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    Teaching Reading: The Very Beginning

    March 2, 2007 by Brandy Vencel

    I think sometimes E. intimidates other parents because he is four and reading quite well. Early reading happens to run in our family. I read at three, my sister at four, and Si isn’t sure how old he was but seemed to have read before kindergarten. So if there is any genetic predisposition, E. probably inherited it. He also has a good temperament for reading. He has a very long attention span for his age, and he likes stories. This is not to brag, but merely to explain that I don’t think parents of extremely hyperactive boys should compare themselves to me, a parent of a fairly mellow boy.

    However, part of me is surprised at how far we’ve gotten. It was only a year ago or so that he knew only the very basic of sounds. So I see now that there is something to be said for working at it a little day by day and not worrying about it so much.

    But there are a few things I did, and I will share them now in case they help anyone.

    • Teach letter sounds with animal sounds. E. was having great difficulty at one point. He was even angry when I suggested that letters had a sound, and the sound was different from the name. First, he received a gift from his aunt that was made by Leap Frog. I am not usually into gadgets, but this helped E. immensely. Called the Fridge Phonics Magnetic Set, this helped him, using a little song, to understand that “every letter makes a sound.” Once the idea of letters making sounds clicked, we studied letter sounds with animal sounds. Cow says, “mooo” and I says “i”. This seemed to help so much.


    • Do not progress until each lesson is fully learned and each previous lesson fully reviewed and remembered. In teaching phonics, it can be very frustrating for a child to keep moving on when the previous lessons haven’t really “clicked” yet. We have some friends that use the 100 Easy Lessons book for their children, but they joke that it is really about 300 Prolonged Lessons because they spend as many days as necessary on each lesson.



    • Get the Bob Books. I wish I could offer other suggestions, but these books are the simplest, earliest readers I have ever seen. They definitely bridge the gap between learning basic consonant and short-vowel sounds and being ready for true easy reader or early reader books. I think it was Charlotte Mason who once wrote that children need to feel a bit of success with each reading lesson. And Engelmann thought that a child should be invited to use what he has just learned immediately by reading parts of a real book rather than just sticking to lists of words. Bob Books will accomplish both, but they should not be started until after the child understands that letters make sounds.



    • Don’t start before he’s ready. A child must have mastered the alphabet {both upper and lower case} first. If this has not happened, do not begin reading. It is not enough to be able to recite the alphabet song, though that is definitely a start. Being able to visually identify each letter, no matter what order the letters are appearing in, is key. However, p, d, q and b all look the same to a child, and a mother needn’t be as concerned about that part being perfect before beginning.



    • Don’t stop once you’ve begun. Keep plugging away, even if you are having to do the same lesson over and over each day. But get creative. If you are learning the ai sound, don’t use the same words every day. Or make a game out of matching first letters to make new words {like main, pain, rain, etc.}. But don’t stop just because the child seems stuck on a sound. Or, if you need to go on because it is getting frustrating, don’t forget to come back. Or, go backwards and try to work back up to the place he had trouble. But don’t just stop reading, or any ground you’ve covered might be undone.



    • Don’t worry. I have met parents who think that because some kids read early, they all should be able to do it. But all kids are different. Sure, there might be cause for concern if a child can’t read anything at all at the age of seven or eight, but there is still a lot of room for variation. When they are twenty, they will almost all be able to read, and no one will care what age they were when they began.


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