Are you concerned about teaching your child to read? When I talk to other moms about homeschooling, the worry I hear most is “what if I mess up trying to teach my child to read”? Reading is seen as one of the most important skills we need to develop as we grow. The better we understand HOW children learn to read, the better we can help them achieve this skill.
In my last post How Do Children Learn To Read?, I explained how the visual and auditory sections of the brain start to communicate with each other for children to learn to read. We also talked about what skills are needed in both of these sections of the brain. To quickly review, children need to recognize letters and attach sounds to them, blend letters together, have a large vocabulary bank, and start to recognize some whole word forms. This allows us to start to see the skills that you want to strengthen in your child to make learning to read as smooth and painless as possible.
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Strategies for Encouraging Reading Development
1. Build a Large Vocabulary Bank: One of the best things you can do as a parent to help your child’s future reading skills is read and talk to them as soon as they are born. This will start to build that vocabulary bank in the front of the brain. The larger that bank is, the more words they will learn to read. It is important to spend some of that ‘language time’ connecting words to actual objects and actions. Books with simple photos are great when children are young for you to teach them the names of each object. Saying action words such as ‘jump’ and ‘pouring’ while doing the action will help them develop verbs. Adding descriptive words about the objects and actions such as ‘big’ and ‘fast’ will help them develop adjectives and adverbs. Modeling words in phrases and then in longer sentences as your child’s phrases and sentences grow longer, will keep that vocabulary bank growing bigger and bigger.
2. Set Up a Print Rich Environment: Have a variety of print around your home. Books are an obvious source of print, but think about other ways to incorporate print into your child’s play area, such as empty food containers that have labels on them and puzzles and blocks that contain words. If your child likes cars, consider adding labels to a small play rug with roads. Label baskets where toys are kept (e.g., Balls, Blocks, Food, Cars, etc). Have posters or pictures on the wall with words. Having this type of environment will encourage your child to start to attach meaning to whole words that they recognize, also know as sight reading. So after seeing the word ‘ball’ on their ball bin hundreds of times, they will see the word ‘ball’ somewhere else and be able to ‘read’ the word.
3. Surround Your Child with Letters: Surrounding your children with individual letters outside of the word groups will help them learn that they are separate units that can eventually be manipulated to make words. There is no shortage of toys one can buy to teach children letters. Some of my favorites when my guys were little were ones where the letters could be moved around as separate units such as letter magnets. When surrounding your child with letters, make sure there are plenty of lower case letters included as they will encounter many more lower case letters when learning to read than they will upper case!
4. Teach Letter-Sound Associations: Often as parents, we get focused on teaching our children the names of letters. However, it is actually more important that they learn what sound the letters make as this is the information they will need to learn to read. Our children had a LeapFrog toy when they were little similar to this LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set. I can still sing the song…”B says ‘buh’, B says ‘buh’, every letter makes a sound, B says ‘buh’!” While these toys can be a little busy for children, the idea of attaching the sound to the letter is a good one! Another key for my youngest son, were these flaschcards from Zoophonics. They instruct you not to teach the name of the letter at all at first and they provide multi-sensory associations for each letter. Each letter has an animal name, such as Bubba Bear, and there is a movement related to that animal as well as the shape of the letter that you do while saying the sound. If your child does not seem to need these extra cues, then a set of letter cards from a dollar store could be used in a similar way to teach letter-sound association.
5. Teach Blending of Sounds: Once a child can attach a sound to many letters of the alphabet then blending the sounds into words is the next step in learning to read. Modeling this process is the best way for children to learn this skill. Start with short, consonant-vowel-consonant words such as ‘cat’, ‘dog’, or ‘cup’. Model pointing to each letter and making the sound and then bring your finger back to the first letter and slide it across all three letters while slowly saying the sounds together without pauses. Below is a video I made with Little Fish a few years ago when he started blending sounds. It shows you how slow this process can be in the beginning. It also gives you an idea of the Zoophonics program I mentioned above. (You will notice that he has to move around a lot to help himself retrieve information. He is still like that today!!)
So now that you have set up a great environment for your child to learn to read, what do you do next? Some kids will take off on their own from here and use the sight reading and beginning decoding skills on their own, but most will need further direct instruction to continue their reading development. If you are homeschooling, you may look at buying a structured curriculum. There are many on the market, but in the next post Our Favorite Homeschool Reading Curriculum, I share the curriculum that has worked for us for four years now and why we stick with it!