palatable research at my internet doorstep. Or something like that. I'm gonna bookmark this to come back to as a reference in the future. :-)

Tamara said...

Ditto to Na's comment. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Hannah!

erasundar said...

These are some great tips. I also found that making a sight word grid helped my children.

I opened a manilla folder and drew a grid of rectangles (approx 3"x4") on both sides. In the rectangles I wrote "sight words" (simple words that they could recognize by site - no trying to sound them out or anything).
The words in each folder increased in difficulty.

I'd just point to a word eg.'cat' and explain that whenever you see those three letters in that order they spell the word 'cat'. After they learned to recognize a few words I was able to point to words on the chart in random order and voila, they were reading simple sentences and feeling very proud of themselves.

It's very low tech but they enjoyed playing the "recognition game" and learned to read simple books very quickly.

erasundar said...

I meant "sight"

Bear Creek Mama said...

Ethan didn't read until 8 1/2. It was never emphasized in his early Waldorf education. By 9 he was reading at a 3rd grade level and progressed rapidly, loves to read and pours over most anything he can get his hands on.

I love your take on it all.

btw - Ethan's mom can't spell mamanchisorus - what does that say?:)