The great thing about teaching a child to read when your oldest children, whom you taught to read, are now in high school and reading Shakespeare and such, is that there is so much less panic and worry about it. Teaching reading, in my experience, really isn’t that difficult. I’ve read posts online and talked to parents in person who fret over which expensive reading curriculum to buy and how hard to push those lessons, but I never tried those expensive books, and this time around, I’m not worried at all about taking the less expensive, lower-stress route because I know it worked with my other children and led to kids who love to read.
I’ve already begun with our 2 1/2 year old. When I’ve needed to keep him from interrupting some of the teens’ lessons or from being under foot when I’m trying to prepare dinner, I’ve put him in the living room (where I can keep an eye on him) watching educational videos. For the longest time, he got to watch “The Letter Factory” once a day, maybe 3 times a week. He loves the show, thinks it’s funny, and picked up on the names of the letters and their sounds. Of course, sometimes I sit with him to watch the show together, and I’ll sing parts with him and make a game out of copying their sounds, so that he’ll try to do it, too. We’ve kept magnetic letters on the fridge for him to play with, too, and have found ways to make games with them, too, on occasion. We read alphabet books and point out letters at times and make “I spy” games out of spotting letters that he knows. Mind you, we don’t put a lot of time and energy into this. He’s only 2 1/2. We keep it light and fun and drop it before he’s had enough. Just a few minutes here or there. To me, that’s the key–keeping it light and fun, being repetitious but not spending too much time nor making it seem like work. Find ways to play with letters and their sounds, a bit at a time, here and there, and the child will think of letters as toys and want to have fun with them (and with you). He’ll be motivated to learn and learning won’t be so hard. (Make learning a chore, on the other hand, and you will likely have a hard uphill battle on your hands for years to come.)
Our 2 1/2 year old has known his letters for some time now from this sort of playing around. So we bought a couple of inexpensive phonics workbooks at a discount store. One has a Star Wars theme–which works for him because his siblings have already made a Star Wars fan of him. Maybe once a week, we’ll pull out a couple of workbook pages to do together for fun. Again, we play at it and stop before it becomes a chore; he’s become interested in making circles (since the worksheets often ask the child to circle things–though we do many of the pages orally to keep the mood lighter) and will decide at various random times to practice drawing circles with crayons on paper. I’ve begun to add other things to these simple, light lessons. Today, for example, we sat and watched a couple of episodes of “Between the Lions” from a DVD from the public library. This PBS program focuses on reading skills beyond the basic single letter sounds, and we think it’s fun.
There are so many fun videos that teach phonics skills. The library has a wealth of materials we can use for free. The internet has many, too. Then there are the toys; simple toys that allow him to push a button and hear a letter’s sound and a word that begins with it. Eventually, when I feel he’s ready, I’ll make a few simple books with card stock and markers that include some names of people or things he knows, and I’ll attach a few photos to make it seem more real and fun to him. Kids love books about themselves and their loved ones and will ask for them to be read repeatedly. With construction paper and markers, I’ll make some tic-tac-toe or bingo cards that have simple words in each square, and we’ll use buttons or something to mark the squares with words or sounds that I call out. I’ll keep it easy and fun, and will then gradually make the cards harder as he masters the first ones. Some high fives or simple treats can add to thrill of the games.
The other necessity for teaching reading? Books. A library card is such a wonderful thing. He already loves to choose books there and bring some home. I read to him at bedtime and sometimes at other times of day. He’s not reading words yet, but he thinks books and stories are so much fun that I know he’ll be reading soon enough if I can just keep it light and fun. No expensive textbooks needed.