Learning to read

My personal thoughts and advice about learning to read, copied from a discussion in the forum and slightly expanded:

I am wondering with PBH if you approach every subject as a project... How do you do the basics like teach your child to read?!

As a general guideline, skills can either be learned separately from projects or because of projects (because an authentic need arises).

So, you might spend time between projects (or before your first project) exploring art materials — or you might decide to explore clay and learn about making clay figures because your child wants to make sculptures specifically as part of her work.

Reading and writing can be folded authentically into project work, where children are motivated both to find information and share it.

We originally sat down with a text book style guide to teach my oldest reading, but it was such an unpleasant experience we stopped. I don't think it should be this difficult. Growing up I LOVED to read and want my child to love to read. Any suggestions on how you would approach this?

I *always* have suggestions. ;o)

I think your instinct was perfect: if it’s unpleasant, it isn’t working — stop and try something else! Or take a break and then try something else.

Before we address your specific questions, here are some posts I’ve written about reading:

In defense of reading … which should need no defense

Helping pre-readers research

All posts tagged “reading”

And a related forum thread:

Is writing and knowing letters a project?

(lots of suggestions for early language arts play in that thread).

With that out of the way…

What’s your current read-aloud strategy?

When are you reading? Is it at bedtime? (Even boys like to cozy up and snuggle at bedtime — not to mention delay sleep. ;o)

If you’re reading aloud during the day, do they have to sit down and pay attention? Could you read while they play with LEGO or blocks or trains, etc.? Do you ever listen to books on tape? While you play? In the car? Our library has children’s books on cassette (the book bundled with the cassette) and my boys loved to listen while looking at the book either during car rides, trips, or snuggled up at home.

What are you reading? Do your children get to choose books for you to read? Do you go to the library together during the week and let them choose whatever books they want? When my boys were little, I would let them choose the equivalent of three short books each. When they got a little older, they could pick something for me to read aloud, then I would read one chapter of our current chapter book (chosen by me) and then some nonfiction (chosen by me). Then we’d finish up with three poems — we each got to choose one. :) I continued to read aloud to them nightly long after they knew how to read themselves. Don’t stop reading aloud when children learn how to read! You can still read more complex works — and you can all discuss them together.

Can you give them a book budget to spend and go to the bookstore every so often to browse and buy books? We called this our “book allowance” and it was separate from regular allowance. And of course if they want to spend their regular allowance on books, that is encouraged! ;o) If family members and/or friends give bookstore gift cards for holidays, even more money for books! Make trips to the bookstore special and fun. And don’t only stop by Barnes & Noble — investigate your used bookstores. And your children’s book allowance will go even further at the thrift store!

When they are buying books, don’t limit what they can purchase. They should be able to buy anything they want to read — comic books, cartoon books, magazines, and definitely those awful books you would never buy. :) For us, those were the captain underpants and LEGO books. We invested our money in filling the family bookshelves with great literature; the boys were allowed to buy (and ask me to read) anything they liked. The key is to have both. Expose them to great stories and great books, and let them read the books that are what, say, a six-year-old boys likes, too. :)

I like to let children of all ages participate in buying project materials, so if they are, say, doing a project on dinosaurs, they could have a budget for buying books and then comparison shop and see what’s available, keep track of their money, etc.

I think learning how to read is a separate topic from *enjoying* reading, but enjoyment paves the way!

I am not a reading expert, but I did own a school for several years and I taught both my sons to read. So take my advice with a grain of salt, but here you go:

If you focus on the names of loved ones (family members, friends, pets) and words that are important to your child (dinosaurs, disney characters, animals), you can teach the alphabet fairly quickly (no “letter of the week” necessary).

Write these important words down large on sheets of paper or cardboard or posterboard. Your child can refer to these when she is writing, giving her some independence (so she doesn’t have to repeatedly ask you to spell things for her). These should be the words your children want to write the most.

Letter sounds come next — see the forum thread linked to above for ideas. When you are spelling out those special words in the tub (foam letters), on the fridge (magnetic letters), etc., talk out loud about which letters make which sounds. There are many, many alphabet books focused on every single subject under the sun; these are very helpful for learning letter sounds.

Teaching lowercase letters (most children begin by printing all uppercase) can be done by hanging up an alphabet poster, putting cut-outs of upper- and lowercase letters in the art studio (for collaging and writing messages — stick them down with a glue stick), playing an electronic game or app (we had an electronic Leapfrog toy I threw in the backseat of the car — they both learned their lowercase letters pain-free playing with that thing), playing with a typewriter, and so on. Again, having the tools around (like the Aa Bb Cc poster) allows your child to look up some things independently without always asking you to write it for her.

Keep blank books in the art studio, provide posterboard, take pencils and clipboards along on field trips and label their drawings (if they like) or help them label them. Provide notebooks and an array of great pencils and pens — things any child would love to write/play/draw with! Not just boring stuff. ;o) Find an old typewriter — the ultimate writing tool no child (or adult for that matter) can resist. Provide book-making supplies (brads, book rings, tape, stapler [supervise!], etc.). Set them up a really cool writing space with fun office supplies. Provide envelopes and stationery and an address book with your friends’ family’s names and addresses. Nothing motivates a child to write like a penpal! Set up a mailbox inside your house for sending messages to each other and USE IT — if you write them notes, they will write them back! Have them take turns delivering the mail once a day.

Remember, writing is reading! A child who NEEDS and WANTS to write will be simultaneously learning to read.

Pick up books at the children’s section of the library that come with cassette tapes; give them a tape player and headphones so they can listen while they look at the book. If you set these up with a beanbag and a basket, you’ll have a read-along listening station. Put this in a cozy spot! (As mentioned above, these books with tapes are also great in the car.)

Make your own books on tape by recording some of their favorite books; you can tell them when to turn the page! Of course, this is not a substitute for reading aloud to them (which adds whole other layers of conversation and bonding) but again, it allows them to choose independently when they want to listen to a book/look at a book.

Let them choose books on tape to listen to while they’re playing for you to listen to in the car together (not using headphones).

Get a whiteboard, chalkboard, or magnet board (or magnetic letters for the fridge) and leave them messages each morning.

Get an alphabet book featuring their favorite character (Thomas the Tank Engine, Star Wars) and read it aloud to reinforce letter sounds. This is the type of book that has a letter on each page with a particular word that starts with that letter, then a sentence incorporating the letter sound, e.g., “T is for Thomas — Thomas the Tank Engine likes to move cars in the yard.” When you read it aloud (eight .. zillion .. times), enunciate the “T” sound. “TEE” is for “TUH-Thomas” .. “Thomas the Tank Engine...” and so on. So boring. Works so well.

Once your child says “I want to learn to read!,” BOB books are pretty much the lowest rung of early reader and they’re available at every library. You can also look for early readers at the library (your library will help you locate them) and let them pick the ones they want to learn to read (again: favorite subjects).

If you have an older child who is learning to read, *don’t* limit them to early readers; let them buy and check out from the library books that seem way too far above their level. Conversely, don’t tell them certain books are too “young” or “babyish” for them! Let them read whatever they want to read.

Hope this is helpful!