Education, Parenting

Teaching a Preschooler to Read: An Introduction

I’m often asked by friends, “how did you get your kid to read?”  Well, let me start off by saying that I never imagined I would be teaching my son to read at the age of two and a half years old.  In all honesty, I though we would maybe start tackling sight words just before he started kindergarten.  When Lil’ Man was an infant, we were often lectured by pediatricians and daycare staff as to how he was behind in his communication skills.  I really wish they could see him today.  The kid talks nonstop, but more importantly, he can already read.

Here is the earliest video of Lil’ Man learning pre-k sight words.  He struggled with me, my and we for quite sometime after this video!

I wish I could take all of the credit for Lil’ Man’s accomplishments, but I can’t.  All I did was take advantage of his eagerness to learn.  That is something I have always loved about my lower elementary students.  They are naturally inquisitive and eager to learn.

While I don’t think it is necessary for a child to know how to read upon entering kindergarten, I do think it is beneficial to give him/her as much of an advantage as possible. Given the pressures my son will face upon entering public school, I have personally sought to provide him with a nurturing environment where he can help guide his own learning.  This has been my main motivation for teaching him to read prior to kindergarten and it is why I will continue to supplement his learning at home after he enters public school.

If you are looking to start teaching your children to read prior to kindergarten or are considering homeschooling, I recommend familiarizing yourself with your state’s content standards.  Think of these as the learning goals for each grade level’s subject matter.  You may take a look at the Virginia Standard of Learning (SOL) for English as an example.  Prior to entering kindergarten, I recommend introducing your child to the following:

  • Phonemic Awareness Tasks
  • Concepts of Print (specifically letter recognition)

If they have mastered these and show a desire to learn more move onto the following:

  • Word Identification/Sight Words (take a look at this pre-K Dolch list from Sightwords.com)
  • Spelling
  • Shared Reading
  • Writing

I’ll define each of these terms and go into more depth in future posts, but I want to take the time to give you some basic tips on encouraging your child to read as well as give you some suggestions to make your life easier as you get started.

  1. First, don’t force them to do something they don’t want to.  Whenever I see a toddler on television who can recite all of presidents by chronological order, I can’t help but wonder if they wanted to memorize all of the presidents or if that is something the parent made them do.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed.  Just make sure you don’t make early learning experiences feel like a chore.  Most children learn to read in kindergarten, so don’t feel like you have to push them to learn earlier.  Try the following to spark their interest:
    • Read to your children everyday, especially as a part of the bedtime routine. (I know this seems like an obvious one, but you would be surprised as to how many children don’t get this experience.)
    • Let them see you reading a book.  Model for them how reading is fun (plus, you get a little downtime for yourself).
    • Take them to the library!  Let them select a variety of books from both the fiction and nonfiction sections.
    • Find a story time at your local library or bookstore.  We have attended several of the story times at Barnes and Noble and have thoroughly enjoyed them.
    • Celebrate events such as Read Across America.
    • Visit an author.  See if your local library or bookstore is hosting one of your child’s favorite authors.  We were fortunate enough to attend the National Book Festival where my son got to meet author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin.  He truly enjoyed having them read Click, Clack, Surprise!  He was even intrigued by Lewin’s demonstration of the illustration process.
  2. Do your due diligence!  Teachers have extensive training teaching literacy (teacher training continues well-beyond college). There is a lot of jargon in education, especially when it comes to language arts, and this can be a bit overwhelming at times.  While I will be providing some explanation in future posts, I recommend doing some of your own research with well-established blogs and websites.
    • Reading Rockets is a great multimedia resource that not only covers reading basics for both parents and teachers, but instructional strategies as well.
    • Scholastic is great resource for any parent that might be interested in possibly homeschooling their children (access their parent guide).  They have thousands of free lesson ideas organized by themes and grade levels.
  3. Don’t spend a fortune on resources!  We live in the age of the Internet and fortunately for us there are a lot of people out there (many of them licensed educators) who are willing to share their knowledge and teacher-made materials for free.  If you do need to purchase something and don’t need it immediately, be sure to shop around.  It is really quite easy to walk into a teacher supply store and spend a small fortune on just a few items (believe me, I’ve done it).  When possible, comparison shop or make the materials yourself.
  4. Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel.  In other words, don’t feel like you have to make all of your learning materials yourself.  This can get very time consuming. and leave you exhausted.  Take advantage of sites like Pinterest to save resources and ideas from others (it is a real time-saver for me).
    • It’s okay to use worksheets/workbooks.  Not everything has to be hands-on or considered “fun”.  My son actually enjoys completing workbooks and it gives him a chance to develop his writing skills while saving me some time.
    • Use Apps, but use them sparingly.  I really try to limit my son’s screen time as much as possible (there is just not enough known yet regarding the long term effects of technology on young children).  I do like Endless Reader and Alphabet and have used them for long car rides and waiting rooms.
  5. Be careful with extrinsic motivation (a.k.a bribery).  I’m not saying to never offer your child a reward for good work or a tangible prize for reaching a goal.  After all, even adults need an incentive sometimes to do better at their jobs.  Try to promote intrinsic motivation (i.e., taking pride in one’s own achievements) than pushing treats.  You’ll just exhaust yourself and end up with empty pockets if you are having to give your children a reward every time you ask them to perform a task.  Instead, focus on showering them with praise when they demonstrate mastery of a new skill. Reserve giving a tangible reward for a major milestone (e.g, read a predetermined amount of books).
  6. One size does not fit all!  This does not just apply to reading instruction, but teaching in general.  I admit to having professors who tried to sell us on using one method or pedagogical approach, but what I learned from my years in the classroom is to mix things up.  If your child is struggling, it means it is time to try something new.
  7. Lastly, have fun!  Remember, your children don’t have to be reading fluently prior to kindergarten.  You are giving them a great advantage by being a supportive parent and encouraging early literacy skills.  Use this time to bond with them over a shared love of reading.

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