Teaching Preschoolers to Read?

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go, dog, go!As an avid reader, writer, and English teacher, I had certain expectations for myself about teaching my kids to read.

I mean, I’ve made sure to have plenty of books in the house and to read to them every night, take them to the library, all of that. And I looked forward to the magic moments when we’d sit down with a book together and sound out words together and it would click.

But then came this point where my oldest struggled to differentiate between colors (he’s not color blind, he just couldn’t keep the names straight), and the other kids his age knew colors, shapes, numbers, letters — all of it. I worked with him patiently for months, trying to help him recognize red from green from purple, etc.

After that I thought, How in the world will he ever learn all the letters? 

I stewed about whether to start with uppercase or lowercase and how to go about it — to the point that I didn’t try teaching him letters at all because I didn’t know where to start.

Shortly afterward he spent some time at his cousin’s house — a cousin two years younger than him — and she was using a computer program called Starfall. She could barely talk, but she knew how to ask her mom for “ABCs on the ’puter.” My son got hooked on it too, and within a month this interactive game had taught him uppercase, lowercase and sounds all at once!

I read this quote a few weeks later:

There is no matter what children should learn first, any more than what leg you should put into your breeches first. Sire, you may stand disputing which is best to put in first, but in the meantime your backside is bare. Sir, while you stand considering which of two things you should teach your child first, another boy has learn’t ’em both.  ~Samuel Johnson

Okay, lesson learned.

green eggs and hamBut.

I thought it would be a quick leap from those letters to reading. And cognitively, it was. He was perfectly capable of sounding out words, but the funny part was he rarely wanted to.

At preschool they tried to pull him out for one-on-one instruction, but he hated it because they took him out during play time. Reading was too hard and not fun.

Occasionally he and I would have a good time with him reading Go, Dog, Go! or Green Eggs and Ham at home together, but only when it was his idea. Ninety-nine percent of the time he insisted I be the one to read.

I worried a little bit. I wasn’t stressed, because really it doesn’t matter when you learn to read; my little sister struggled until she was six, but now she’s an English Teaching major in college. But I worried that I was doing something wrong if he didn’t like to read and didn’t want to even though he could.

What happened to the magic moments I’d pictured of helping him sound out words? I mean, hello! I’m an English teacher. I shouldn’t have a kid who didn’t want to read!

Now he’s in his second year of preschool, and suddenly he’s reading like crazy. He gets to color one little square for every day he reads his preschool book-of-the-week (coloring a square? why didn’t I think of that incentive?), and he loves to do it.

bears on wheelsPlus, he’ll read other random books around the house, like this old Bears on Wheels one, and come to ask me what t-w-e-n-t-y-o-n-e spells. All the other words he figured out by himself.

Huh.

What do I take from all this? Well, part of me wonders if he’s going to be bored in kindergarten now. Most of me is thrilled that he’s reading and loving it. And the tiniest part of me wonders what happened to my role in this.

I keep taking him to the public library as well as building up our own library, like these beginner books. Maybe I’ve been relegated to the role of the supplier.

Of course, I still read to him at night. I guess those are the moments I better savor.

Anybody else have experience with this learning-to-read stuff? Did you play a big part in it, or did your kid pick it up on her own? Did it seem impossible until it just all the sudden clicked for him?

Any tips on how to keep the love of reading alive? What worked for you as a kid?

The two-year-old loves Starfall now, so we’re approaching the second round.

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5 responses »

  1. I have been contemplating this lately. I have a friend who claims that she has taught her almost 3 year old to read (I don’t believe it, but maybe it’s true) and this annoys me. I taught Caleb all of his letters about a year ago (kind of by accident, because he loves that Dr Seuss’ ABC book) and have wondered what to do since that time. I was talking to a preschool teacher last week and she said that teaching them their letters is not really all that effective without also teaching them the sounds. “They don’t read letter, they read sounds.” That stood out to me, I’d never thought of that in such simple terms. She recommended the DVD Leap Frog’s Letter Factory to me, so I think I’ll jump on that bandwagon (it’s less then $10) and I’ll also jump on that starfall bandwagon. Teaching is stressful! Homeschooling will most likely NOT be something that I am EVER involved in.

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    • I totally agree about homeschooling! For me, I see zero positive sides to it. Ben and Nate beg me to put on Starfall all the time, and it’s free, so you should definitely try it. Nate repeats all the sounds, and I think you’re right that it’s the sound more than the name of the letter that makes the difference. Thanks for commenting!

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