The following is my journey from being skeptical about early readers (preK-K) to actively teaching my child to read at age 4. It has become the norm to teach children to read in kindergarten. I remember hearing this as a non-parent adult and thinking “That’s crazy!” In kindergarten I learned to write my letters. I know because I loved writing Z’s so much I covered my pencil box in them. I learned to read in First Grade, but of course didn’t really read comfortably on my own until the next year. Kindergarten is of course full day now. When I was growing up it was only a half day. I do believe half day was only 2 – 2.5 hours. Which of course is plenty of time to teach reading. But when there are 20 kids, it can take that long to give them a snack and a bathroom break! I know – I have small children.
Anyway, even though I had heard reading was now a skill taught in Kindergarten, I didn’t think much of it. We really wanted to homeschool (related post: Are we really going to homeschool our children?)and one of the benefits is getting to set your kid’s pace. I’ve never been one to worry about conforming to someone else’s standards. They are free to do their thing and we’ll do ours.
Two years ago I took an aide position at a private preschool. We had just moved and I wanted to make friends. So I took a two day a week job working with some really fun ladies. Halfway through the year, I was needed to help a group of students who were struggling to identify letters and their sounds. There was another group who was beyond letter identification. The preschool wanted to care for both sides of the spectrum. So I did a focused half hour with each group once a week. The first group was playing tons of letter games. The second group was working on blends and reading skills. One of these students was easily reading at a first grade level by the end of the year. A FOUR YEAR OLD was reading at a first grade level. I was kind of shocked. One of the reasons was because there wasn’t a lot of difference between the two groups. Could there have been learning style differences? Of course! What I mean is that all the kids were goofy, silly, busy preschoolers. It wasn’t the case that all the kids struggling were hyper active boys and a group of well-behaved girls were the readers. Nope. It was a well-blended group of awesome, fun kids.
It was May of this year when I finally sat down with Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind. I can’t tell you how much I love this book. However you choose to educate your children, if you are parenting, if you’re not parenting, whatever, READ IT. If you still have no interest in reading it, then at least pick up something else she’s written. She writes well. She researches well. Adding her to your reading list will only help you, seriously. I tend to exaggerate; this is not an exaggeration. If you haven’t read her go to your library right now and check out one of her books.
It was in The Well-Trained Mind that I encountered teaching the skill of reading early. Again it was teaching a preschooler how to read. Here, though, was a parent’s decision to teach reading knowing that kids can go through school without having mastered this skill. A decision to teach reading early. I was intrigued to say the least. We read aloud hours a day. This is not an exaggeration either. I have seen enough studies to know that reading aloud is awesome for development. Also, my husband and I read the first five Harry Potter books aloud to one another and it was so much fun. So we read aloud to our kids as much as they will sit for, and they will sit for it. Not an hour, but multiple 20 minute sessions throughout the entire day. They love it. We started early, looking at books with them since birth.
I enjoyed The Well-Trained Mind so much that I went and picked up Jessie Wise’s The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. It’s simple, It’s doable. It really breaks it in to manageable daily lessons. There are over 200 of these lessons. I liked it, but it didn’t go over super well with our daughter. The thing is we also have a long standing game of making up silly songs in this family. We make up songs about everything, and we change the words to lots of songs. It’s awesome. It does not come in handy when the reading guide has simple songs to help remember the sounds letters make. The first lesson involves a simple rhyme to learn the short-vowel sound of a. It also focuses on identifying all three ways we recognize the letter “a” in writing. So we tried it a few times and little Ms. Silly kept changing the letters in the song throughout the day and I was ready to try something else.
I had heard about Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons from a few people who had used it. They liked it. So again we went to the library and checked it out. Side note- our library is always the first place we look, if you’re not sure about a book don’t buy it first! Well we tried it and she LOVED it. Here’s why. The last session of the lesson is always practice writing certain sounds and our daughter LOVES to write. She always looks forward to the end where she will get to write and this really keeps her focused on getting to the end. We are on lesson 22 now. For reference we started Lesson 1 on July 27, and lesson 21 was done September 13. At this point before she gets to the writing there is a little picture that has a simple story (1-2 simple sentences) to go with it. She really enjoys this too. We don’t do it every day. Sometimes not even every other. But yesterday she read her first BOB book story completely on her own. She was so proud! We don’t own the BOB books – again LIBRARY.
So now we have a 4 year old reader. We have a ways to go. There are after all almost 80 more lessons! I hope that by the end of the school year she will be at a first grade level. It’s funny how my expectations of our year changed after reading The Well-Trained Mind. I wrote in January that my goal for her was complete Alphabet identification. Well not only can she identify all her letters, she identifies their sounds, and she can READ! It didn’t come from hours of sitting at a table. It was short little lessons alongside library trips and reading together. It’s so much fun.
Because we go to the library so much I started keeping track of our favorite library finds. I also hope soon put a list together of my favorite books that are FUN to read even after 5 or more times!